Stepping around a thick curtain in Herndon High School’s auditorium, Sarah Bever, director of the school’s Drama Department, gestures towards an un-painted home façade among three others.
"So this is going to be the Finch’s house, and obviously it will be painted and have a porch," Bever said, her hands on her hips as she looks at the developing scenery. "Over here we’ll have the other homes, so this will be like the neighborhood here."
The neighborhood being constructed is that of famed fictional civil rights-minded attorney Atticus Finch, one of the main characters in Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," whose stage version will be performed Nov. 9, 10 and 11 at Herndon High School.
THE RACIALLY CHARGED PLAY, which focuses on subjects like racism, injustice, rape and corruption, contains special significance, said Bever.
"I think [the play] is kind of controversial, and I’m trying to teach [students] that one of the responsibilities in creating art is being socially aware, and part of that is bringing in themes like racism, which are universal and apply to many issues that we are currently going through throughout the country," Bever said. "Racism and prejudice are things that will always exist, but if you can get kids working on projects like these and taking in things like this, it can affect our way of dealing with them."
The story focuses on the Finch family in a small town in Alabama, and how the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman affects their views of justice, society and life in general.
Bever has not discounted the fact that the adult themes that are woven throughout the play leave it less attractive to younger audiences. This is partially evidenced, she said, in the fact that there are no first-year students in major roles of the play.
"It takes a lot of maturity to be able to handle a play like this," Bever said. "But with the challenge that comes with doing a play like this, the kids have the opportunity to learn so much more about drama."
THE PLAY’S heavily dramatic themes are a refreshing change from the large number of comedies that are put on at Herndon High School, said senior Lauryn McCarter, 18, who plays the narrator, a grown up Jean Louise Finch.
"This is the first time I’ve been involved in a role that is this intense, so I’m really excited," McCarter said. "It plays with a lot more ideas and the characters have so much more development than most dramas, so there’s a lot of different things packed into it."
For senior Austin "Junker" Lawrence, 17, the play‘s tech director, "To Kill a Mockingbird" explores topics that the school’s drama department rarely touches and one that he hopes will leave audiences with a deeper sense of self-evaluation.
"I hope that people come away from the play and are able to see that people are different everywhere … and that people can always learn to accept different ways of life," Lawrence said.
"It will really be a thought-provoking and interesting piece for the community," Bever said. "Whether you’ve read the book or not … it will be a really worthwhile show."
AS THE CAST AND CREW move closer to opening night, Bever said that they are all coming together around the play.
"I’ve set some really high expectations for this play and so far they’ve all been meeting them," Bever said. "The cast has really unified and everyone is really working well together."
Leaning up from her seat towards the stage, Bever smiled as she spotted about 20 members of the cast starting their vocal and body warm-ups prior to a rehearsal last week.
"And do you see that?" she said. "They even start on their own."
"This is going to be a really great play."