“Surprised and terrified.”
That’s how Ronny Broussard of Gulfport described his feelings when he got the call asking him to direct Biloxi Little Theatre’s upcoming production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He was surprised because he had not directed a community theater production in a decade. Terrified because of the reputation, weighty matter and expectation of “Mockingbird.”
“They played it a little different in the movie,” Broussard said.
In the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck, closeups and other camera techniques allow for more subtle expression. On stage, actors often “blow it out of proportion for the drama to stand out. In theater, you have to be tricky” to play it just right, he said.
Broussard hasn’t been totally away from the stage for the past 10 years. He offered up a one-man show a few years ago that had audience members wiping away laughter tears as well as tears of emotion. So he wanted to discuss the opportunity with his partner, Bill Jones.
“Let me call you later. I want to talk to Bill,” he said. “I wanted to know, how can we do it without doing the exact same thing they’ve always done with this play? With Bill, it’s Ronny walks in and directs and Bill does everything else, really. And BLT has a good team that helps you.”
Jones agreed to the production, also seeing the challenges.
“This is set in 1935 in north Alabama,” Broussard said. “You’re not going to have elaborate clothes...
“Because ‘there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with,’ ” Jones and Broussard quoted together from the novel’s opening.
The novel, by Harper Lee, was dramatized by Christopher Sergel.
The appeal of “Mockingbird,” Broussard said, is something universal.
“There’s something I’ve always compared it to,” he said. “There’s a scene in ‘Agnes of God’ where the psychologist says something like, ‘I believed in the existence of an alternate last reel.’ We want to believe at some point there will be a happy ending. These are real people. The whole Boo Radley thing, I think, is beautiful. It takes my breath away.”
“It’s a coming-of-age story of what is wrong with racism,” Jones added.
Broussard said he was excited by the talent who showed up for rehearsals. In fact, he cast two Boo Radleys and two Mrs. Duboses.
“We have about 60 people altogether,” he said.
Broussard’s directorial debut was “The Makeup Artist.”
“It was not good,” he said. “I learned a lot. But I was proud of it until I got better. I felt like it was a good fit, because of what I do.
“I didn’t do an original play until later, and now I’ve done eight original plays. One was on Bill’s mom.”
The play, “As Long As the Birds Are Singing,” went on to state competition.
“We didn’t win, but we got a standing ovation at competition,” Broussard said.
“Dangerous Liasons,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Agnes of God” are some of the other plays he has directed.
“ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ was my true love,’ ” Broussard said. “ ‘Agnes of God’ — everything was white. Chuck White, after he saw a performance, said, ‘The set was beautiful.’ Oh, and ‘Rocky Horror (Picture Show)’! That was so much fun.”
“Texas Tacky” is perhaps Broussard’s favorite play so far.
“We had no preconceived notions,” he said. “Everything for us was invention. The bar really looked like a bar. In fact, one lady told us, ‘I’ve been in that bar. Really! I have been in that actual bar.’ We had a ball doing that.”
Broussard admitted he can obsess — and be a tad dramatic.
“Most other directors can be in the first few rows and direct,” he said. “I have to be on stage and agonize. Anybody will tell you my favorite word is ‘stop.’ ‘Stop, stop, stop, stop!’ ”
And then there are the logistics of a production.
“Every moment I’m thinking about something,” he said. “How am I going to put the tree on stage? How do we put the courtroom in and deal with the tree? They had some aluminum windows for the set, and I said, ‘They wouldn’t have had aluminum windows in 1935.’ And then back to the tree.”
Broussard has a solution for bringing the courtroom onto the stage, but the tree — well, that remains to be seen.
“The more my mind wanders, sometimes there’s a great idea. I try to think of a single simple way to do something,” he said.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was Broussard’s most challenging play.
“I didn’t understand the attraction of the story but I wanted to do it,” he said. “I didn’t understand the love of the father and the son. There didn’t seem to be any love there.”
Now there’s “Mockingbird.”
“ ‘Mockingbird’ is showing itself to be a challenge as well, but an exciting challenge,” Broussard said.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
When: Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 27-30; show times are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. matinee Sunday.
Where: Biloxi Little Theatre, 220 Lee St.
Tickets: $15 general admission adult, $12 students, seniors and military, available at http://4blt.org