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Whilst studying "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee we investigated many parts of the play. One of these episodes was the beginning section of the play.
These scenes involved the main characters of Jean, Dill, Scout, Atticus and Calpurnia. We also catch a glimpse of Nathan Radley, Arthur's older brother, and meet Mr Cunningham, a farmer/ client of Atticus. This section introduced most of the characters to the audience so would be a good starting performance to do, which we would then follow with a later section with more action.
This scene was called Episode One, from page 10- Jean: 'That was the Summer Dill came to us...' to page 20- Atticus: 'One thing doesn't abide by majority rule- a person's conscience.'
Episode One: the children are enraptured by a man called 'Boo' Radley, who is mostly their topic of conversation. He lives close by and they are determined to get him to come out. The children have heard many rumours of Arthur Radley and wonder why he never comes out of his house. The longer he stays concealed, the more their imagination gets the better of them.
In this passage Jem is describing 'Boo': 'Judging from his tracks, he's about six and a half feet tall, he eats raw squirrels and any cat he can catch. What teeth he has are yellow and rotten. His eyes pop and most of the time he drools.'
If I was the director for this part, I would advise the actor to become the character he is describing. Jem is saying these things to scare Scout and Dill and it would be more effective if he became 'Boo' in front of them; walking through the tracks, going on his tiptoes when he says Arthurs height, pretending to eat raw squirrels as he talks then when he says, 'and any cat he can catch' the actor could look around hunched-backed (like a gorilla) then pretending to snatch a passing cat, running up to it but then missing it.
All these things would climax the thought of 'Boo' Radley coming out, making the audience as interested to see him as the children. Also it would verify pace and tempo, saying some lines warily and slow and other excited and fast.
This episode goes on to give the Radley house a reputation for being spooky and just as Jem is about to show who's boss and throw a rock at the Radley house, Atticus sees him and immediately makes Jem rethink what he's about to do.
The next scene my group worked on was called Episode Two, from page 28- Atticus: 'Jem- you and your sister stay away from that dogâ€¦' to page 36- Dill: 'Maybe he doesn't have anywhere to run off to.'
In this scene the children find out that their boring, uncool, doesn't-do-anything-exciting Father, Atticus, is 'the deadest shot in Maycomb' (which Scout describes him as) because he shoots a rabid dog dead in the street. Scout calls out to Mrs. Dubose, asking if she saw her Father's shot to which Mrs. Dubose replies with, 'Don't say 'hey' to me, you ugly girl!'. Then continues to, unnecessarily, taunt and provoke the children. So much so that Jem looses control and destroys Mrs. Dubose's garden.
I played the part of Jem and at the time Atticus declares Jem is to go and apologies to Mrs. Dubose I did a thought track. Although I, as Jem, didn't show it to Atticus, I was outraged with even the thought. I thought this was the best place in the scene to do my thought track because it was where I had the most unsaid feelings throughout the episode, so it would give me a lot to say.
Because I didn't really prepare, beyond just quickly summing up a few points, I simply let my emotions, I thought Jem would have, go and this made it more realistic. By doing this it doesn't seem planned or rehearsed but raw and imaginative. This also challenged me to think on the spot. I said something along the lines of, "Apologies to her? To Her? That horrible witch? She should be the one apologizing to me! Calling me and Scout worthless! Who does she think she is? She deserved what she got, she doesn't deserve a nice front yard with such a dirty mouth as hersâ€¦ calling us trash. I'm glad I made her mad, know she knows how it feels!.. Although she will never fully understand how me and Scout feel. People are always talking at us, saying were the ones who are wrong! It's not fair, nobody understands... not even our own Father. But of course Atticus would look at HER side of the story. He never sees my side; he won't even play touch football with me for Christ's sake! Sometimes I wonder if he even loves usâ€¦"
I tried to show Jem's sensitive side which he always tries to cover up, and bring down the barrier he seems to shield him self with. We see this when he is challenged to throw the pebble. He only accepts because he wants to show his strength and determination, when clearly he isn't too keen on the idea.
