Social Class in the 1920s

By Shelley Graham, Dramaturg

socialclashChariots of Fire takes place in Britain from roughly 1920 to 1924, a time period in which established social mores were changing rapidly. Throughout the play we see the various social classes represented. As Britain emerged from the ravages of World War I (or The Great War, as it was termed then,) there was a major rift in those social classes. Throughout the twenties, the working class would see poverty growing at an alarming rate, while the middle and upper classes fought for cultural prominence.

Early in the play we see wealthy young men arriving for their first day of school at Cambridge University. They are confronted almost immediately with men of the working class. This was the population who was most adversely affected by the war, having largely served in the infantry. Many of the working class who were fortunate enough to make it back home had serious scars and injuries resulting from their service.

workingclasspicket

The middle classes fared a bit better, having had more opportunities for self sufficiency both before and after the war. Though many of them lost inheritances and had to start over, they had a culture of industry that helped them start over again. The Liddell family is represented in this class. Continue reading

Audience Dramaturgy: Your Turn to Ask Questions about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

By Anne Flinders

One of the traditions at BYU theatre productions is the weekly Thursday night post-show discussion. The post-show discussion is always a great way to get a behind-the-scenes peak at how a play is put together. Any audience members who choose to do so are invited to remain after a play to visit with the cast members and designers and ask them questions about their work.

Director Barta Heiner and playwright Melissa Leilani Larson enjoy a moment during a post-show discussion following a performance of BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Director Barta Heiner and playwright Melissa Leilani Larson enjoy a moment during a post-show discussion following a performance of BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Last week the first post-show discussion was held for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and there was a great turnout. The event was moderated by the production dramaturg, Anne Flinders. Members of the audience asked the cast questions about things like acting choices, their preparation for playing particular characters, and their training in manners and customs for the period and the society the play represents. The designers were asked about their research and choices for their work. Even the audience was asked a few questions about their engagement with the play, and had an opportunity to share bits their experience with this new production with the cast and crew.

As a special treat, Thursday’s post-show discussion included an appearance by the playwright, Melissa Leilani Larson, and the director, Barta Heiner. Audience members took advantage of the opportunity to ask these women about their work, and got some interesting insight into the collaborative process of producing a new work of theatre.

A final post-show discussion is scheduled for Thursday, April 3rd, following curtain call, and will be moderated by BYU’s dramaturgy specialist, Janine Sobeck. Audience members are welcome to stay after the show, and those who may have already seen the play are also invited to return and join in.

We are nearing the close of the run of Brigham Young University’s world premiere of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE adapted by Melissa Leilani Larson. The play is sold out. Stand-by tickets may still be available minutes prior to curtain, but there is no guarantee.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Meeting Members of the Cast & Crew, Part 4

PnP Pride-and-Prejudice-publicity

By Anne Flinders

“It’s a distinct pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Brigham Young University’s world premiere production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opens this week. Coinciding with opening weekend, we want to introduce you to some of the people behind the scenes and on the stage of this exciting new play. Following is the fourth and final part in a series of interviews with cast members and designers whose work you will see when you see the show.

Karli Hall as Elizabeth Bennet and Ted S. Bushman as Mr. Darcy in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Karli Hall as Elizabeth Bennet and Ted S. Bushman as Mr. Darcy in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

TED BUSHMAN, MR. DARCY, BYU STUDENT

“Mr. Darcy is a man of whom very little wrong can be said.” 

Ted is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he grew up with one brother and three sisters.

Ted shared with us the journey he has taken as an artist creating the role of Mr. Darcy for this production. He said it began when he worked with Melissa Leilani Larson, the playwright, in the workshop of this play during fall semester, 2012. Ted recalls this as a delightful time. He read Darcy for the workshop from the beginning because, he says, “I was the solemnest jerk in the class.” Ted describes watching the script grow as a wonderful process.  For creating the character Ted said, “I had read the book in high school but had never seen any of the films, so I just brought to Darcy what I thought would work. I think Mel’s Mr. Darcy has always been a little funnier, a little more likely to keep a little hidden smile, and also very emotional despite his facade of complete indifference. I’ve enjoyed bringing myself to the character and working with Mel to make something interesting.”

