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Prime Stage opens 'thank-you season' with 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

| Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, 3:03 p.m.
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Prime Stage Theatre's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' cast includes (from left) Grace Vensel (Scout), Brian Ceponis (Atticus Finch), Elliot Pullen (Jem), and Linda Haston (Calpurnia).

One of Wayne Brinda's goals heading into Prime Stage Theatre's 20th anniversary season is “to come back in 20 years and celebrate the 40th anniversary season.”

Brinda, producing artistic director and co-founder of the Pittsburgh organization with his wife, Connie, who serves as operations director, says, “I want the company to last — and it can with the right leadership.”

His own leadership for the past 19 years in growing the theater has been a passion for Brinda, whose vision was to bring literature to life through quality professional stage productions and educational programs for families, students and educators.

Incorporated in 1996, Prime Stage has presented shows in several locations along the way, including the former Station Square Playhouse, LaRoche College in the North Hills, Civic Light Opera Academy, a theater facility on Liberty Avenue in the Cultural District and its current home at New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

Brinda believes that a major milestone like the theater's 20th anniversary is a good time to take stock of its past, present and future.

“This season is designed to look at where we've been, where we are and where we are going,” he says. “It's also a thank-you season; we're thanking our patrons for supporting us for the past 19 seasons.”

Three major productions will represent the three perspectives: Harper Lee's “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Nov. 4-13) signifying the past, George Orwell's “1984” (March 3-12) with its themes that parallel society today, and the contemporary work, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky (May 5-14), symbolizing the future.

Two special occasions will pay tribute to the milestone season during the run of “Mockingbird” — the first is an anniversary celebration following the Nov. 5 performance of the play, at which time patrons are invited to share their memories of the theater. A VIP reception, “An Evening with Scout,” will take place on Nov. 12 featuring Mary Badham, the Academy Award-nominated actress who played Scout in the classic 1962 film version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” starring Gregory Peck.

That evening, Badham will be part of a pre-performance reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and a post-performance discussion. Tickets are limited to 100 patrons; admission to “An Evening with Scout” is $50 plus the cost of a regular theater ticket.

The play, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was adapted from Lee's 1960 novel by Christopher Sergel and will be directed by Scott P. Calhoon of Pittsburgh. It is seen through the eyes of Scout, a young girl in the South who learns tolerance, courage and integrity from her father, an attorney who refuses to compromise his ideals, defending a black man falsely accused of rape.

As part of its participation in the National Endowment for the Arts' 2016 Big Read program, Prime Stage is partnering with local libraries, schools and other organizations to present a series of free book discussions, readings with actors from the cast, movie screenings and more related to “To Kill a Mockingbird” that the public may attend. The events are scheduled to be held in the Pittsburgh area through Nov. 13.

Prime Stage's second offering this season, George Orwell's “1984,” will be directed by Richard Keitel. It focuses on Winston, a young employee in the Ministry of Truth who corrects “errors” and faces the consequences of falling in love and creating his own truth in a dangerous society of surveillance, identity and control by “Big Brother.”

Brinda says the play is being staged in response to a number of teachers, including the company's Teacher Advisory Committee, who requested the production since the novel is on students' literature reading lists.

The third play, the regional premiere of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” written by Mt. Lebanon native Stephen Chbosky and directed by Jeffrey M. Cordell, is about an awkward and shy student, Charlie, as he struggles from adolescence to adulthood. The story takes place in Pittsburgh, where a movie based on the 1999 book was filmed in 2012.

The play came about when Penn State University student Hailey Rohn, who was an extra in the film, worked with the director on an adaptation of the movie script. She directed a 2015 production of the play at Penn State. Brinda says he hopes to reunite members of the film cast for this show, which will include a sensory-friendly performance.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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