All Good Things Must Come to an End

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Saturday was the last show of Earnest, and it was sad to see such a fun show go. These past months that I have been working on the show, I have learned so much. Not only have I learned about myself, but I have learned about the world. The world that Wilde lived in, the world his characters lived in, and also the world we live in now.

It is always easy to watch a play and distance yourself from what is happening onstage from the real world. However, I find it more rewarding when I can apply it to the world around me. I found many instances of that with this play, and it made my work more interesting. I could have easily done the research on Victorian etiquette and thought of how silly these old English people were. But, instead I found connections between their culture back then to ours of today. Surprisingly, some things do not change, and if you’ve seen the show you can probably spot the similarities.

As I worked on Earnest, I realized that my work did not just involve historical research: it also included research about people and human interactions. As a dramaturg, there is nothing more interesting to me than learning about human interactions through the ages. How did the Victorian men treat the Victorian woman? Is there any similarity to how men treat women today? What were the relations like between the upper and lower class back then? How is that relationship in modern times? It is easy to draw up a curtain on the past and say, “Oh, we’d never do that now!” But where’s the interest in that? I find theatre far more intriguing when it is something I can relate to. importanceearnest_original

These are some of the things I am thinking as I bring my work with this hilarious show to a close. It was a blast, and there never was a dull moment. I hope that when you saw the show you were able to see those moments and laugh– whether that be at the actors or at yourself for relating so much to what they were doing. Allow yourself the trivial moments that Lady Bracknell criticizes. Life is too boring when everything is serious! Continue reading

And the Moral of the Story Is…

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

…Don’t worry, I’m not actually going to tell you what the moral of The Importance of Being Earnest is. That’s because that isn’t for me to decide, it’s for you.

220px-millard-importance-earnestIn one of the first meetings I had with Rodger Sorensen, the director, he emphasized his desire to not project a theme or moral on the audience. His reasoning behind this was because of Oscar Wilde’s amoral nature– he wrote his plays without any themes or morals. Wilde just wrote to tell a story, which is what Rodger wanted to do with this play as well. However, just because Wilde wrote it without a theme in mind doesn’t mean you as an audience member can’t glean some message from it.

This is the fun part: you get to choose for yourself what you get from the show! As you leave the show, you have the chance to ask yourself what you learned, if you learned anything at all. Did Jack teach you something particularly profound? Did the hilarious situation of the characters enlighten you in some way? If so, how and why? Was it just a nice, funny show to watch that allowed you to laugh and forget the troubles of the world for a few hours? If so, that’s great too! That’s the wonderful thing about the theatre: two people can see the exact same show and walk away from it with differing opinions and perspectives. There is no right or wrong, just thoughts that can start some fantastic conversations.

With only a few days left of this run, keep that in mind when you see the show. Talk to your neighbor at intermission. Engage in conversation about the show. You might be surprised about what you learn and share. Besides, going to the theatre is always more fun when it is like that, right? Continue reading

Meet the Victorians: Part 2

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

A couple of posts ago, you got to meet a few of the wonderful actors in the show. Now you get to meet the rest of them!

Madison Dennis– Miss Prism

hermione-me-ollivandersWhat is your favorite line from your character in the play?

Does running away from Lady Bracknell count as a favorite line?

Are you a rule breaker or a rule follower?

Definitely more of a rule follower…for the most part.

If you lived in the Victorian Era, what type of person do you think you would be?

I would be upper class, but not aristocratic.

What aspect of Victorian England would you enjoy the most?

The literature and theater, and the extravagant female clothing. Although I’m perfectly fine without the corsets.

Country or city?

Live in the city with weekends in the country.

Afternoon tea or a dinner party?

Probably dinner party?

Which character from the show do you relate to the most?

I relate to Gwendolen the most.

Why should people come and see our show?

This is a classic piece of theater. Everyone should know this story and we have really lovely cast members. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Meagan Flinders– Cecily Cardew

20160927_144309What is your favorite line from your character in the play? Continue reading

Wit, Words, and Wonderful Games

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

What makes The Importance of Being Earnest such a long lasting play? For us working on this production, the magic lies in the words. Wilde clearly knew what he was doing and what he was saying, and he was able to pack his characters full of wit. Fashions may come and go, but wit is forever– that’s a saying, right?

