Interview with To Kill a Mockingbird star Taylor Trensch
At just 30 years of age, Taylor Trensch has forged an incredible career on the Broadway stage, often playing characters much younger than himself. It therefore came as no surprise that he would eventually be cast as Dill Harris in the Broadway premiere of Aaron Sorkin's record-breaking adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird at the Shubert Theatre, where the "children" of the story play such pivotal roles.
Having made his Broadway debut as the lovable Boq in Wicked and having starred as the gormless Michael Wormwood in Matilda The Musical, Taylor has gone on to become a bona fide leading man. His starring roles as Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and as the titular character in Dear Evan Hansen have garnered him an extremely enviable résumé and he even originated the role of Barnaby Tucker opposite the legendary Bette Midler in the 2017 Tony Award-winning 'Best Revival of a Musical' Hello, Dolly! Arguably though, his most important role to date could be his current one, especially in light of the fact that for so many high school students, this production of To Kill a Mockingbird has become their first-ever introduction to Broadway.
Just two weeks ago, on February 26, 2020, the production (already Broadway's highest-grossing American play ever) once again made history as the first Broadway play to be staged at the 'World's Most Famous Arena,' Madison Square Garden. 18,000 New York City public school students were invited to attend the free event, making it a truly historic day for Broadway theatre.
We recently caught up with Taylor to get his thoughts on performing at The Garden, his career so far, and being a part of the most crucial play on the Great White Way...
Can you describe the experience of making history with To Kill a Mockingbird and being a part of the first-ever Broadway play to be performed at Madison Square Garden?
Easily the most thrilling and moving theatrical experience I’ve ever been a part of! I feel so unbelievably lucky to have been there. We all assumed, with an audience of 18,000, there would be a constant hum of voices in the arena but you could hear a pin drop. And then suddenly the students would erupt in cheers or laughter or horrified screams and you’d be swallowed by their sound. I’ll remember it forever.
We last saw you on the Great White Way in the titular role of Dear Evan Hansen. How would you compare your last Broadway venture to your current one?
The biggest difference is I don’t have to sing B-flats anymore! I also think Dear Evan Hansen is really focused on Evan’s story. He’s at the center, all eyes are on him. To Kill a Mockingbird is a true ensemble play. The characters are constantly passing the story around to each other.
Do you prefer being a part of a smaller cast such as Dear Evan Hansen or a larger cast like To Kill a Mockingbird or Hello, Dolly!? And why?
I suppose I like jumping back and forth! The intimacy and fragility of seeing a show with only a few actors onstage is really beautiful but there’s nothing more electrifying than watching 30 people in candy-colored costumes belt out “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” in front of a real train.
In what ways do you personally identify with your character of Dill Harris, if any?
I think, like Dill, I’m self-sufficient and eager to make other people happy.
Do you feel there are any similarities between Dill and Christopher Boone, the role you played in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
They’re both extraordinarily brave!
Why do you think Mockingbird continues to perform so well at the box office?
Scott Rudin [our producer]. He assembled an unparalleled creative team to reimagine a story everybody has a connection to and cast brilliant actors in the role of Atticus Finch.
Although the production is clearly a period piece, in what ways do you feel it relates to the United States today?
It’s terrifyingly relevant. Two and a half years ago white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying torches and the president responded by saying there “were very fine people on both sides.” We cling to this idea that we’ve come a long way since the civil rights movement (and we absolutely have!) but the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are currently between 5,000 and 8,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan. And even more visible are the ways voter suppression, discriminatory housing and employment practices, and mass incarceration continue to target black Americans.
What are the moments of the play that move you the most emotionally?
There’s a scene in the middle of the second act between Atticus and Calpurnia that I watch every night and it never fails to punch me in the guts. Ed Harris and LisaGay Hamilton are mind-bendingly good and perfectly matched.
What do you think audiences might find surprising about To Kill a Mockingbird?
I think audiences will be surprised that it’s surprising! You think you know what the play will be like because you’ve read the book or seen the film but then you sit down in the theatre and the set isn’t what you’d expect, the timeline isn’t what you’d expect, the three kids are played by adults... Aaron Sorkin’s adaption so masterfully makes you throw away any preconceived notions right away.
What message do you wish audiences to take away with them after a trip to To Kill a Mockingbird?
My hope is that the play inspires audience members, particularly white audience members, to take action. It’s not enough to think of yourself as “not racist.” We must strive to be antiracist by educating ourselves, listening to racial justice advocates, amplifying black voices, donating time or money to organizations that fight racist policies and institutions, and voting antiracist people into positions of power.
To Kill a Mockingbird Tickets are available now.
(Header photo by Julieta Cervantes)