This year is quite a big one for A.D. Players. Not only is it the 50th season of the theater, which began in 1967, it is the first season in its beautiful new location on Westheimer in Houston. The building is grand and pays tribute to the Globe Theater in London with its curves and colors. Most importantly, all 450 seats have great views and proximity to the stage – there is literally not a bad seat in the house.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ which runs through March 5, is the inaugural production in the new theater and what a befitting performance for such an important anniversary year. The cast does a fantastic job of endearing the audience to the characters despite the heavy themes of race and classism. Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, played by Jemma Kosanke and Atticus Finch, played by Jason Douglas are captivating in their roles, however some of the more comedic moments come from the Finch’s odd friend Charles Barker “Dill” Harris. Although no one knows for sure, Dill is thought to be based on Truman Capote and is wonderfully played by 12-year-old McKay Lawless.
Lawless is back at A.D. Players after her role as Helen Keller in the 2015 production of ‘The Miracle Worker,’ which garnered her a Houston Theater Awards Best Supporting Actress Nomination. I sat down with Lawless to talk about her role and success as a young actress.
Following the success of your last performance – did you feel extra pressure for this role?
I don’t feel extra pressure, but I just really wanted this role. I wanted to do another big performance, because my last one was such a great experience.
How do you prepare before each performance?
I take a lot of deep breaths and shake out my arms and my legs and right before I go on I remind myself that McKay Lawless is gone and I am now my character in that time period. I learned how to become my character and the deep breathing in class, but the other routine is from watching other actors getting ready to go on. I don’t really get nervous before I go on – maybe for the first performance, but not after that.
How did you feel about portraying a boy and cutting your hair short?
I thought it was going to be really different and I felt excited to play a boy. Playing a boy is more challenging so I would think about it every night before going to bed. I just watched boys in my grade and my brothers to see how they acted. I thought there was a chance I might have to cut my hair and when I met for my first fitting the costume designer said she wanted me to look really convincing, so I had to cut my hair. I was a little nervous about it, but not nervous enough to say no. My friends all think I look good, but I am going to let it grow out after this.
What is your favorite thing about performing in a show like this?
The experience with the other people – they are all great role models. When you’re on stage with them they are all the different people, but you know they are your friend. Afterwards we laugh about things that happen on stage.
What are some of the challenges about being a performer?
The schedule is hard because I have to stay up really late, sometimes I am so tired. Also, I have way more homework now in the 6th grade than when I played Helen Keller in the 4th grade, so sometimes that is hard, too.
Why do you feel like the hard work and difficult schedule is worth it?
It is definitely worth it, because doing this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I love the people I work with and this role was a big deal too because of the new theater and 50th anniversary. Being tired is hard, but I just love acting too much not to do it.
How old will you be when you’re officially a grown up? Where do you imagine yourself when you’re that old?
I think a grown up is maybe around 20 and I want to be in movies, Hollywood or maybe acting on a show.