Ted S. Bushman, appearing in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Ted S. Bushman, appearing in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Ted told us that the other part of the journey took place in rehearsals. “Trust is the key to a good acting relationship, and working with Karli [Karli Hall, who plays Elizabeth Bennet] is a joy because we are such good friends. She and I have become very classical actors in the last year; we played Brutus and Portia in Julius Caesar for Conservatory, which Barta also directed. I think both of us have a deep love of language.  In an early rehearsal, Barta told us that we were machine gun-mouthing it too much, just spitting out the language and not taking time to savor it. We’ve worked together on really attempting to embody these extremely famous characters as ourselves, and I think we’ve succeeded.”

We asked Ted if it’s always been acting for him. “I wanted to act from a young age,” he said. “My siblings were all younger and more adorable than me, and so in order to get my parents’ attention I would make puppet shows, or draw out stories, and just try and get them to listen to what I had to say. My mother put me in a choir, which I hated and eventually led to me studying Musical Theater, which I love.”  Ted also read every book about dragons he could find in the library, and moved on to other types of literature. He writes plays now, composes music, and continues to love acting.

For Ted, part of the message of the play is an affirmation that things can work out in relationships, and that they don’t have to work out in the way expected or in accordance with societal norms. “Everybody says the message of Pride and Prejudice is about first impressions.  I don’t think that, though, or at least that’s not the message that draws me. Mr. Darcy and Lizzie are a match for each other intellectually and socially, despite what others say.”

KARLI HALL, ELIZABETH BENNET, BYU STUDENT

She has a wit that both disarms and pleases…I may find myself in some certain danger.”

Karli is from Seattle, Washington and is a senior in BYU’s Acting Program. “I’m the youngest of five daughters so Pride and Prejudice has always occupied a special place in the hearts of my family members, as the Bennets share that with us. The love and gratitude I have for my family defies the description of human language and has opened my heart up to everything that matters most. It is truly because of them that I’m at BYU right now, pursuing my deepest passion.”

Karli Hall, appearing as Elizabeth Bennet in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Karli Hall, appearing as Elizabeth Bennet in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

We asked Karli if it’s always been acting for her. “Since I was a young child, I’ve always been performing and entertaining my family members with songs, jokes, and home movies.” It wasn’t until high school that she began considering acting as something that she might continue doing throughout her life. “I left my few years in the drama club with a new burning pursuit that I took with me to BYU. I knew right away when I got here and took my first theatre class that this was something I wanted and was supposed to be doing, and that BYU was the place I should be.”

Karli shared with us that while she has always loved the theatre, her plans to continue acting outside of university primarily center on film work. “I’ve always been interested in film acting and am grateful that BYU has such a solid film program.”

Some of Karli’s interests include  reading, baking, rock climbing, biking, and expanding her love for music, especially played on lo-fi technology. “A record player stands as one of my most cherished domestic features.” Most of all, she loves spending time with the people she love. “I need them more than I need anything, and I only hope I can give as much support as they’ve given me, especially my husband, who has been the foundation for me amid the storms of the past two semesters. He is truly my Mr. Darcy.”

Be sure to get your tickets soon; the show is almost sold out!

Special matinee performance Monday, March 31st at 4pm.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Meeting Members of the Cast & Crew, Part 3

PnP Pride-and-Prejudice-publicity

By Anne Flinders

“It’s a distinct pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Brigham Young University’s world premiere production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opens this week. Coinciding with opening weekend, we want to introduce you to some of the people behind the scenes and on the stage of this exciting new play. Following is the third part in a series of interviews with cast members and designers whose work you will see when you see the show.

REBEKAH SILVER JACKSON, ASSISTANT COSTUME DESIGNER, BYU STUDENT

“Oh, Miss Bennet. That is such a lovely color on you.”

Rebekah S. Jackson, asst. costume designer, BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Rebekah S. Jackson, asst. costume designer, BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Rebekah is from Mapleton, Utah where she spent much of her time hiking, horseback riding, sewing and crafting. She says she always wanted to attend BYU. She is a Theatre Art Studies major with Costume Design as her emphasis. The extent of her theatre experience before attending BYU was a small play in sixth grade!

