Thursday, March 31, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Robert Heinly

Meet Robert Heinly who is playing Sheriff Heck Tate in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tell us about your character.  How would you describe him in one word?
The sheriff of Maycomb County is a community fixture.  Everyone knows and respects him, for the most part, and he is well liked by Atticus and his family, Calpurnia, Judge Taylor, and Miss Maudie.  He has been in Maycomb all his life and knows everyone and everything that goes on in the town.  He is not a tremendously educated man but doesn't need to be to perform his job well. He is honest, loyal and dedicated to doing the right thing.  To describe the sheriff with one word, I would keep it simple: the sheriff is Good.  This is a plain word which carries the very heavy weight of the truth. When presented with the challenge of deciding the fate of Boo and Jem at the end of the play, he is not afraid to stand up to Atticus and insist on "the right thing" even if it does not follow the letter of the law. 

What were some challenges you faced while working on this piece?
I have gravitated often to works which originate in literature, A Christmas Carol with LTA, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, among others, and the challenge with such projects is to overcome the barriers of narrative and preconceived notions of interpretation in the viewer's mind.  This is a basic challenge in any piece, of course, but with literature, once a book is read, with the pictures complete in the mind, how does one choose to portray the piece on the stage.  You don't read most books in two hours (even though Dickens read Christmas Carol onstage) so how do you condense a story down, what do you leave in, what do you leave out? Frank has given the actors here great latitude to include bits from both the novel and the film and many of us, myself included have taken him up on this opportunity.  

What do you hope the audience takes away with this play?
Well I don't have to restate that this is one of the most popular novels written, possibly the greatest American novel.  The lessons and message are clear, right, proper and timeless.  I have read and re-read the novel several times, including in the last couple of months, read the recently published Go Set A Watchman, which I liked but understood why others didn't, I have read an interview piece called The Mockingbird Next Door, by a Chicago Tribune writer named Marja Mills which chronicles extensive time spent with the Lee sisters, and of course have followed all the controversy of the recent past with the estate and squabbling over what  was and wasn't intended after the passing of Nelle Harper, as her sister Alice referred to her.  Most of our audience will know the piece, so it is incumbent upon us to tell the story as honestly and accurately as we can. 

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
I did the show with Firebelly Productions in 2006, also playing the sheriff, and that production was thoroughly enjoyable, though quite stylized in a small space over at Theatre On The Run.  This cast is larger, the set more realistic, and the previously mentioned freedom to include further moments from book and film I think will help the audience to feel at ease in the world Ms. Lee created.

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved with LTA?
I have always had an ear for characters and began acting in high school, my first community theatre was as a sophomore in high school.  I have always enjoyed performing for audiences, have not done it nearly enough but am working hard to change that now (get ready to see a lot more of me at auditions all you local directors!!)   My first show at LTA was A Christmas Carol in 2004, under the direction of the great Donna Farragut.  I have done Dickens classic now six times and enjoy most the role of Jacob Marley.  I also performed in Picasso At The Lapin Agile in 2006.

What advice would you give others who want to get involved in theatre?
The best advice for aspiring theatre people is to simply do it. Equip yourself with a thick skin and jump in head first.  Audition. Participate.  Volunteer.  Network.  Have fun!!!!  Washington, D.C. is one of the best cities in the country for live theatre because of the spectrum of different theatres.  From Broadway level professional to independent creative to basic traditional community groups, there is something for everyone!!!

What have you learned about yourself while playing this role?
I have learned that I must never stay away from theatre for very long because it is my second family. In theatre there is empathy, understanding and connection.  Necessary to the craft, these tools of interaction are also essential in life.  To tell a story, a meaningful honest true story, and have it stay with an audience as a lesson, and a learning process, is the goal of theatre, and it is a pretty good life goal too!!!  Enjoy the show!!! 

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