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.

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

Animals Backstage at Pride and Prejudice Rehearsal

Excerpts from an article by Marvin Payne (appearing as Mr Bennet in BYU’s production of Pride and Prejudice)

Marvin Payne

Marvin Payne

I’m in rehearsals for a production of Pride and Prejudice “down to the BY,” as my wife’s grandfather would have said. I’m Mr Bennet (the British don’t punctuate “Mr”). For rehearsals involving only the Bennet family, I’ve typically been the only guy in the room—totally female family, female director, female production staff, and two female dramaturgs.

A word about dramaturgs: Good luck defining what the heck one is, besides brainy and nice and one of them has a dog that acts (in this very show!). I think the definition of “dramaturg” is something you feel rather than try to articulate. And it takes a certain kind of person to feel it.

On a recent Thursday evening our director, Barta Heiner, gave us an assignment: Carefully research and choose an animal that your character might be if your character was an animal. Don’t tell anybody what it is, but come early on Saturday morning prepared for an “acting exercise.” Everybody else probably had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Not me.

I wasn’t able to think of as many as five animals to choose from, let alone an animal who embodied the essential characteristics of an English country gentleman living in a high estrogen zone. So I asked Mr Google “What kind of animal would my character be?” Instantly I had at my fingertips a few dozen quizzes I could take that would determine the answer scientifically, unanimously, incontrovertibly. So I just started answering the questions the way I knew Mr Bennet would. The first quiz concluded that Mr Bennet was a wolf. I took another. It affirmed that Mr Bennet was an unspecified bird. The third quiz made him a dolphin, the fourth a bear, and the fifth quiz (the first one wherein the questions were composed with conventional grammar) identified Bennet as a mole.

Actually, mole attracted me, because the site said that both Bob Dylan and John Lennon were moles. But I wasn’t confident I could pull it off, so I took a sixth quiz. It said “Cat” and something inside me went “ping” in an affirmative manner. Cats are something this actor can take or leave, but here are the parallels: Mr Bennet is mostly about emotional hiding out. See the cat, when something chaotic is happening, tiptoeing off to somewhere the heck else.  Also, cats have retractable claws which are mostly retracted but can, in a crisis, un-retract them.

And fundamental to cats is this totally unearned sense of dignity. Carrying themselves erect, landing on their feet, moving among lesser creatures as though they, the cats, never doubted for a moment their absolute superiority—a superiority born, not out of accomplishment or even aspiration, but merely out of being cats. The hereditary aristocracy of early nineteenth-century England is just like this (without whiskers).

Here’s how it went down that Saturday morning. We all lay on tumbling mats on the floor with the lights dimmed. The company, who seemed to know innately exactly what to do, had arranged big black blocks of varying proportions in almost random patterns, some forming little walls, some tunnels, some leaning on others in diagonal ways. In the silence, with our eyes closed, we followed Barta’s instructions to breathe in energy and breathe out tension. We were allowed to endow these gasses with colors, if we thought it might help. This was not general, lung-centric breathing, but was dispensed to every part of our persons from toenails to the hair follicles upon our heads.

Once we had reached a meditative state that would have made the Beatles jealous, we were invited to contemplate our chosen animals. I thought, “How could I possibly be more ready for the acting exercise?” Still on the mats, after some contemplation of our critters, we were invited to admit them into our bodies and allow them to take over.

That’s when the fur hit the fan. Instantly I was surrounded by a frighteningly authentic menagerie. All my Bennet daughters and my Bennet wife were flying things, warbling and tweeting and quacking. Only Elizabeth, Mr Bennet’s favorite, the one with whom he has an emotional and intellectual bond, was not a flying thing. She was—get this—a lioness. A cat just like dad, but bigger and better! Remember we didn’t tell anybody what we were gonna be? Slam dunk!

The other lioness was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Imagine what happened when those two met up! Lady Catherine’s sickly daughter was a fawn, cowering next to a controlling mother who might at any moment devour her. Darcy and Bingley, as wolf and dog respectively, rough-housed so authentically that Bingley emerged with bleeding knees.

Mr Collins’s meerkat was astounding, snaking about underground and then poking up, glassy-eyed, into the risky world like a, well, a meerkat. There wasn’t a trace of human in the whole guy. It was at once beautiful and deeply scary.

For the first half of the morning, Barta thought I was an orangutan. Mr Bennet’s second youngest daughter, Kitty, never did let go of the impression that I was a penguin. But I’m taking comfort in the fact that nobody thought I was a dramaturg.

I was so astounded by the talent and abandon and commitment of these players that I could hardly remember to purr, and mostly forgot that cats walk on all fours. I felt like somebody had tossed me a paper helmet and shoved me out onto the grass in LaVell Edwards Stadium, with Cougars bearing down on me from one direction and screaming Utes from another. More than once I reflected with relief that I’d chosen an animal who hides. Which I did. A lot.

