“There’s not much upside,” says Aaron Sorkin of his task adapting Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird for the stage. “[The audience] can hate you for ruining their childhood, or they can remember how great Harper Lee is, but that’s about it.”
So why do it?
“I get to be in a theatre,” Sorkin gushes, “and I get to be there with [director] Bart Sher.”
If you think about Sher and Sorkin’s individual work, a collaboration could be absolute magic.
Sorkin is currently in the trenches writing the script, and it’s a bit more challenging than he anticipated. “I was naïve,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well how hard can this be? Harper Lee has written such a great novel, it stands up pretty easily as a play, just take her scenes and dramatize them.’ That doesn’t work at all.”
Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, Mockingbird centers around six-year-old Scout as she watches her father, Atticus Finch, defend a black man accused of raping a young white woman.
The playwright says that the unexpected issue is that the infamous trial, the apex of drama, is “well more than halfway through the book.” That, and the story is really young Scout’s tale—led by a child. “In a novel, we’re okay with listening to children talk and watching them behave because the author, in this case Harper Lee, has made sure it’s of interest to adults,” Sorkin explains. “On a Broadway stage, we’re not going to be able to watch children for that long.”
He had to find a way to get to Atticus Finch and the trial sooner. “In my little construction, which I won’t give away, you won’t have to worry that you just spent $125 and watch children romp around the stage for an hour before Atticus comes out,” says Sorkin. In fact, Sorkin sees the show as a memory play, since Scout describes herself as a child, but speaks as an adult.
Timing has not been set for the show’s Broadway bow, though producer Scott Rudin previously announced an aim for the 2017-2018 season. Sorkin and Sher are in contact as he works on the draft.
As nerve-wracking as the writing process may be, Sorkin is thrilled to return to the theatre. In an interview about his latest teaching endeavor (a screenwriting course at MasterClass.com), Sorkin confessed, “There is no place I would rather be than in a rehearsal room, rehearsing a play with tape on the floor. There is no place I’d rather be than pacing the back of the orchestra of a theatre during previews.”
Soon enough. Soon enough.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW: AARON SORKIN ON HIS SECRETS OF WRITING AND HIS LOVE OF THE THEATRE.
Ruthie Fierberg is the Features Editor at Playbill.com. She has also written for Backstage, Parents and American Baby. See more at ruthiefierberg.com and follow her on Twitter at @RuthiesATrain.