The acting space we used was completely empty, with plenty of floor room. This made us have to get into character straight away and image the set around us. I found it fun to envision this, using mime and facial expressions to describe to the audience where I was and what I was doing.
For the whole workshop we did not to use any props. By doing this it gave us the freedom to characterize using mime. An example of when we had to do this was when Scout took the chewing gum from the knothole in the tree and when Jem is about to throw the pebble. We were able to overact these things in order to make them seem childish, adding to their energetic nature.
If we were to perform this to an audience I would perform it on a porcelain arch stage with a raked stage and two opposite porches sticking out from the edge of each side of the set. One porch would portray Atticus' house, with a white wash railing, and one would portray the Radley's house, with a much more worn looking set of stairs and maybe with one railing broken- a dirty brown colour. This constructed piece of set would be useful for when Jem touches the house, as with a canvas it would not look as effective or realistic. Here is my stage plan:
Leaf gobo, mottled green effect on Cyc.
The lightning would consist of warm oranges and yellows to evoke the warmth and humidity of the USA in the summer. This would help convey the bright, mischievous mood. There would be a small spotlight on Jean Louise that would fade out after she spoke so to create the illusion that she almost transforms or goes back in to become Scout. A gobo would hang above the Radley's house to portray the tree. This gobo would be a selection of browns and dark greens mottled over the set. This would give the effect that the tree is above their heads, big and lifelike. The rest of the Radley house would have a dull colour lighting the house to show its bad condition and almost derelict state to give a scary atmosphere in which 'Boo' Radley lives.
The sound would consist of a variety of things including crickets. This would portray that they are in a hot country, as crickets only come out in the summer. There would be twittering of the birds to emphasise the title, which is about a 'Mockingbird'. I would have barking in the background occasionally, this would create the effect that they are in a neighborhood.
When interpreting our scene we had to consider characterization. We made Scout to be a bit nervous and shy but at the same time a lively character. We did this by kind of holding back and coming out with outbursts like she had bin holding them in, along with her sense of adventure. She was livelier than Jem, whereas Jem was played as more laidback and "cool". Jem walked casually and steady whereas Scout had almost a bounce in her step. This was to portray the age difference, Jem was obviously older and more mature where as Scout was a bit of a tom-boy, wanting to be in on the action. Scouts voice was made to be quite loud to show her willing to be part of their gang (Jem and Dill) but also quite light, as to not come across as arrogant but young and naÃ¯ve. Anna, who played Scout, was very suited to her role. She had the perfect balance of bossy younger sister (with the pouting lips when Jem wouldn't listen to her about not throwing the stone) and adventurous tom-boy (with the mischievous grin).
Atticus was played with great authority and a strong sense of maturity. This was portrayed by his confident walk and strong stance, and also his low calm voice, making Jem immediately guilty for even thinking about throwing the pebble. Atticus' presence was extremely noticed as he stood tall and omnipotent.
The mood of this section starts off exciting with high levels of energy and a fast pace. This is because of the visit from Dill then the tricks they get up to. As soon as Atticus arrives the whole mood changes and the mood becomes very tense with low energy levels and a slow pace as he disciplines Jem and tells him to "consider things from his [Arthur Radley] point of view".
Costumes we would have used would have included Jean Louise's- Jeans and a blouse, hair up in a pony tail. This would show her maturity and how she has grown into a young lady (unlike her tomboy childhood).
Scout would dress in denim dungarees and a t-shirt for youth and playfulness, also to emphasise her naivety. The shoes she would wear are black scuffed-up pumps. Her outfit would be topped off, again to show the heat of the atmosphere.
Jem's outfit would consist of a t-shirt and shorts with the same black pumps as Scout. This look would make him come across as older and more grown up than Scout.
Dill would wear a ripped dusty white shirt (sleeves rolled up) and shorts- show his adventurous and lively self.
I would dress Atticus in a cream suit with briefcase to seem professional and organized in his career. He would also come across as serious with his cream suit to show the humidity of the area.
Calpurnia would wear gingham to show her lack of money and a well-worn white piney, to prove her efforts in her job.
