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Interview: Jacqueline Williams of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD National Tour Presented By Broadway In Chicago

Begins performances May 17th.

Interview: Jacqueline Williams of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD National Tour Presented By Broadway In Chicago

It's not an overstatement to say that Jacqueline Williams is a staple of the Chicago theater community. She returns to her hometown in the role of Calpurnia in the current national tour of Aaron Sorkin's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, coming to Broadway In Chicago from May 17,209, 2022. Williams reflected on her return to live theater, what makes this stage adaptation so impactful and timely, and some of her favorite Chicago theater memories.

How does it feel to be returning to live theater? I saw you last summer in Goodman Theatre's OHIO STATE MURDERS, but I imagine it's a different experience being back in front of a live audience.

Oh yes, with people actually sitting in the seats as opposed to playing to an empty theater. We've all been in that same boat. It's interesting that the different places, different cities have different protocols in terms of the audience and what's required of them, whether the mask is mandatory or if it's optional, strongly suggested. We don't have any control over the venues' rules. We ourselves as a company have been very, very strict with our COVID practices and testing. But it's been great after two and a half years to get back to the work we love and the form we love and work with each other. It's been great.

What has it been like performing in your first national tour?

I've worked all over the country and the other tours I did were smaller tours. This is the first full-blown national tour. It can be rigorous. But I'm doing a piece that I love, and we are very blessed and very fortunate to have a dynamite company of artists that are not only good actors but really good folks to be with. Just good human beings. So we're really blessed that way.

It's really been great. I won't kid you; it is a rigorous schedule. And God bless the crew; the crew is dynamite and how they make this thing happen with moving from city to city and getting it all up and ready in the new space in a matter of hours really is amazing. It's magical. It's a lot of work, it's rigorous, but it's really great. I'm glad to be doing it.

What was your experience with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD before joining the tour? Did you read Harper Lee's original novel or see any previous adaptations?

I first read the book when I was in sixth grade on my own. I've read the book throughout my life, I think, three times. It's always been one of my favorite books, and I'm a huge fan of the film and it's always been one of my favorite films. Boy, the film, I've lost count, but I know I've seen it at least eight times. And then, let's see, we workshopped [the tour production] for a week in October in New York, and while I was there, I saw the current Broadway production that was up at the time.

What is it like taking on such an iconic character from American literature?

It's great because the thing about this is even if people have read the book, even if they have seen the film, they have not seen this full-blown Calpurnia. Aaron Sorkin has fleshed this character out and just has done a beautiful job. He's such a brilliant writer. So you really get a sense of Calpurnia's place in this family, you really get a much fuller sense of her relationship to Scout and Jem, and to Atticus and how much they are like brother and sister, how much they are confidantes, how much they go toe-to-toe. Because Calpurnia in many ways to Atticus and the family is the voice of the Black community. And there are things that Calpurnia and Atticus discuss and disagree on, and they can do that respectfully and freely because of how close they are. Even as liberal as Atticus is, he has no way of knowing certain things from the Black perspective of 1934 because he doesn't live it, doesn't experience it from that point of view.

So that's what people need to come see and experience that they won't fully get from the book and definitely won't get from the film. And Richard Thomas is an absolutely fantastic Atticus.

What are some of your favorite Chicago theater memories?

There are so many for different reasons. I don't even think that's fair. Of course, one really special one for me many years ago because a lot of my blood and sweat went into putting that sucker together was FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA in 1988. That was extra, extra special. And, of course, I've done so many shows at the Goodman and Steppenwolf and Court [Theatre]. There's so many for so many different reasons.

THE BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS at Steppenwolf was special for so many reasons to me. I've done so much at the Goodman: THE STORY, BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY that Chuck Smith directed; both of those were at the old Goodman. Years ago, I played the title role of Electra at Court Theatre and that was directed by Mikhail Mokeiev from Moscow Art Theater. Another one that Marcus Gardley wrote was THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND. That was a really special show too at Victory Gardens.

There have been so many, and you know, I just love working with, collaborating with Chicago artists. There's nothing like them in the country. They're talented, they're dedicated, they're hard-working. They're in. In the theater business, that's supposed to be how it goes all the time, but that caliber, that work ethic, that consistency is always there in the Chicago community, and I love it so much.

What excites you most about bringing the tour to Chicago?

It is a really, really good production, and it's really an event. It's really a live theater event. And I am excited for my Chicago community, my peeps to come experience this. There's a lot of joy. There's a lot of laughter. There's a lot of nostalgia, as well as the hurt and the pain that we still are working on today. We still need this story, and so, I'm excited to be part of it and to share this message and very much excited to do that in my hometown. Because when you revisit it, and definitely when you experience this live event, you will be reminded, in case some folks have chosen to selectively forget or think otherwise, that not only do we still have work to do but how little progress we have really made since 1934. How little progress we have made since 1967 when I think the film came out.

Theater not only entertains, it enlightens. It can spark change. It can be a catalyst for change, for discussion, for movement, for progress. And theater can also heal. For all of those reasons, I am excited to bring this piece home.

And we have the one and one Mary Badham, the original Scout in the film, with us as well. That is just awesome. She plays Ms. DuBose in this live theater event.

See Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia in the Broadway In Chicago engagement of the TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD national tour from May 17-29, 2022 at the James M. Nederlander Theater. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets.

Interview responses edited for length and clarity

Headshot courtesy of Broadway In Chicago

Interview by Rachel Weinberg



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From This Author - Rachel Weinberg