Westminster College students and adjunct faculty have been left without their roles in the Grande Theatre’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” after recent cease and desist letters were sent out by Broadway.
The Grand Theatre at Salt Lake City Community College’s South City Campus was caught up in a legal dispute between the production company Rudinplay, the estate of Harper Lee and Dramatic Publishing, according to an online statement by Seth Miller, the artistic director at the Grande.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a novel written by Harper Lee set in a small town in Alabama in the 1930s. The main plot focuses on an African-American man named Tom Robinson who is accused of rape by a white woman and put on trial.
The rights to the original stage version of the novel are owned by Dramatic Publishing, while Rudinplay holds the rights to a new revised version that is currently running on Broadway.
Ultimately, staff at the Grand Theatre decided to cancel their show as they could not afford to fight the probable legal battle, according to the statement by Miller.
“We had three sold-out matinee shows for students,” said Mark Fossen, the director of the Grand Theatre’s production. “The Grand has 1100 seats. Now all of those students, who may not have even read the book, won’t get to hear this story.”
Fossen also said the cancelation has had a substantial financial impact on the theatre. He said they used part of pre-ticket sales to help pay for costumes and stage sets, and without those sales, the theatre must take on the unanticipated financial burden.
Fossen said he will move onto his next show and that Scott Rudin, a theatre and film producer from Rudinplay, has sent out a special offer for theatres that had to cancel their productions.
“Companies may be able to use a version of the play associated with the one on currently Broadway,” Fossen said. “So there is still hope for that.”
The Grand had already started rehearsals for their production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Fossen said his biggest disappointment was that the actors would no longer have those roles, many of which were making their professional debut, and have missed out on such an opportunity.
“It was my first production,” said Taylor Wallace, a Westminster student and actress in the show. “I had made it.”
Wallace said the cancelation did not hit her at first.
“When I got home is when it became a reality that the show was done,” Wallace said. “I cried. It meant a lot to me and it felt like a slap in the face.”
Vivian Turman, another actress in the show, said a lot of hard work had been done by the cast members to crew members before the cancelation.
“It was shitty, to watch all our hard work just being taken away,” Turman said. “From the cast, crew, artists. It’s upsetting that all the hard work and hours of rehearsals was just gone.”
Wallace and Turman said they were both excited about the opportunity to play the roles they had landed in auditions.
Turman who was to play Mayella Yule, the woman who accused Tom Robinson, said this show was an incredible opportunity for personal learning and growth.
“This role was so important in the time that we live in,” Turman said. “In a time of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, I was excited to explore this role and bring light to a controversial topic.”
Turman and Wallace said the cancelation will not stop them from continuing their work as actresses.
Turman said she is auditioning for other shows like the May Term show “Next to Normal” and is currently in the Westminster production of “House of Cards.”
Wallace said she will continue “the usual grind of being an actress, and continue on auditioning.”
Jeffrey P. Turman
After reading the article I felt there was still some amount of hope; I will pray and be cautiously optimistic.