This is Rebekah’s first time assisting or designing for a show. She says, “I have learned a lot from Melanie Lamb, the costume designer, as we worked through the research, concept, sketches, final designs, shopping and fittings together. It has been particularly fun to work on the costumes of the Bennet sisters, as I have my own four sisters who remind me of them sometimes!”

To Rebekah, an important message in the play is how Jane Austen shows how family can be one’s best support in difficult times. “The important thing that we learn from Elizabeth’s example is that while she does not condone some of her family’s actions, she never abandons them and continues to love them throughout the play. She remains a friend with them all, and learns from both the good and bad of their decisions.

ALLYSON THAXTON, GEORGIANA DARCY/HILL, BYU STUDENT 

“How I long to see Miss Darcy again! Such a countenance, such manners.”

Allyson Thaxton, appearing as Hill & Georgiana Darcy in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Allyson Thaxton, appearing as Hill & Georgiana Darcy in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Allyson comes from a military family from San Antonio, Texas. As a family tradition and desire, BYU was her number one choice for college. Besides her interest in theatre, there are other activities Allyson enjoys as well. “I am a member of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company; I love to compete and perform in that. I also enjoy interior design, especially in homes.”

Allyson told us that she loves the book Pride and Prejudice, so it was a natural choice for her to audition. “I was excited when I got in, but it has been difficult to be a character without any spoken lines, especially since I had quite a few in the last main stage I was in.” Allyson says, “I have had to learn to love my roles because they are the extra little details that make the play. Consequently I have enjoyed exploring my two characters and their thoughts and feelings regarding other characters [in the play].”

The message Allyson hopes to share through BYU’s production of Pride and Prejudice is that sometimes the road to gaining true love can be difficult. There will be trials and bumps thrown in the way. “But despite this, love can overcome anything if it is set with the right mind and attitude, setting aside our differences and prideful attributes.”

LOGAN HAYDEN, COLONEL FITZWILLIAM, ASSISTANT LIGHTING DESIGNER, ASSISTANT SCENIC DESIGNER, BYU STUDENT

“We have already met, oh, so many fine-looking officers.”

Logan Hayden, asst. lighting and scenic design; also appearing as Colonel Fitzwilliam in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Logan Hayden, asst. lighting and scenic design; also appearing as Colonel Fitzwilliam in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Logan Hayden, clearly a jack-of-all-theatre-trades, is from Arbon, Idaho. In choosing to come to BYU, Logan said, “My dad and all his siblings attended BYU years ago, but all of my five siblings went other places. [Eventually], however, they were all lead to the promised land of BYU. (Well, all but one traitor who did his grad school at the U, but we try to not speak of him.) I attended BYU-I, and served a mission in Oaxaca, Mexico.

When I returned to school, my brother who was attending BYU and I would tease each other about which was the “true” church school. One day I was reading my weekly emails and Austin teased me about taking care that our sister Chelsea not get to me; that she was going to try to convince me to move down so we could all be close. I let out a few hearty laughs but the 3rd or 4th got caught in my throat as I thought, “Wait… Why don’t I transfer?” A week later after prayer & pondering, I decided to make the switcheroo. And that is the epic tale of how this Arbon-ite Idahoan ended up in the Happy Valley!”

KRISTIN PERKINS, CAROLINE BINGLEY, BYU STUDENT

“I sense an invasion.”

Kristin Perkins, appearing as Caroline Bingley in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Kristin Perkins, appearing as Caroline Bingley in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

We asked Kristin if it’s always been acting for her. “My mom put me in a YMCA theatre camp when I was really young with the logic that it would somehow help me get over my shyness. I’m not sure it did but I did find a passion in creating stories and forming characters. I figure it is for similar reasons that I have always enjoyed reading and writing. As a child I ran around the backyard with a stick pretending to be an elf, and last year I was published in Inscape, BYU’s journal for literature and art, with a short story. My current pursuits in writing and art don’t seem all that different.”

Kristin told us that playing Caroline Bingley has been a really exciting opportunity for her. “She is different from me in many ways, but underneath the layers and layers of pretense Caroline puts on there is an insecure woman capable of loving and hurting.”

