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!!! 


To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Jennifer McIntosh

Meet Jennifer McIntosh who is in the ensemble in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

What do you hope the audience takes away from To Kill a Mockingbird?
We, as people in general, have come a long way since 1935, that all men (and women) are created equal and should have the right to a fair trial.

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved in LTA?
At the age of eight, I started acting in my neighborhood plays while I was living in Jamaica, even though I was very shy at first.  As I got older, I got involved in theatre because I had always imagined myself as an actress, playing different characters that are totally different from my own personality.  I got involved with LTA through an actor/director friend of mine who informed me of the auditions for To Kill a Mockingbird.  I am glad to be part of this production at LTA!


To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Brenda Parker



Meet Brenda Parker playing Calpurnia in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tell us about your character.  If you could describe her in one word, what would it be? 
Calpurnia is an example of a strict but nurturing matriarch personality. She is described by Jean Louise as "all angles and bones with hands as hard as bed slats." One word description. Cast iron. Strong, well seasoned and reliable.

What were some challenges you faced while working on this piece?
Speaking from the perspective of a woman of color and a mother, I have found it most difficult to repeatedly be confronted with the reality of our lives in the past with comparisons to the present. I have taught my male children to be wary and respectful. Having to hear repeatedly in rehearsals the lines from Tom Robinson, " Mr. Finch, if you was black like me, you'd be scared, too" is a constant reminder of my own reality.

What do you want the audience to take away from this play?
What I hope the audience takes away from this show is that there are more Atticus Finches out there in the world. We should all strive to be like him by following his lead to "make others stand in my shoes for a minute."

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
It is about all of us, humankind. Yes, it is told from a child's unbiased, unaffected point of view, without hate, malice or agenda. It's a pity that I have just discovered it as an adult. It was not on any of my required reading lists growing up. Regardless, its life lessons are still quite applicable.

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved with LTA?
I started performing/acting professionally over 20 years ago. I love to sing! I had seen and fell in love with Little Shop of Horrors. It was one of the first musicals I had seen with actual black people in the mixed cast. As a married adult with 3 children at the time, I saw an audition notice. I didn't know I should have a headshot, resume and stuff. I didn't even have sheet music. I ended up singing Sunny Side of the Street acapella. I thought I was just getting it out of my system, so to speak. Ha! Was I wrong!  I came to LTA after about 5 years of "no thank you's" from the DMV theatre community. I auditioned for Hairspray and was cast as Motormouth Maybelle. I was welcomed with open arms and a couple of "where have you been?"

What advice would you give others who want to get involved in theatre?
If you're interested in theatre, just do it! There is always a place for you. Always! Volunteers ARE the theatre! Usher, work lights, box office, costumes, back stage, and of course be a patron! This is the most rewarding, therapeutic entertaining thing you can ever spend your time on.

What have you learned about yourself in playing this role?
I have learned how little we appreciate what we've got until it is gone. I never realized how much different my life would have been without my mother. My mother, like Scout, lost her mother early in life. She went on to become other people's "Calpurnia." She had her fair share of people who, along the way, helped her be the woman I knew as mother. As a woman, I guess you never know how strong you are until you have to be. Cast Iron!


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Derek Bradley

Meet Derek Bradley playing Boo Radley in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tell us about your character.  What single word would you use to describe your character?
Boo is almost an urban legend.  Growing up in Burke, Virginia, the local legend was Bunny Man Bridge.  From the book, the movie, and the play, Boo is like the shark in Jaws -- everyone talks about him the entire time but you don't get to see him until the very end.  It's a lot of fun playing a character for whom there is so much anticipation.  So in one word, I would say Boo is a mystery.

What were some of the challenges for you in working on this piece?
For me the challenge was finding the right economy of expression -- how to communicate the most information in the most reduced way possible -- simply in a gesture, or a posture, or a glance.

What do you hope the audience experiences from this show?
Harper Lee was writing about home and family, where she came from and those she loved, with both fondness and a critical eye.  I think this play encourages us to think about our world in the same way, with appreciation for where we've come from and a challenge for us to do better.

What have you learned about yourself in playing this role?
I think as an actor, I've realized how much I need and appreciate a good director.  And Frank is the best.  It's gonna be a great show.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
This is my first cameo role since college and it's been a real treat since Boo is so iconic.  It's definitely the fastest I've ever been off book!

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved with LTA?
I had a theatre minor in college.  I've been acting in community theatre since 2009.  I've wanted to do an LTA production for a while now and was glad the timing finally worked out.

What advice would you give others who want to get involved in theatre?
There are so many opportunities and it's really a great family to be a part of.  No experience necessary.




