In a week, 18,000 New York City public school students will fill the seats at Madison Square Garden not to watch a basketball game, but to watch a play.
On Feb. 26, middle and high school students from across the five boroughs will watch playwright Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway hit “To Kill a Mockingbird” for a one-night-only performance. The night will be the first time the Garden will have ever been used for a play.
“Growing up the arts were at the core of my family…and music really opened up my eyes to what the culture of performing arts could do for students,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at a press event with the show’s cast inside of Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The event is partially being organized by the city’s Department of Education which is providing students with tickets and busing in students to the performance scheduled for right after the school day ends. “It’s important that students can read and write but they should also have something to read and write about,” the chancellor added.
At the arena, Carranza mentioned that students attending the performance are reading Harper Lee’s classic in their English classes in honor of February being Black History month. Seeing the story performed live will help students to better understand the book’s themes and the “many connections of life” that are made through art, Carranza said. Lee’s novel takes place in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression and follows the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch and her brother Jem as their father defends a young black man accused of raping a white woman in the small town’s court.
“Ultimately, the play is about the nature of decency,” said Sorkin. “And I am not sure what could be more important in this moment in time.” The play may take place in a different era and in a very different city than New York but its theme is timeless and “very much today,” Sorkin added.
Besides leaving the arena uplifted and inspired by the arts, Sorkin hopes that students will take part in “lively and civilized arguments about certain things in the play” after the show’s curtain call. One of those certain things, some cast members hope, is race and racism.
“Obviously, we have made great strides since thanks to the Civil Rights movement but we still have so far to go for true equality,” said Taylor Trensch who plays the part of Scout Jem’s friend Dill. “This play really highlights that.”
All of the show’s original cast will take part in Madison Square Garden performance. Leading the play as Atticus Finch is four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris. The remained of the cast includes Scout (Nina Grollman), her brother Jem (Nick Robinson), their housekeep and caretaker, Calpurnia (Lisa Gay Hamilton), their friend Dill (Taylor Trensch) and the mysterious neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley (Russell Harvard). Directing the play is Tony-award winner Bartlett Sher. Other characters include Maycomb residents include Bob Ewell (Neal Huff), Tom Robinson (Kyle Scatliffe), prosecutor Horace Gilmer (Manoel Felciano), Judge Taylor (Dakin Matthews) and Mayella Ewell (Eliza Scanlen).