To Kill a Mockingbird is a Broadway juggernaut. Harper Lee’s classic novel is currently one of the most successful Broadway productions ever, setting attendance and box office records since opening in December 2018. Met with positive reviews and a slew of Tony nominations—and a Featured Actress win for Celia Keenan-Bolger, who plays Scout—this production asserts the relevance of Lee’s work for modern audiences. The play revises the book’s well-intentioned but oversimplified view of racism in 1930s Alabama, offering a more mature perspective on the novel’s themes by casting adult actors in the roles of the book’s children, Scout, Jem, and Dill.
Gideon Glick plays Dill, a newcomer in the fictional town of Macomb. Dill befriends Scout and her older brother, Jem, by inventing stories of intrigue and adventure—often involving the mysterious Boo Radley. With Scout and Jem, Dill witnesses the trial of Tom Robinson, which frames the action of the play.
The Millions spoke with Glick about his relationship with To Kill a Mockingbird, what it’s like to be an adult playing a child, and how he’s introducing a queer voice into this English-class staple.
The Millions: Can you start by telling me about your relationship with the book? Did you read it in high school?
Gideon Glick: I did. I read it in the seventh grade. I had a really profound experience with the book. The book taught me to be a critical reader; it taught me about metaphor and simile and theme. I’ve taken what I learned from the book, from To Kill a Mockingbird, to all the books I’ve read since then, and I’m a pretty avid reader.
TM: How do you think To Kill a Mockingbird taught you to read with a critical eye?
GG: It was my teacher that really highlighted the themes of empathy and the themes of otherness. You know, some people go, “Oh it’s a YA book,” and some people go, “Oh it’s not a YA book,” and I think it can be both.
TM: I think sometimes people mistake that child narrator as making the book for children.
GG: Well, what I find interesting about the narrator’s voice is that it’s a child narrator but it’s also somebody looking back. It oscillates, and maybe that’s where the tension is. It’s a self-reflective book. It’s a book that is someone looking back on their childhood and it’s also America looking back on itself.
TM: That childlike voice can mask the complexity of the book. It’s deceptively simple. But you got so much out of it that’s not really that simple.
GG: Yes, and it continues to yield so much. I’ve read it a couple of times in the last year, and each coming back to it I’ve noticed different things. I mean, how incredible is that scene—I wish we could have had it in our show—towards the end and Scout’s coming back, and you’re seeing the legs of all the women, and they’re talking about what’s going on in the town. Calpurnia’s in the other room, and there’s all this hubbub going on, and it’s from her perspective as a little girl, but it is so profound, and you’re so placed in that space.
TM: That space of childhood, with snatches of conversation, with Scout trying to find her way through those words. You talked just now about empathy, and in the book, Dill sort of personifies empathy. There’s the scene during the trial when Dill cries about how the prosecutor—
GG: His treatment of Tom—
TM: And that seems to me to transcend the social rules of the town. Dill’s sympathy for Tom overwhelms him there. How much do you think about that kind of empathy for Scout, but also for Dill?
GG: Oh yeah. In this adaptation the courtroom and Atticus are kind of the focal point, so I think that, when the kids are on, we’ve really got to make it count. And so, the way that I saw Dill was that Dill is another Other. He’s not from the town, a stranger. I’ve created Dill as a proto-Truman Capote, as young Truman Capote, a young queer boy in the Deep South in the ’30s. So to carry that around you have to have a strong armor, but there’s also a sensitivity that is—to an extent—your armor. For me that was really important in developing, as the show went on. And I think kids have—and this comes with the loss of innocence—kids have a way of seeing the world as kind of so clear about what is right and what is wrong.
Dill comes from a very hard background. Especially when you imbue Truman’s life. His mom used to lock him in rooms and go meet men. I think there is a world where the adults in Macomb, especially in our adaptation, feel this is not going to be an easy life for you because of who you are, but also the way you see the world. And I think that’s a really important cathartic moment for the audience to witness.