When we asked her what she felt the message she wants to convey through this production is, Kristin shared this with us: “For me that awareness [of Caroline’s insecurities] has been the theme and thesis in my journey through Pride and Prejudice: that relationships require a give, a take and, most importantly, a risk. As misinformed and ill-conceived as Caroline’s attempts to pursue Mr. Darcy are, there is still vulnerability in her desire and that is something I truly believe everyone in the audience can relate to. This is where I found my connection to the character and to the story. Investing in another person is often scary and confusing, and inherently puts us in a position of being unprotected, even exposed. Sometimes it works out, like for Elizabeth and Darcy, and sometimes it doesn’t, like for Caroline, but there is always something beautiful in the attempt to connect.”

 

Be sure to get your tickets soon; they are going fast!

 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Meeting Members of the Cast & Crew, Part 2

PnP Pride-and-Prejudice-publicity

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

“It’s a distinct pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Brigham Young University’s world premiere production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opens this week. Coinciding with opening weekend, we want to introduce you to some of the people behind the scenes and on the stage of this exciting new play. Following is the second part in a series of interviews with cast members and designers whose work you will see when you see the show.

SHANNON HENSLEY, HAIR AND MAKEUP DESIGNER, BYU STUDENT

“You are and always will be the loveliest woman in the room.”

Shannon Hensley, Hair and Makeup Designer

Shannon Hensley, Hair and Makeup Designer

Shannon is from Spring, Texas; a town just north of Houston. She came to BYU as a freshman hoping to be an actress and ended up in the makeup design programs, and she says she loves it!

For Shannon, this play has been all about collaboration. “I think each of the designers had a vision for what the show would look like,” she said, “and it’s been a great experience being part of the collaboration process. Now that it’s finally coming to actualization, it’s nice to see a bit of every designer on the stage. It’s almost like a little piece of each of our hearts is out there, and I can’t wait until everyone can see what I’ve been seeing in my head for the past six months or so.”

Shannon shared with us that something the makeup team tried to create with their designs was the ability to be able to instantly recognize each character as part of a family unit, so that the audience can tell just by looking at each character not only who they are related to, put who they are close to as well. “I think that’s one of the messages that I love from the show; it’s our relationships that help define who we are, for better or for worse. We get to see the journey that many of the characters take as they learn that how they take care of their relationships really defines who they are.  Hopefully those who watch the show will walk away thinking about their own relationships, whether it be with family or friends, and how they can improve or perhaps even mend them.”

JACOB SWAIN, MR. COLLINS, BYU STUDENT

“I think it a right thing for a clergyman to be the example for matrimony in his parish.”

Jacob Swain, appearing as Mr Collins in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Jacob Swain, appearing as Mr Collins in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Jake is a member of a family of nine from Orem, UT. His dad is an accounting professor and, believe it or not, a lot of Jake’s passion for acting comes from him.

We asked Jake, “For you, what has the journey of this play entailed so far?” Here is what he shared with us about the journey of creating the character of Mr. Collins. “Well, [initially] my Mr. Collins began pretty . . . creepy. Overtly creepy even. As the show has progressed I realized that I was wrong about Mr. Collins. He is just trying his hardest to be debonair and well-spoken and important—all the things that people seem to be so attracted to around him. But he just doesn’t know how to do that. So he falls flat on his face time and time again. And as socially unaware as he sometimes appears, I think he can tell when he’s made a complete fool of himself. And it hurts, perhaps more than anyone would suspect.”

AUSTIN JENSEN, MR. BINGLEY, BYU STUDENT

“Why go to war, when we might have a ball instead?” 

Austin Jensen, appearing as Mr Bingley in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Austin Jensen, appearing as Mr Bingley in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Austin is one of five children from Sandy, Utah. He served a mission in the Honduras Comayaguela Mission. Now back in Provo, He is fully submersed in his studies, working on a double major in Sociology and Spanish with a minor in International Development.

Austin shared with us what the journey of this show has entailed for him. He says, “It has been [one] of finding the similarities and differences between me and Mr. Bingley, and then learning to portray all those differences in a way that’s loyal to Bingley’s character. I have been fascinated with exploring an entire culture that is emphasized with dialect and strict social etiquette. It is a blast!”

