Five glasses sit on the Kushnir family coffee table: two pints of craft beer, two light rosés and a small Bugs Bunny cup of water. Bugs is for Clara Poppy Kushnir, 11 years old, who is at present lounging on the sofa munching on cherries, kielbasa slices and apple chunks dolloped with almond butter. While her parents chat with their guests about pool temperatures at a winter home in Turks and Caicos, Kushnir finishes her snack, hops off the couch, kneels to speak with her cat, Coco, then bounces upstairs. It’s time to get ready for work.
Kushnir is, in fact, the only one working in her family right now. She’s the lead actor of the Stratford Festival’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird, a heavy (and sometimes heavy-handed) adaptation of Harper Lee’s famous novel, by Christopher Sergel. Kushnir plays Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch, the tomboyish daughter of righteous lawyer Atticus Finch. While Atticus tries to save a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in Jim Crow-era Alabama, Scout watches from the sidelines. Her innocence cuts through the tension, like when she asks what “rape” means, and the crowd laughs at her nanny’s response: “You gotta ask your father that!”
In real life, Kushnir knows what rape means. Sometime before rehearsals began in March 2018, the cast and crew were given a frank talk about sexual harassment in the workplace—this being two months after Albert Schultz was ousted from Soulpepper, one of Canada’s most acclaimed theatre companies, for allegedly sexually harassing several women. Cast members also got 10-page booklets on Jim Crow, detailing the era’s political enforcement of racial segregation, voter suppression and public lynchings. Backstage before each performance, Kushnir scrolls through news articles on her phone to remind herself of everyday racial injustice. “You’re gonna see at least one thing that’s happening now, today, that is racist, or that’s being very, very”—she isn’t sure how to pronounce the next word—“controver-sel. Controver-shel?”
Read the full article on Maclean’s website.