In any case, this was the topic that I wrestled with when it came to my lobby display. Rodger Sorensen, the director, and I decided that focusing on the words and the wit would be most paramount for the display, so I ran with that idea.img_4610

On first glance, the display looks like an extension of the set, warmly welcoming the audience into the Victorian world of the characters. But, couple it with the last page of the study guide, and you get a fun game that plays off the triviality of the characters and the wit that Wilde employs. After you watch the play, go take a look at the two lobby displays and see if you can complete the game. It’s a fun interaction with the play and the humor that is ingrained throughout. Make sure to stop by before or after the show and play the game! Continue reading

Meet the Victorians: Part 1

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

The cast is working hard to make Earnest a real treat for audiences, and I thought it was time for you to meet them. There never is a dull moment in rehearsals, and it is clear that these actors mean business when it comes to comedy. In this post and the next, you will get a glimpse at the personalities of the people behind our beloved Victorians. I asked them a few questions pertaining to the show to see how they connect to it, and they did not disappoint. Enjoy their natural wit and pump yourself up for the hilarity that will soon ensue!


Sean Worsley (Jack Worthing)

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-32-01-pmWhat is your favorite line from your character in the play?

Hard choice because I feel like Jack’s lines are more “set-up” lines, but if I had to pick one I’d choose, “Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?”

Are you a rule breaker or a rule follower? 

Rule follower.

 If you lived in the Victorian Era, what type of person do you think you would be? 

Lower class for sure.

 What aspect of Victorian England would you enjoy the most?

The fantasizing that would take place of leaving Victorian England.

 Country or city?

Definitely Country.

 Afternoon tea or a dinner party?

Afternoon tea. That way I could get to bed early.

 Which character from the show do you relate to the most?

Merriman 115% of the time.

Why should people come and see our show? 

Because if they’ve dedicated the time to read all of these, they might as well come see the show, too.


Emma Widtfeldt (Gwendolen Fairfax)

image1What is your favorite line from your character in the play? 

“I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.” Continue reading

How to Be a Proper Victorian: Part 2

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

In the last post, I outlined some of the important rules that Upper Class Victorians followed closely. At rehearsal this past week, I asked the wonderful actors in our show to demonstrate some of the rules (and what it looked like when your broke them). Take a look at the pictures below, get a glimpse into Victorian etiquette, and see the silliness of the amazing cast!

First, I had the cast display bad posture that couldn’t be found at someone’s house while visiting. Posture was always meant to be upright, with no slouching, leaning, or relaxing in any inappropriate manner.

From left: Meg Flinders, Emma Widtfeld, Stephen Moore, and Sean Worsley

From left: Meg Flinders, Emma Widtfeldt, Stephen Moore, and Sean Worsley

Next, I had them demonstrate proper escorting etiquette. While men were allowed to escort two women if necessary on the street, women were never allowed to have two men on their arms.

From left: Sean Worsley, Emma Widtfeldt, and Spencer Hunsicker

From left: Sean Worsley, Emma Widtfeldt, and Spencer Hunsicker

From left: Meg Flinders, Sean Worsley, and Emma Widtfeldt

From left: Meg Flinders, Sean Worsley, and Emma Widtfeldt


This next picture is a hodge-podge of no-no’s for Victorian’s. The actors got creative and put on a display of deplorable crimes to commit while visiting someone’s home. One pose was actually a rule, though: no picking at your teeth while calling. Continue reading

How to Be A Proper Victorian: Part 1

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Now that you know what the Victorian Era was, it is appropriate that you knew what it was like, particularly for the wealthy. Propriety was of the utmost importance for upper class Victorians, and there were many rules to follow. Every aspect of life had strict rules that must be followed, as they were concerned with how they were perceived. You will get a peak at those in this post, and in the next post you will see how members of the cast handle themselves when I have them follow some of the (sometimes outrageous) rules.

mind-your-mannersGeneral Rules:

  • Learn to deny yourself and prefer others
  • Never speak or act in anger

At a Dinner Party:

  • The room may be lighted with either white or colored candles or lamps. Many prefer to have a portion of the light fall from side brackets or from the wall.
  • No more than two vegetables should be served with each entree and potatoes should not be offered with fish.

On the Street:

  • A gentleman may take two ladies upon his arms, but under no circumstances should the lady take the arms of two gentlemen.
  • No gentleman will smoke when walking with or standing in the presence of a lady standing in the street.

social-agoniesAt the Theatre:

  • A gentleman desiring a lady to accompany him to the opera, theatre, or other place of amusement, must send her a written invitation not later than the day previous to the entertainment. It must be written in the third person, upon white note-paper of the finest quality, with an env
    elope to match.
  • A gentleman accompanying a lady is not bound to give up his seat to another lady. His duty is to the lady he accompanies.

