Barton student takes leading role in “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Karen Bair allows her daughters to audition for local acting roles, so long as they find the parts themselves. But she was a bit surprised when her daughter Mary, age 11, repeatedly asked to try out for the role of Scout in the Guthrie Theater’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“So we went to the audition — there is so much talent in Minneapolis,” Karen said. “The room was packed with children that were just darling.”

Mary did a cold read from the script, got a callback to perform a memorized scene from the play, returned for more auditions and Southern dialect work, then waited a few long days for the call that she got the part.

“I cannot believe it,” Karen said. “…She has grown leaps and bounds through this experience. She is ready and excited and wants to run lines.”

“I can recite pretty much the whole play,” Mary said. “I’m not so much nervous as I am excited. … Every show I’m 100 percent excited just to go onstage.”

Her favorite moment is a dark and scary fight scene where she’s walking with her brother and they have to run and scream.

Mary lives in the East Harriet neighborhood and attends sixth grade at Barton Open School. She had nearly finished reading the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” shortly before opening night. (She plans to do a book report.) She continues attending school every day, with the exception of matinee performance days, and she shares the role of Scout with another young actor, Isadora Swann.

“One thing I’ve said is no sleepovers until after the show,” Karen said.

Mary said she’s fine with a few late nights at the Guthrie.

“It’s so worth being tired,” she said.

Mary has performed in other local productions, and she comes from an acting family. Her older sister Evie, a freshman at Washburn, is also performing in a show this fall called “Wait Until Dark” with Daleko Arts. And her mother Karen founded Colfax Kids (now Colfax Theatre Company) when Evie was a toddler. Karen has directed Colfax productions like Charlotte’s Web and The Phantom Tollbooth for students in second thru eighth grade at Barton.

“I love theater,” Karen said. “It’s one of society’s greatest gifts. … My goal is to introduce kids to the joy of performing, without the pressure.”

The Bair family is no stranger to Harper Lee’s novel. Mary’s grandfather worked as an attorney, inspired in part by the character of Atticus. Karen even nicknamed Evie “Scout” when she was a little girl.

“As a family, everyone was reading it last spring,” Karen said.

The book was required reading for Evie in school, and it led to in-depth discussions at the dinner table. A school art project based on the novel is now sitting in Mary’s dressing room.

Shortly before open night, Karen said she couldn’t wait to see Mary onstage.

“I would have brought her to the show no matter who was in it,” Karen said.

To Kill A Mockingbird” runs thru Oct. 18. 

Top photo: Karen Bair recently arrived home to find her daughter Mary reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” in a tree. Photo by Mary Bair

Bottom photo: Mary Bair in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Photo by Joan Marcus