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Child actors get in character for Big Read stage show

September 24, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - "If you don't hush, I'll knock you bowlegged!" 11-year-old Johnna Stoup shouted from The Maryland Theatre's stage.

In her red plaid shirt and denim overalls, she looked just like Scout, the tomboy protagonist in the film version of "To Kill a Mockingbird," the movie she was helping introduce. But Johnna was actually playing Nelle Harper Lee, the author of the book that inspired the movie.

Until Sunday evening, Johnna said, she actually hadn't seen the 1962 film - but she's reading the book.

She decided to pick it up after Niki Perini, artistic director of Authentic Community Theatre, told the cast that a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress found "To Kill a Mockingbird" was second only to the Bible in how often it was cited as making a difference in respondents'' lives.

It's a complex story about social injustice, family and basic human goodness, but the 11-year-old said she's been able to find a connection with Scout and the stories of her small-town childhood.

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"It's kind of interesting," Johnna said. "I think it's pretty cool how (Lee) can relate it to her life."

Johnna's co-star, 10-year-old Corey Householder, found he had some things in common with his character, Truman Streckfus Persons.

Persons, Lee's childhood neighbor and inspiration for the character Dill, grew up to write fiction and nonfiction as Truman Capote. He makes his entrance in Perini's production telling young Nelle, "I just thought you'd like to know I can read."

Like the character, Corey said he loves to read, and though he hadn't tackled "To Kill a Mockingbird," he said he thought it was cool that there was a connection between the book and real life.

"I don't read many books like that," he said. "I guess some are if they have a moral at the end of it, like in 'The Three Little Pigs': Don't build a house that's weak."

But Corey and Johnna said there are also many differences between themselves and their characters, such as where they grew up.

"The hardest part was getting the southern accent," Corey said. "I'm not from the South."

To help get into character, Corey and Johnna ate dinner before the performance at Duffy's on Potomac, which served a southern-themed buffet of foods like fried green tomatoes and cheddar grits in honor of the Big Read event.

Corey said he enjoyed the cornbread, but decided not to try another dish identified as "frog legs."

"I didn't like that much," he said.

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