Fifteen minutes to places. My ritual of oatmeal and peanut butter in place. While the excitement of 1,400 eager souls vibrates just feet from where I sit, my heart flutters like the rise of a roller coaster moments before the drop. The moment you realize there is no turning back. No matter how you feel now … you are doing the damn thing.

If you had told the bright-eyed Colorado boy this was in store … I probably would’ve slapped you. First came forgoing my Gates scholarship to enroll in the prestigious yet demanding New York University Graduate Acting Program. Then a life-changing experience in Minneapolis revealing my talent for writing. And now finding myself performing in Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway smash, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

And yet at the same time, it all feels connected. The rush that came upon receiving the offer to join the cast as understudy to Tom Robinson (the 25-year-old black man wrongfully accused of rape and later lynched) was overwhelming. When I discovered that I would be in the production’s ensemble, my spirit did a victory dance.

Eight shows a week. Six days a week. Every week. 

First bred excitement. My Broadway debut. December 2018. The opportunity to work with acting titans like Jeff Daniels, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and Stark Sands, but also Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher, composer Adam Guettel, and do I need to say it again … Aaron Sorkin. It’s indescribable collaborating with theatre royalty, with the perks of meeting a long list of esteemed individuals (hugging Michelle Obama changed my life!) and the energy of the Shubert Theatre in Times Square.

Eight shows a week. Six days a week. Every week.

Next came context. As the project went into rehearsals and beyond, the material grew deeper into my body. With critical success comes expectations. With expectations comes reality. The fact of the matter is Harper Lee’s classic, while treasured and rightfully revered, is a story illuminating the racial injustice and tensions that existed in her 1930s Alabama. While the 1962 movie does much to glaze over the tragedies Lee so beautifully expresses in the novel, Sorkin’s ability to stick true to the novel while attempting to illuminate the characters of color is something I will forever appreciate. And yet it is this exact act that makes being a member of this company both a beautiful blessing and the most difficult of challenges — being charged with the task of reliving and witnessing racial injustice that not only poisoned 1930s Alabama, but also continues to plague our society.

Eight shows a week. Six days a week. Every week.

Then emerged perspective. Recently we conducted a talkback with a group of Midwestern patrons. Their eyes glassy from tears, cheekbones rosy with admiration. I sit at the far end of the cast doing what I’ve come to perfect in this show … I listen. I watch as they orbit around polite progressive questions, each building on the next. Questions on production quality, inquiries about working with such an esteemed team. And then an older woman leaned over, her eyes a compass and I, the North Pole. She asked, “What’s it like doing this piece so many times a week? I can’t imagine the toll it must take on you. How do you do it?”

I felt a rush of reflection on my experience. The countless evenings hearing terms use to degrade my people. Myself. The doubt that arises night after night wondering how many, if any, messages are being taken away from such a commonly known piece of literature. Curtain call has become a ritual of my eyes desperately searching for the glimmers of melanin among an overwhelming sea of ivory.

So when she asked the question, in that moment I felt seen. As I fought back tears, I looked her in the eyes and answered sweetly: “Therapy.”

Mild laughter trickled through the crowd. I spoke about the messages the play explores. The unfortunate realization that like Lee’s masterpiece, America is still in a place of sickness, constantly wanting to cure the symptoms but too afraid to face the disease. There is still much work to be done, and that though my experience can at times feel painful, it is not fully in vain. I get to be part of a production that is aiming to bridge the gap between the difficult questions and the hope we all so desperately are holding on to.

In an era where so many seem content or even eager to bring us back in time, how do we go forward? How do we continue to shed light on the ugly history, both past and current, pulsing through our nation’s core? More importantly, when given a platform, how do we hold space for conflicting emotions to exist? How do we juggle feeling blessed and yet continue to navigate the context of our experience and a perspective that keeps it all in front of us?

Through the good and bad, the ugly and amazing moments, these are the questions that float to the surface. These are the ideas that make being a member of “To Kill A Mockingbird” so special to me, not only in the present but also as a foundation for my career that is just beginning to bloom. And the best part is I get to keep growing.

Eight shows a week. Six days a week. Every week.

Actor, writer, composer, and banana-bread connoisseur Doron JéPaul Mitchell discovered a love for music and theatre while earning his B.A. at Colorado College. He completed his MFA training at NYU Graduate Acting, and is currently making his Broadway debut in Aaron Sorkin’s critically acclaimed adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”