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.

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

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.