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Cottonwood High to Perform ‘Mockingbird’

Mar 09, 2016 01:52PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

Murray - Cottonwood High’s theatre department will present “Mockingbird,” the story of a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome learning to cope with her brother’s tragic death.

The play will be held at 7 p.m. fromThursday, March 10, through Saturday, March 12, and again, Monday, March 14, through Wednesday, March 16, in the school’s Little Theatre, 5715 South 1300 East. There also will be a noon matinee on Saturday, March 12. Tickets are $8 and are available on the school’s website.

Kathryn Erskine’s novel centers around 11-year-old Caitlin, who with Asperger’s, only sees things as black and white or good or bad. So when her older brother, Devon, dies in a school shooting, and her single-parent dad, who is grieving, offers no help, Caitlin is lost on how to get closure.

“It doesn’t end on a sad or tragic note, but rather an inspirational tone,” director Adam Wilkins said. “When I first saw this, I was blown away by it. There are sensitive adult issues that kids are facing, but there is a simple beauty and lessons gained from it.”

The play isn’t just straightforward. Wilkins said there are other issues, such as the fact that Caitlin’s classmate’s cousin is the school shooter and her classmate feels guilt and shame even though he isn’t to blame, and there is the uneasiness around Caitlin. Her father, already absent of his wife, now is learning to cope with death of his son, which is shown through Caitlin’s perspective.

Wilkins said that “Mockingbird” is so recent, Cottonwood is the first high school in the nation to put it on, and this is the fourth production ever. To educate and prepare his students for the role of Caitlin and her friends, teacher and father, he planned to have an Asperger’s association member speak to the cast members as well as invite the playwright, Julie Jensen, who lives in the area.

“The students are learning that Caitlin’s communication skills are hindered by Asperger’s and she doesn’t understand words of comfort because they aren’t clear black-and-white to her. To help them understand, we’re doing exercises in comprehensive and practicing honesty without sarcasm,” he said. “We’re also reintroducing students to their childhood as the character and her classmates are younger, so we’re letting them play with toys, color and connect with that innocence.”

Caitlin is played by senior Julia Attridge, who studies at Ames Academy for Math Engineering and Science, adjacent to Cottonwood High.

Julia, who has been in “Mary Poppins,” a Broadway revue called “The King of New York,” and an independent film, “St. Charlie,” said she is researching Asperger’s so she can “accurately portray and respectfully play the role of Caitlin because the autism community deserves to be seen and heard and understood.”

“Watching reference videos and reading the book has given me a sense of the physicality and the voice, but as we continue in the process of this production, I’m slowly feeling out the tone and the motivation for each moment Caitlin is on stage,” she said. “And coming to a better understanding of what the message is that the show is wanting to send. And personally already I’ve been able to learn a great deal from Caitlin and the little things she says and does that make her a beautiful character and example of a good person.”

Julia said that although Caitlin is very intelligent and very passionate about her interests and her feelings, and her thoughts are just as complex and simple as anyone else, it’s others who limit or dismiss her.

“Her community struggles to understand her, just as she struggles to understand them. The difference seems to be that Caitlin is expected to understand others while there is limited expectation for the people around her to take the time to understand and love her in the ways she will be able to appreciate, accept and return. As I’ve been working with my director, we’ve been able to look at what Caitlin is trying to convey with even the smaller statements and what I’ve noticed in the story is that Caitlin says the most profound things in the most candid way,” she said, adding that she hopes to share the story’s message that “love and mutual understanding is important and applicable to all of us.”   

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