Mr. Nathan would dress in a t-shirt and jeans to make him seem normal but interesting at the same time, does he not work? We don't know.
My group worked on four still images to reflect the themes of the scene. One was of Jem destroying the flowers, another was of the trial (the moment Mayella was portrayed as being a liar) and the third was outdoor the Radley house (with Jem being persuaded to throw the pebble, Scout taking gum from the tree, Arthur happily watching them from his window and Nathan angry as the children pursue to try to get 'Boo' to come out). The fourth freeze frame we did, I came up with, called 'Dills Imagination'.
This freeze frame showed Dill telling his exaggerated story of being tied up in the basement. To portray this story, so the audience would know what was going on, we positioned ourselves in two groups.
One group consisted of the characters in the present (Dill, Scout and Jem) and the other group of the characters in Dills thought bubble which was behind us to the left (Dill, Farmer and someone to portray the chains). In this image we had Dill telling Scout the story
of him being locked up in the basement when he was fed through the ventilator with beans by a passing farmer, both kneeling. Jem was sat besides them pretending not to be interested because he was older he didn't believe Dill. The actress who played dill in the present time
portrayed this by putting her index finger up as if to be thinking of more things to exaggerate with, her eyebrows up to convey excitement- Dill is obviously loving the attention and extending his imagination to the full. I played Scout by kneeling forward towards Dill with
anticipation, a look of concern crossed with amazement to show my naivety- believing his every word. I showed this by staring at him with a slightly open mouth, eyebrows raised and eyes wide. My body language was tense to portray as if I'm hanging on to his every word.
Jem, on the other hand, was conveyed as 'too cool', about to throw a ball in the air to catch with interest all on that, like he had better things to do than to listen to Dill.
In the other group (portraying a thought bubble) Dill was kneeling on his side with a look of hurt and self-pity, creased brow and sadness in his eyes. Liam, who enacted the sturdy chains, held onto past-dill's hands like a prison. Liam's facial expression was stern and hard with his eyes fixed ahead and scowling, this personified the chains which I came up with and thought was a good idea. Our last character in the image was Stefan who acted the passing farmer, feeding the beans through the grate. He portrayed the farmer with his mouth in the shape as if he was chewing on a strand of straw. He was bent down to reach the grate and had a face of concern and concentration. It looked like this:
Next, we were to develop two off the text scenes which did not occur in the play, but are important moments and reveal our knowledge of the characters. One was of inside the Radley house and the other was, again, my idea. This was to break out of the still image of Dills imagination home life and into Dills actual home life, we improvised this.
His parents were having friends over and Dill is being shooed out the way and told "we gave you a basketball hoop, now go play with it!" This scene showed the isolation Dill felt by being an only child.
I played the mother and was constantly telling Jem to stop getting in the way. Liam, who played the father, was also uninterested in Dill. When the guests arrive I am always getting up, offering them light bites and "non-alcoholic punch". Dill is left in his room when their made comes in to see if he wants anything to eat. Helen played the house maid, being very gentle and trying to comfort Dill.
We decided to do this so Dill could confess his thoughts, showing that the only person who actually pays attention to him is the nurse. This also made us think that that's the reason he is always wants to be the centre of attention around the Finches house.
Last of all we hot seated. There was a single chair in the middle of the floor with a spot light shining on it, the person playing a character in the chair would be asked questions and respond in roll.
Half of the group did this. Unfortunately I didn't get to do this but I learnt by watching others in their role. My favorite one was Mrs. Dubose who Amelia played, she acted her character very precisely.
She slowly made her way to the chair with a hunched back and a pretend walking stick. Once comfortable she placed the "stick" on the floor and adjusted her skirt then folded her hands on her lap, still with a withered posture. I asked the question, "do you think it was right to shout at Jem and Scout the way that you did?" to which she replied with "of course it was right! Without their mother, those kids have turned into no-good scoundrels who roam the street looking for trouble. Especially that Scout, she should be wearing a dress and stockings not overalls with mud stains! If her mother saw her, she would turn in her grave! Somebody's gotta' get a hold of those kids, they only had what was coming."