Women's Work 2011: Joy Tilley-Perryman of THUS SPOKE THE MOCKINGBIRD

Tennessee Women's Theater Project returns to Nashville's Z. Alexander Looby Theater for the fifth year running - beginning Friday May 6 - for its annual Women's Work festival of performing and visual arts created by women. Running through Sunday, May 22, the festival cuts a broad swath across styles and genres to offer eleven completely different programs: poetry and essays; one-woman shows; staged readings of new plays; film, dance, music and a display of visual art works in the theater lobby. Opening the festival on Friday night is Thus Spoke the Mockingbird, starring Joy Tilley-Perryman as Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Tilley-Perryman took time from rehearsals and prep for opening night to tell us about the show, which was written by a fellow University of Montevallo alumna...

What's the name of the show you're doing for Women's Work 2011? The show is titled Thus Spoke the Mockingbird, written by a fellow University of Montevallo graduate Joanie Alvey McElroy. I have directed the show myself with a little help from my friends: Meaning I have talked the ears off anyone who would listen to me.

Who do you play and how have you prepared for this task? I am playing Nelle Harper Lee at two stages in her life. Act One is set in 1961 when Gregory Peck was in Monroeville, Alabama to do his actor's homework for the movie [version of To Kill A Mockingbird] and Act Two is present day. Nelle Lee is still alive and celebrated her 80th birthday this past Thursday. It is a terrifying experience to play someone so well-known, however because she always shunned the media (for the most part) I am not working against some iconic image or newsreel footage of her. I read both of the her biographies and I am going into the whole process with the innate knowledge of what it means to be both Southern and a daughter of the great state of Alabama.

How do you become Harper Lee? As far as becoming, Nelle, I feel like she is part of my family. I have read To Kill A Mockingbird probably once a month since I was 11 years old. I used to read Gone With the Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird in rep. I would finish one and then read the other and so on and so forth, constantly throughout my teen years. As a result, I have whole passages of both books memorized - not movie lines, passages from the text. I was a strange, bookish child and had very few dates in high school.

How does Thus Spoke the Mockingbird speak to the audience? This shows speaks to the audience in its simplicity. It is a neighbor passing time with neighbors on her porch. She has just written the most famous book of its time and she has just met Gregory Peck and most of Hollywood has decamped to Monroeville, Alabama, and she is just feeding stray cats on her porch. It is a love song to a way of life and a part of the country that no longer exist.

Why should people come see this show? I would hope that people would come to see the show because of an interest in Harper Lee. So many people have such misconceptions about her. I hope that my portrayal of her is honest and educational and entertaining.

How does the show reflect your point of view personally? This show represents my personal point of view in that I am fascinated by the way talented and creative people function. And I, too, love the state of Alabama and the words of its people. As she says in the show, "They say folks around her have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle. We are born talkers - a region of born storytellers." That is what I aim to do, tell Nelle Harper Lee's story, honestly and in an entertaining way.

- May 6, 7:30 p.m.: Thus Spoke the Mockingbird, a one-woman play depicting the life of Harper Lee, written by Joanie McElvoy and performed by Joy Tilley-Perryman. Single tickets to Woman's Work are $5 each; a $30 Festival Pass is good for unlimited admissions. Women's Work opens Friday, May 6, at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, adjacent to the Looby Branch Library, 2301 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. The festival continues for eleven performances through Sunday, May 22. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2:30 pm Sundays. For reservations and information, call (615) 681-7220, or visit the company's web site at www.twtp.org.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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