Group seeks rights to 'Mockingbird' play in Lee's hometown

AP News
Posted: Apr 24, 2015 4:40 PM
Group seeks rights to 'Mockingbird' play in Lee's hometown

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A new group plans to produce a stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in author Harper Lee's hometown, where leaders fear a stalemate over rights to the play will kill an annual production that lures thousands of visitors annually.

An actor in the play, Connie Baggett, said Friday that a new nonprofit group is working to obtain rights to the production and hopes to continue putting on "Mockingbird" with the same amateur actors who've been involved for years.

The effort comes as Illinois-based Dramatic Publishing Co. is refusing to sell performance rights beyond this year to the group that has staged the play for years, the Monroe County Heritage Museum. The museum has been involved in legal disputes with Lee in the past.

Baggett, a friend of Lee's attorney Tonja Carter, said the new group will be locally based. Organizers hope to perform the play at the old Monroe County courthouse that helped inspire "Mockingbird" and served as a model for the screen version of Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racial injustice in the South in the 1930s, Baggett said.

"I think this will be a conclusion that everyone is happy with," said Baggett.

The play is currently in its 26th season in Monroeville, which was the template for the fictional Maycomb in Lee's book. The performances this month and next are sold out; excitement over the upcoming publication of Lee's second book, "Go Set a Watchman," helped tickets sell out faster than normal.

The president of the museum board currently in charge of the production, Tom Lomenick, said he's not sure why the licensing company has refused to extend the rights past 2015.

"All their lawyers are telling them to say right now is that no one in Monroeville will have a license in 2016," Lomenick said.

The president of Dramatic Publishing didn't return messages seeking comment.

Lee sued the museum in 2013 over "Mockingbird" souvenirs sold in its store after the museum opposed her application for a federal trademark for the title of her book. The dispute has since been settled.

Lee's upcoming book is described as being set 20 years after lawyer Atticus Finch — based upon Lee's attorney father — defended a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. In "Watchman," Finch's daughter Scout returns home to her childhood home as an adult.