When Visiting: Continue reading

Oscar Wilde’s World: The Victorian Era

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Oscar Wilde was very much a product of his time, so it is only fitting to understand just what that time was before diving into the production itself. So what was the queen_victoria_1887Victorian Era?

The Victorian Era started in 1837 with the crowning of Queen Victoria to the British throne and ended in 1901 at the end of her rule. This time period was known as a time that involved relative peace and prosperity in the country. The British Empire expanded all over the globe during this time, and Britain became the most powerful country in the world. While this prosperity happened internationally, there were significant societal, artistic and technological changes that altered life in Britain for many years.

While it was a time of peace and prosperity, it was also associated with words such as “prudish,” “hypocritical,” and “stuffy.” But that is not true for every aspect. It does apply, however, to the upper and middle classes. The middle class was expanding during this time, and in order to become nobler and rise in status, many middle class people felt like they had to live properly like the other half and follow the rules and conventions in order to do that. And the upper class was certainly not short on rules– but that is a post for another time! Among this, many middle class people, like Wilde, tried to marry up in order to get into proper society.

music-and-musician-in-the-victorian-era-2As changes in class occurred, many other developments did as well, in London especially. New roads were cut through slums, a sewer network was constructed, ten bridges were built over the Thames, and three tunnels were built underneath it. So many things happened in these years that changed the face of London forever. Continue reading

Meet Oscar Wilde

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

To truly understand The Importance of Being Earnest, one must meet the man behind the story.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie was born October 16, 1854, to William Wilde and Jane Elgee in Dublin, Ireland. He had an older brother, William “Willie” Charles Kingsbury, and a younger sister, Isola Emily Francesca. His sister died when she was 10, which greatly affected Wilde throughout his life. Willie and Oscar attended Portora Royal School, where Oscar excelled in many subjects, particularly the classics.In 1871, Wilde was awarded the Royal School Scholarship in order to attend Trinity College in Dublin. After much success at Trinity College, Wilde earned a Demyship scholarship to attend Oxford University.

While at Oxford, Wildebio3‘s father died, which left his family in a hard place financially. He continued to work to improve his writing, and ended up winning the Newdigate prize for his poem, “Ravenna.” In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry. At the end of that year, Wilde embarked to New York to travel across the country and deliver lectures on the aesthetic movement. During this trip, Wilde seemed to have a surge in his career. His lecture series was extended from four months to a year, and he even planned to have his play, “Vera,” to be produced in New York the following year. Soon after returning from America, Wilde set off on a lecture tour in Britain and Ireland.

On May 29, 1884, he married Constance Lloyd. Lloyd was the daughter of a successful barrister, so she was very well-read and educated in multiple languages. It was a satisfactory match for Wilde, as it raised his status in society. But, that wasn’t enough for his family to do well; after the birth of his children Vyvyan and Cyril, Wilde began to work at Woman’s World magazine and stayed there from 1887 to 1889.

The next six years are when Wilde created some of his most famous works. During this time, one of Wilde’s most famous works, The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890), was published, as well as some other notable works, such as “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). All of these works helped to establish Wilde as a playwright and author in the Victorian world.

At this same time, though, Wilde became entangled in some legal issues as a result of personal actions and relationships. In April 1895, Wilde was arrested and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labor because of an intimate relationship he had with his male friend, Lord Alfred Douglas. His personal issues greatly influenced his work, particularly in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” As he was being ostracized by the society he had worked so hard to fit into, Wilde made a commentary of it in his famous play. Continue reading

Welcome to Victorian London

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Can you hear the sounds of Victorian England coming to life all around you? Do you hear the clopping of the horse drawn carriages as they go down the street? Can you smell the scented perfume of a wealthy woman who just walked by? What about the sight of St. Paul’s Cathedral just peaking over the buildings?highres_6694597

If you can’t, no matter, you will in time. By the time I am through with you, you will have a good understanding of how the Victorians lived. I plan to take you back to the world that
Oscar Wilde wrote, resided, and struggled in. What better way to see and absorb a show than to first understand its origins and inspirations?

Good day to all of you reading this post! My name is Jessa Cunningham, and I am the dramaturg of BYU’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Continue reading