“One of my greatest fears is unmet potential,” Austin candidly stated. “Lizzy Bennett also fears having a life that is distant from her hopes and dreams. Through the story of each character, [we] see how judging others and passing uninformed judgments causes us to suppress the potential [in] other people: our family members, our loved ones and our friends.” For Austin, an important message the audience can take away is this: “I hope that people can see how Mr. Bingley and Jane strive to live life with sincerity. They act upon personal feeling to direct their actions. They are good examples to the other characters, but more so to the audience. “Plus,” he adds, “Bingley is just a gentleman! We need more gentlemen in the world.”

AUBREY REYNOLDS, JANE BENNETT, BYU STUDENT

“She’s an angel. I couldn’t conceive of one more—beautiful.”

Aubrey is from Dallas, Texas. “Born and raised – a true Texan. I came to BYU four years ago to pursue a BFA in Acting and I am graduating in April! Yay!”

 

Aubrey Reynolds, appearing as Jane Bennet in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Aubrey Reynolds, appearing as Jane Bennet in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

“Acting is my true passion,” Aubrey told us. “I love it and when I’m not in the theatre I’m at the movie theater watching films. I’m a little obsessed with movies and hope to be in them someday soon.” We asked her if she has any hobbies or interests outside her passion for acting. “I love backpacking and exploring nature. I am like a sunflower and am so drawn to the sunlight. Other than that, I love to play the piano and sing and read, and among other things I bake a rather good pecan pie.”

When asked where she finds a message in the play that she might share with others, Aubrey said, “What I like about Jane is she doesn’t go searching for anything. She has no grand expectations, and is always true to herself.” The most important message she takes away personally is this: “Look for the joy and love within people, and true joy and love will find you. Don’t succumb to what people might say, or even the prejudices of others. Love yourself no matter what happens and keep faith in those around you – it’ll all work out in the end!”

PEARL CORRY, MARY BENNET, BYU STUDENT

“We would love to hear a reading from Proverbs, should you care to—” 

Pearl Corry (self-portrait), appearing as Mary Bennet in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Pearl Corry (self-portrait), appearing as Mary Bennet in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Pearl is from Honolulu, Hawai’i, and is in her second semester at BYU. “I enjoy throwing paint around, taking public transport, writing poetry, eating kale salad, listening to Philip Glass, and spending time with my family.” Pearl is an art major. “But,” she says, “I am hopelessly in love with the theatre and am excited to find ways to combine the two in the future. Both are such great modes of communication.”

We asked Pearl about her experience as a freshman in a main stage Brigham Young University production. She was effervescent in her joy because of this journey. “I cannot think on my involvement in this play without a deep sense of gratitude. My fellow cast members are an endless source of inspiration. The production crew works SO hard! They are the epitome of teamwork. I am grateful to my character, Mary, for allowing me to step into her shoes. I am amazed at how much I learn about her every day. And the more I learn about her, the more I learn about myself.”

Of the messages in Pride and Prejudice Pearl states: I love the way this play deals with the juxtaposition of one’s own ideals and the real-life occurrences that often challenge them. Every character must deal with this reality—from Mrs. Bennet to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, from Georgiana to Mr. Collins. Change is indeed the very essence of life. (I’m sure that’s in one of Mr. Fordyce’s sermons somewhere.)”

 

Be sure to get your tickets soon; they are going fast!

 

 

Who Was Jane Austen?

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Who was Jane Austen? Where and how did she live? With whom did she associate? How did she become a writer? And what is her legacy? Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”, but we’ll try to answer at least a few of these questions.

Where did Jane Austen’s begin her life?

“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” – Jane Austen

A portrait of Jane Austen, based on a watercolor by Jane's sister, Cassandra.

A portrait of Jane Austen, based on a watercolor by Jane’s sister, Cassandra.

Jane Austen was born on the 16th of December, 1775, in Steventon, Hampshire, England. She was the second daughter of a clergyman and his wife, George and Cassandra Austen, and the fifth of seven children. Jane and her sister Cassandra were educated mostly at home after a brief enrollment in a boarding school in Reading, England. She read extensively from her father’s library, practiced playing the pianoforte, and was engaged in the neighborhood society, attending parties and balls. Her brother Henry later said that “Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it”.

Who were her companions?