TM: I would love to hear more about realizing Dill as a kind of queer voice in the play. How did you make anchors or footholds for representing that queerness in Dill?
GG: Once I found out he was based off of Truman Capote, it opened the world to me. Capote and Harper Lee promised each other that they would put each other in their first books. So Dill is Capote and then Idabel is Harper Lee in Other Voices, Other Rooms. What an extraordinary relationship that has been existing in our literature for so long. So that was really exciting for me. I was really interested in the idea of this kind of relationship between this tomboy-esque perhaps young lesbian and her queer best friend in the deep deep south. I wanted that to become part of the conversation, and I realized: Oh this book is about identity, it’s about intersectionality. Yes it’s about race, obviously, but it’s also about identity. And that’s also race, but here it manifests in many different ways. I was really interested in how the queerness can imbue the otherness and imbue intersectionality and identity.
TM: A lot of the discussion around the Broadway production had to do with the ways in which the book’s representation of race had to be addressed. As much as it’s progressive for 1960, it’s problematic now. So what modern pressures do you feel in terms of representing queerness, and representing the Harper Lee/Truman Capote relationship?
GG: What I find remarkable is perhaps the story couldn’t have been told in this way until now. In terms of pressure, I didn’t feel pressure. I mean, I definitely felt a responsibility to honor this character, and it’s a beloved character, you know, the majority of the characters in this novel are. People come to them in a very transformative time in their lives, in terms of their own development. But again, I was excited about telling this story now. My hope is that this kind of queer narrative is going to be part of how you teach To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would hope that that is something I could help contribute to.
TM: You talk about how so many people come to this book in adolescence, in a formative moment, and you seem to feel an obligation to honor people’s relationship with this story. As an adult, and as someone with such a history with this book, how does it feel to take on the part of this queer child?
GG: First it was about research. We—all the three kids, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Will Pullen—we all went down to Monroeville to make sure we understood this town. We wanted to make sure we knew what it felt like to be completely on our own in the Deep South. It’s hot, there’s no television, what do you do? How do you set about your day? The sense of adventure. The way you leap and bound from one place to another without really thinking is part of the physical vocabulary, because their sense of adventure is their only form of entertainment. The stories that are percolating around the town are their television. They’re really invested in their books and the stories they read. They perform these stories. Reading about Capote’s life and Capote’s literature, that was very helpful too. The protagonist of Other Voices, Other Rooms is a 13-year-old queer boy, and that was really powerful for me. I think when you’re older, you have a preconceived notion of what you are, and what people think of you, and you don’t really have that so much as a kid. You’re kind of creating as you go. And what I said before, your morality is almost more intact.
TM: If the kids have symbolism, it’s in that kind of morality. Scout is all passion, she responds to things immediately with her gut, and Jem is the rational thinker of the three, he weighs all the evidence, but Dill is really imagination—
GG: Dill’s a dreamer—
TM: He’s the source of the dramas they act out, the stories they tell about Boo Radley—
GG: They call him “pocket Merlin” which are my favorite descriptive words for him.
TM: And so even though Scout in the book is the main narrator, it’s Dill’s storytelling that really frames the story, really gets the story moving.
GG: Yeah, he’s the one that comes to town and starts the adventure. This is what we played with with our adaptation and the three kids: you have two kids who are writers, two narrators who also believe in their own version of a story, and they are maybe somewhat competitive as well. Supportive and competitive. And that was really exciting to me. Two of our nation’s best writers, are the characters.
TM: So how do you approach that? How do you approach being a narrator as well as an actor in the story?
GG: At first it was the most terrifying aspect of the story, being an adult playing a kid, but also shifting in and out of the narrative. But we found out that what terrified us the most became what freed us up the most. It ended up being the most theatrical aspect of this adaptation, and thus it kind of divorced itself from other iterations. People come with their idea of what To Kill a Mockingbird’s going to be, and all of a sudden this is not it. These are three adults playing kids and they’re talking to us. And so that really freed everything up. What I was really excited about was this literary agency, people taking agency over a story.