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Walnut's Independence Studio on 3 Explores the Secret of the Mockingbird in THE GIFT! Begins Feb. 21

February 8, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PA: Walnut Street Theatre’s 2016-2017 Independence Studio on 3 season continues with the story behind the making of a great novel in THE GIFT. Written by Will Stutts and directed by Greg Wood, the production begins previews on February 21, opens February 23 and continues through March 19 in the Walnut’s Independence Studio on 3.

THE GIFT takes place on a Southern porch in a small town in Alabama, where two friends are together again. Buddy is an internationally renowned author, embarking on an adventurous new idea for his next novel. He cannot do it alone. Nelle is a talented writer, secure in the quiet safety of home, unable to bring her story to life. They have each other and they have a gift. Fact and fiction may lie beneath the truth. What is the secret of the Mockingbird? When these two writers join forces, each becomes whole and THE GIFT finds a place in history for them both.

THE GIFT, written by Will Stutts, had its world premiere in the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 in 1998. The story is inspired by Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s legendary friendship and creative connection. Stutts’ interest in the subject matter was initially sparked by his upbringing in southern Alabama, the area where Lee was born and Capote moved to as a child. Living nearby Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, where the award-winning author is celebrated through museums, statues, gift shops and an annual production of To Kill a Mockingbird, Stutts become knowledgeable about, and interested in, her life. He became fascinated with her friendship with Capote and the idea that Capote is, in part, responsible for To Kill a Mockingbird. The controversial belief that Capote helped Lee write the novel, which won Lee the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, remains a topic of conversation. The intriguing controversy was in the spotlight again when Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015. In THE GIFT, Stutts imagines an evening the two shared on the porch where they once developed a childhood bond and perfected the manuscript for this American classic.

Playwright Will Stutts has written, directed and performed in many shows in Walnut’s Studio 3 theatre. His work includes world premieres of Barrymore, Frank Lloyd Wright, Kemble vs. Butler, Edwin Forrest, Eye of the Storm, Summons to Sheffield and his highly entertaining Will Stutts’ Tallulah.

Greg Wood returns to the Independence Studio on 3 to direct THE GIFT. Previous directing credits at the Walnut include the world premieres of Mickle Street and The Prescott Method. An award-winning actor for over 30 years, Wood has been seen on stage at the Walnut in numerous productions, including Harvey, And Then There Were None, Private Lives, Other Desert Cities, God of Carnage and Amadeus. His film and television credits include The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Happening and several seasons of Law and Order. Rocco Praderio will join Wood as Assistant Director.

The Walnut welcomes back Susan Riley Stevens in the role of Nelle. Nelle is Harper Lee’s given first name. Stevens was last seen in Harvey on the Walnut’s Mainstage, with additional credits including The Prescott Method, God of Carnage and A Streetcar Named Desire. She has also worked extensively on local stages. Warren Kelley (Bookends) returns to the Walnut as Buddy, which is Truman Capote’s childhood nickname. His work on regional stages across the country includes Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, King Arthur in Spamalot and Vanya in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

The homely patio in the heart of Southern Alabama will be created by Set Designer Andrew Thompson (The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Proof). Thompson will be joined by Costume Designer Susan Benitez (A Christmas Carol), Lighting Designer Charles S. Reece (Becoming Dr. Ruth, Mickle Street) and Sound Designer John Kolbinski (Last of the Red hot Lovers, Always… Patsy Cline).

Season sponsor for the 2016-2017 Independence Studio on 3 Season is The Independence Foundation. Media season sponsors are Philly Weekly and WRTI Radio. Tickets are $30-$35 and are now available at 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available at or