Although her brothers all left the family on reaching adulthood, Jane lived at home her entire life with her sister Cassandra and their mother. When her father retired from the clergy in 1800, the family moved to Bath, England. Mr. Austen died of a sudden illness in 1805 and the family’s financial situation was precarious. The three ladies moved around and about Bath in different locations for the next four years, until Jane’s brother Edward invited them to live in a cottage at Chawton, his estate in Hampshire.

When she was twenty years old, Jane may have enjoyed a brief romance with Tom Lefroy—a young university graduate from Ireland who had come to Steventon to visit his family. This romance was suspected from comments in Jane’s letters to Cassandra: “I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.” Even in regard to her own interest in a young man she shows her ability to recognize and write irony and wit.

How did Jane Austen begin writing?

When she was a girl, Jane wrote short plays and works of fiction that her family would read aloud for amusement. She also wrote A Brief History of England, a parody of historical writers. Her writings were always funny, and always dealt with matters common to everyday life and the foibles of ordinary people. Even at a relatively early age, Jane was a keen observer of human weaknesses and strengths.

Jane Austen's writing table, on display at Chawton Cottage.

Jane Austen’s writing table, on display at Chawton Cottage.

Jane wrote a full-length novel, First Impressions, in 1796, completing the initial draft in August 1797 when she was only 21. Her father attempted to get the book published, but found no one who would accept the manuscript. However, Jane continued to write and revise her work. Her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published in 1811 and was well-received. Jane did not acknowledge herself as the author; the cover page simply read thus: BY A LADY. Jane immediately returned to working on First Impressions.

On 25 January, 1813, Pride and Prejudice, a major revision of First Impressions, was published and released. Again Jane retained her anonymity; the title page identified the book as written BY THE AUTHOR OF SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. The novel was popular; literary circles were talking about it; even the Prince Regent George IV enjoyed it and later asked that Jane dedicate one of her novels to him. Though she disliked the prince, she obliged.

Jane’s Adult Life

Jane Austen never married. She lived with her mother and sister Cassandra at Chawton Cottage, writing and engaging in society there. In 1816 she became ill, but continued to write. Her health worsened, and her sister took her to Winchester to seek medical help. Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817, at the age of 41. Jane wrote six novels in all, 2 of which were published posthumously.

JANE AUSTEN’S MAJOR WORKS

Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous), Persuasion (1818, posthumous)

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” – Jane Austen

Melissa Leilani Larson: Getting to Know the Playwright, Part II

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Melissa Leilani Larson is the playwright of BYU’s 2014 production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This is the second part of a two-part interview with Mel. We’ll learn about what goes into writing a new play, about the process by which this new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice came from the pen of the playwright.

For you, what has the journey of this play entailed so far?

Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson

Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson

First thing, I went back to the novel. It had been a while since I had read Pride and Prejudice. So the first thing was to re-read the novel, and just read it. I didn’t take notes, I didn’t write any scenes. I was just a reader revisiting a favorite novel. Reading the book felt almost new. In spite of familiarity with the book and the many film and stage adaptations, there were moments in the novel that struck me as quite new and stunning. I realized there were indeed different ways I could approach the story and the characters.

So then I went through the novel again, this time armed with highlighters and notebooks. I plotted out the scenes that needed to happen on stage, and tore apart the narrative for dialogue and motivation. And I pounded out a draft over the summer.

The book is just massive, so the big challenge for me was streamlining. The essence of the story has to come out and be clear to people who know it as well as those who don’t. Is this just the story of Lizzy and Darcy falling in love? No. I really wanted to flesh out all the characters and make them real people. Jane, for example, I think gets boxed in as the “pretty one” in that cute “other” couple. Boo on that. I wanted Jane to have opinions, to state her mind, to make choices. I’ve tried to root all of the characters in a very real need; they all have goals and aspirations, obstacles and struggles. Yes, they are funny; but the humor comes out of the fact that these characters are human beings making choices.

In Fall 2012 BYU’s Writer/Dramaturg/Actor workshop worked on six plays, including this one. Workshopping a play as a series of readings with a cast is useful because I hear a variety of voices and get to experiment. The WDA semester culminated in a staged reading. Throughout the drafting process, I’ve had five readings—three with audiences and two without—to gauge the play’s progress.

When the play was selected for production, I met with the designers for their feedback. I consulted with the director and dramaturgs through the summer. More rewrites! I finished a draft for the production team in September, and another for the cast in January.