At the end, we all lay down again and Barta gently talked us back into humanity. She

Misty, appearing in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Misty, appearing in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

finally directed our attention to our departing animal, which turned back at a distance to give us a last look. And here was the big surprise. What I felt in that moment was gratitude to the cat, for visiting me and teaching me so well about the tender and tormented Mr Bennet. Didn’t anticipate that.

Now I know what an acting exercise is.

By the way, the dog that can act? She wasn’t there. Barta didn’t think she needed it.

[To read the entire article, use this link: http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/13940]

PRIDE and PREJUDICE: Asking Questions, Seeking Answers

PnP background

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.

 

Wrinkle’s Time Travel and The Setting within the Books

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg

http://geek-news.mtv.com/?p=89829

The world of L’Engle’s characters is filled with fictional place names, often taken from mythological figures that relate symbolically to locales in the book. For example, the planet Ixchel in A Wrinkle in Time, where Meg is cared for by a motherly creature, who’s name is Ixchel, a Mayan moon goddess. Other, more mundane locations are often fictionalized versions of places L’Engle has lived or visited in the real world, such as L’Engle’s Connecticut home, which strongly resembles that of the Murry family.

Overall, the series takes place in a roughly contemporary setting, usually understood to be in the near future with respect to the publication dates of the first two novels. Since the series was written over the course of decades, it is not possible to establish an exact year in which each story takes place; historical events mentioned in the books (such as the dates of the Apollo space program and the name of the President of the United States) do not always correspond to the “real world.” In recognition of this, and of the cosmic nature of the series, the inside front cover of Many Waters states that the series is set in Kairos, a way of looking at time as “real time, pure numbers with no measurement,” reflecting her belief that “God’s time and our time are not the same.”

Each of the books contains one or more instances of time travel, carrying the protagonists to metaphysical battlegrounds in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. The eponymous “wrinkle in time” is a short hop to the immediate past, engineered by the Mrs W’s to allow Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace to accomplish their mission and return before they are missed at home. In A Wind in the Door, Proginoskes takes Meg to “yesterday” to show her the Echthroi destroying a patch of stars. Charles Wallace spends most of A Swiftly Tilting Planet “within” the bodies and minds of people from the distant (and not-so-distant) past, traveling there by unicorn. Many Waters finds Sandy and Dennys stranded in the time of Noah after unwisely typing on their parents’ computer while an experiment is in progress.

As L’Engle explains in her book The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth: “If we limit ourselves to the possible and provable… we render ourselves incapable of change and growth, and that is something that should never end. If we limit ourselves to the age that we are, and forget all the ages that we have been, we diminish our truth.” Later in the same book, she further explains her use of the science fantasy genre: “Writing A Wrinkle in Time... was my first effort in a genre now called ‘science fantasy’, and science fantasy is not far from fairy tale, that world which delves deep into the human psyche, struggling to find out at least a little more of what we are all about.”

Meeting the Audience

By Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Now that our opening weekend for The Servant of Two Masters is over, the fun really begins. Not only do the cast and crew really get to settle into their roles, we also get to start hearing feedback from our audience members. Some will be formal in the terms of reviews, while others will be informal discussions with friends, family, and strangers who attended the show.

The ability to talk to our audience really is one of the most fulfilling parts of doing theatre. Not only do we love to hear your thoughts on the show, we love to discover what questions you have about the issues discussed, the process of creation, or anything else that you have on your mind.

Servant_1_300x365One of the ways that we ensure that we will get to hear from our audience is through our post show discussions. These post shows (also called Meet the Company) happen immediately after the Thursday night performances of each production. The audience is invited to stay, the actors come out, and the dramaturg moderates a discussion based on those thoughts and questions that the audience has.

If you’ve never been to a post show, I invite you to attend one for The Servant of Two Masters, which are happening on March 28th and April 4th. If you’re in the audience that night, all you have to do is stick around, and if you’ve seen the show another night, all you have to do is show up around the end of the show (about 9:30) and walk into the theatre. The discussion is free, and always proves to be a fascinating event.

Who is Madeleine L’Engle?

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg

To start our journey with A Wrinkle in Time, I wanted to take a look at the author of the original novel.  Just who is Madeleine L’Engle?

About the Author

The Early Years:
Madeleine L’Engle was born in New York City on November 29, 1918, and named after her great-grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle. Her mother, a classically trained pianist, was also named Madeleine. Her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a writer, a critic, and a foreign correspondent during World War I. With the influence of her loving parents, L’Engle wrote her first story at age four and began keeping a journal at age eight. Her early literary attempts did not translate into academic success at the school where she was enrolled. Being a shy child, she was often branded as slow and mentally challenged by some of her teachers. Unable to please them, she retreated into her own world of books and writing.