To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Patricia Spencer Smith

Meet Patricia Spencer Smith who is playing Mrs. Dubose in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

What single word would you use to describe your character?
Strong.

What have you learned about yourself in playing this role?
Just like Mrs. Dubose, I am not always what I seem.  I've learned to be more careful in drawing conclusions about other people.  I hope others will take their time in getting to know me.

What were some of the challenges for you while working on this piece?
The internal dialog is very important with this character.  She is not as one-dimensional as she seems.  People rarely are.  There is serious motivation behind everything she says and does.

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved with LTA?
I've been acting since college days.  Once I got the chance to live a different life, I wanted to do that as often as I could!  Hopefully, you never really see "me" when I'm on stage.  My first show at LTA was The Music Man in 2003.  I'm always thrilled when I have an opportunity to return.


To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Tameka Taylor

Meet Tameka Taylor who is part of the Courtroom Ensemble in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

What were some of the challenges you faced in working on this piece?
I am an African-American women who is jaded by the treatment of black people in the South during this time and I don’t have much trust in our judiciary system for a fair trial. My challenges include some of the language that is used, and having to face the harsh reality that this piece of work reflects.

What do you hope the audience takes away from this show?
I would like the audience to be mindful of how racism infects of our society. And to think of everyone as an individual.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
I've mostly acted as a character in Shakespeare plays.

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved with LTA?
I went to school for acting in college, but I ended up pursuing something else. In 2014, I decided to jump back into my passion. LTA is a respected local theater and I subscribed to their emails.

What advice would you give others who want to get involved in theater?
I would say that if you feel that is your dream, you should start studying plays and go for it – and be ready for some hard work.

What have you learned about yourself in playing this role?
Not having a speaking role, I’ve actually learned more about acting by being more in the moment and really connecting with those that are speaking.


To Kill a Mockingbird - meet cast member Paul Donahoe

Meet Paul Donahoe who is playing Bob Ewell in LTA's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tell us about your character.  What single word would you use to describe him?
Bob Ewell is not a good guy. Words to describe him ... despicable, deplorable, the definition of racism, filthy, alcoholic, engages in incest, cowardly, domestic violence, and the potential to murder. You get the idea? This man couldn't be more different than me. As an actor, it’s a wonderful opportunity to just go for it. I have to check my heart, soul and mind at the door and dig deep into the darkest places.

What do you hope the audience takes away from this show?
Sad but true, the issues we deal with in this classic story from 1935 mirror the same issues we are still dealing with today. Bigotry, ignorance. racial profiling, violence and murder are all around us. We see it the news on a daily basis, on the streets in cities across America, and even with our politicians. As the audience leaves the theater I would hope they ask themselves "Why and what can I personally do to promote love and acceptance?"

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
As I look back on my training I feel there are a couple of different ways to approach a role. With Shakespeare, comedies and musicals I've always relied on technical training, but this role is different. With this play and other dramas, I feel I have to tap into a "method" approach and channel the character. 

How long have you been acting?  How did you get involved with LTA?
I was acting professionally in the early 80s in regional theater and then life took me on some other paths. I worked many years in the music business at Capitol/EMI Worldwide, was an adolescent addiction counselor, trained as a Master Gardener and the last 15 years worked with horses managing farms in upstate New York. I moved to Virginia recently. Found LTA, auditioned, and feel so privileged to be a part of this classic story.


To Kill a Mockingbird - meet co-producer Robert Kraus



Why did you decide to produce To Kill A Mockingbird?
I’ve been suggesting this play for at least a decade to LTA and other area theatres. It is my all time favorite play/book/movie. I always felt this play was relevant and its lessons are ageless – but no more so then in today’s political environment.  So, I was more than thrilled when Frank decided to submit this as part of our directors selection season – and the very nanosecond the board approved To Kill a Mockingbird I went to Bobbie and Rachel and said we have to produce this!

What is Frank trying to accomplish with the telling of this play?
Frank is trying to have us understand all the many “life lessons” in this play through the eyes of Scout. Things like learning to think for yourself, don’t give up, do unto others and of course to stand up for what’s right.

What were the challenges as a producer?
I think the challenge Frank overcame in spades was to incorporate the story from the book into the play. I saw a 50th anniversary presentation of this play in Birmingham Alabama – the best interpretation I’ve ever seen - and our take is even better!

What should the audience take away from this play?
That we done it justice. Everyone involved in the production is so committed to honor the memory of Harper Lee – we just want to do her proud! We know she’ll be watching from that balcony in the sky!