I love rehearsal. There is nothing quite like hearing actors speak your words aloud. I work closely with the director and smooth out the bumps: Is this line too difficult to say? Will this joke land? Does this make sense? A lot of problem solving happens in rehearsal.

The big challenge with this piece is streamlining. There’s a lot of plot, and we don’t have a 5-hour miniseries to tell it. The essence of the story has to come out and be clear to people who know it as well as those who don’t.

Has it always been writing plays for you?

All growing up and through undergrad, I knew I was going to be a writer. Originally I planned to be a novelist. I became a playwright by accident. One day I saw a poster in the JKHB offering a $500 prize for a playwriting contest. So I went home and wrote a play. The play was pretty awful and it didn’t win, but my life changed.

What lies in store?

Oh, goodness. I hope a lot of things. I have a lot of things in the works, a lot of stories I want to tell. I have a couple of original pieces I’m working on, as well as a couple of other adaptations I’ve been asked to write. (People are asking me to write things! Commissions! Woohoo!) I have a couple of screenplays—one is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It—that I would love to see made. I’m in the midst of drafting a television pilot, and I would like to go back to writing fiction someday.

I just want to keep making stuff, and hope that people keep coming to see it.

What is the most important message you want to share through Pride and Prejudice? What is the most important message you will take away?

Pride and Prejudice is about accepting people as they are, including ourselves, flaws and all. It’s about second chances—both giving and accepting them. It’s about not judging those around us. It’s about finding humor and beauty in things that are supposedly mundane. It’s about a lot of things.

My hope is always that people leave the theatre changed. If not better, at least more are more aware of the ways in which they could be better. Hmm. Maybe that’s what I just hope for myself.

Melissa Leilani Larson is an award-winning writer whose work has been produced all over the country. Awards and honors include KC/ACTF Meritorious Achievement, Trustus Playwrights Festival Finalist, Lewis National Women’s Playwriting award, Mayhew Playwriting award, LDS Film Festival Feature Writing award, and the Association for Mormon Letters Drama Award.  Pride and Prejudice is her fifth BYU production after Lady in Waiting, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, Martyrs’ Crossing (produced under the title Angels Unaware), and Persuasion. Mel holds a BA in English from BYU and an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. She is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

PRIDE and PREJUDICE: Asking Questions, Seeking Answers

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By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Where are we?

What year is it? What time is it? What season is it?

Who’s in charge? Who’s in need?

Who cares?

Who am I?

Those are a lot of questions. And they need some answers. Let’s start with the last one.

Who am I? I’m Anne Flinders. I’m a dramaturg. I ask a lot of questions. And my job?  Well, it’s to find the answers.

Dramaturgs view the world in terms of puzzles and possibilities. We wonder a lot. We look for ways to enable a blossoming play to live, to thrive, and to do so with truth. We try to help others organize and fit the world of a play together so that the pieces make a beautiful, connected whole. We do this by anticipating the questions an audience might have about a script or a plot, a place or a character, and then we find the answers with the playwright, the director, the designers and the actors.

During BYU’s 2013-14 theatre season, I’ll be asking a lot of questions about the world premiere play Pride and Prejudice, written by Melissa Leilani Larson. One of the first questions about the play that I’ll be answering for you? Who is Melissa Leilani Larson? I think you’ll find the answers intriguing.

I’ll also be finding answers to your questions about the director and designers of the play. Who are they? What have they chosen to bring to the stage to enliven this play for your enjoyment, and your thoughtfulness?

I’ll be looking for answers to your questions about the cast. What excites them about their roles in Pride and Prejudice? What do they hope to bring to the stage that you will connect with?

I’ll be introducing you to answers to questions that perhaps you haven’t thought about, such as “Who is Jane Austen?” “Why have her novels not only lingered but flourished into the 21st century?” Or perhaps you have already discovered the answers to those questions; in that case, I hope to add to what you already know.

I won’t be doing this dramaturgy work alone. Janine Sobeck, BYU’s dramaturgy specialist and a wonderful mentor and guide, will be working beside me. She brings an expertise and warmth to this work, and you and I will benefit from having her come along with us.

Where are we? What year is it? Who’s in need? Who cares?

Let’s find some answers.