Adulthood and Career:
MadeleineL’Engle attended Smith College from 1937 to 1941. After graduating cum laude, she moved to an apartment in New York City. In 1942, she met actor Hugh Franklin when she appeared in the play The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. L’Engle married Franklin on January 26, 1946, the year after the publication of her first novel, The Small Rain. The couple’s first daughter, Josephine, was born in 1947. The family moved to Goshen, Connecticut in 1952 where their son Bion was born that same year. Four years later, seven-year-old Maria, the daughter of family friends who had died, came to live with the Franklins, and they adopted her shortly thereafter.

madeleine_lengleIn 1959 the family returned to New York City so that Hugh could resume his acting career. The move was immediately preceded by a ten-week cross-country camping trip, during which L’Engle first had the idea for her most famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle completed the book by 1960, but more than two dozen publishers rejected the story before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally published it in 1962. After Wrinkle, L’Engle wrote dozens of books for children and adults throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. One of her books for adults, Two-Part Invention, was a memoir of her marriage, completed after her husband’s death from cancer on September 26, 1986. A few compilations of her older work, some of it previously unpublished, appeared after 2001.

In her final years, L’Engle became unable to travel or teach due to reduced mobility from a cerebral hemorrhage in 2002. L’Engle died of natural causes at Rose Haven, a nursing facility close to her home in Litchfield, Connecticut, on September 6, 2007, according to a statement by her publicist the following day. She is buried in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Awards, Honors, and Organizations
Associate Dame of Justice in the Venerable Order of Saint John (1972)
USM Medallion from The University of Southern Mississippi (1978)
Smith College Award “for service to community or college which exemplifies the purposes of liberal arts education” (1981)
Sophia Award for distinction in her field (1984)
Regina Medal (1985)
Guest speaker at the Library of Congress, giving a speech entitled “Dare to be Creative!” (1985)
President of the Authors Guild (1985 – 1987)
ALAN Award for outstanding contribution to adolescent literature, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (1986)
Kerlan Award (1990)

In her lifetime, she received over a dozen honorary degrees from as many colleges and universities, such as Haverford College. Many of these name her as a Doctor of Humane Letters, but she was also made a Doctor of Literature and a Doctor of Sacred Theology, the latter at Berkeley Divinity School in 1984. In 1995 she was writer-in-residence for Victoria Magazine. In 1997 she was recognized for Lifetime Achievement from the World Fantasy Awards. In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal but could not attend the ceremony due to poor health.

Reflections

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Theater is a live art. You share an experience physically together in a space with actors, crew, and fellow audience members. Things happen differently as actors attempt to repeat actions and new audiences with diverse experiences come in and receive new things, laugh in different places, and clap (or don’t) where no one has before. That’s what is exciting about theater. You can see the same play performed by the same company over and over, but still you can experience something new.

However, the problem with live art is there always comes a time when it has to die. The curtain falls on the performance and that production with those participants (actors and audience) in that space will never be performed ever again. It’s just gone.

Ali-Social-Worker

Just last week, I was discussing this with our stage manager, Hannah Richardson. Both of us have been a part of this production for almost a year and we were bemoaning the fact that this play that we helped to create, The Cleverest Thief, will probably never be produced again. It was a play written specifically for our audience by our audience. It was what it was. It didn’t try to be anything different. But because it was our stories, it connected more to us. Provoans wanted our stories as Provoans to be told. We filled that void. Would it be as effective in St. George, Seattle, New York, or LA? Probably not. Even performed here Gone Missing (which is set in New York) lost a little of its resonance with our audience.

deaf woman

Thinking about it now, I don’t know if I want it to be produced again. Maybe we take the process more than the production here. Maybe we inspire people to go out and perform and tell their own stories. Maybe it doesn’t have to be performed (in the traditional sense) to keep this particular piece of theater alive.

I guess it’s a little ironic that we are already feeling nostalgic about this show about loss. But as Dr. Palinurus revealed to us in Gone Missing, we enjoy this pain, this nostalgia, this pain in coming home again. There is something that interests us about loss and brings us closer together. We have all lost something. The difference is how we choose to deal with it. Even though we no longer have the production, we will always have the memory. We can always choose to enjoy that.

Thank you to all who came and shared your stories. They live on in our hearts and minds.

Post Show Discussion

by Ariel Mitchell, Dramaturg

After an amazing performance Thursday night, two of our actors gladly welcomed the audience down to ask members of the cast and crew questions about the production and participate in what we call a post show discussion.

As the dramaturg, I helped to mediate as many actors jumped in eagerly to answer questions about making real people into characters that they could perform every night and the process of writing and devising a piece of theater. I think the audience members who stayed appreciated the insight and context that was given by the actors who finally were able to fill in the story behind the stories that were told on stage. The process is almost as interesting as the product!

Gone Missing poster

I’m glad we had a chance (even in a small way) to help contextualize this performance. If you didn’t have a chance to come to the post show discussion I encourage you to read the previous blog posts or comment on this post with any questions you may have and we will be glad to discuss them!

If you have not yet seen the show (or want to see it again), tickets are still being sold online and at the BYU arts ticket office in the HFAC.