Having a Ball: UMTAD’s Pride & Prejudice

Seven cast members in costume, six looking at Marshall Kelly as Mr. Collins
From left to right: Marshall Kelly, Riley Boals, Ethan Saari, Aishu Nagasunder, Seno Chanthalangsy, Madelyn Tax, and Shayla Corteau. Photo by Dan Norman Photography
Three performers laughing
Shayla Courteau as Jane Bennet, Seno Chanthalangsy as Charlotte Lucas, and Aishu Nagasunder as Lizzy Bennet. Photo by Dan Norman Photography.
Darcy and Bingley look out towards the audience, Bingley's hand outstretched.
Jackson Whitman as Mr. Darcy and Ethan Saari as Mr. Bingley. Photo by Dan Norman Photography.
Lizzy and Charlotte stand behind Miss De Bourgh, draped entirely in cloths, and Lady Catherine, who is seated and leaning on a cane.
Aishu Nagasunder and Seno Chanthalangsy alongside Madelyn Tax as Miss De Bourgh and Shayla Courteau as Lady Catherine. Photo by Dan Norman Photography.
Colonel Wickham, wearing a military uniform, sits on a couch with Lizzy.
Regan Carter, playing Colonel Wickham, with Aishu Nagasunder. Photo by Dan Norman Photography.
The cast dances in two lines, all facing to their left, with Lydia and Jane at the front, in red lighting.
A delightful dance sequence to close out the show, featuring the entire cast. Photo by Dan Norman Photography.

Over two hundred years after it was first published, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is firmly entrenched as a cultural touchstone and an iconic piece of literature. The novel’s popularity is evident in the many creative works that have adapted or been inspired by it—including our fall 2023 main stage production, Kate Hammil’s Pride & Prejudice, directed by Associate Professor Lisa Channer.

A Bold New Take

This production was much more than a direct recreation of the original novel. While staying true to the source material’s story, characters, and language, the stage version includes dance breaks, modern music, heightened physical comedy, and a greater focus on bodily autonomy. “Lizzy Bennet, along with all of the women around her, needs to make a torturous choice between security and independence. Getting married would mean absorption into her husband's existence, and the loss of all rights to her children, her money, and her body,” explains Channer, who adds that Hammil’s adaptation explores autonomy across the many marriages it portrays. “As the issue of women's bodily autonomy is once again in our headlines, this play is freshly relevant.”

The dance sequences were choreographed by undergraduate student Ella Kooyer, and included a mixture of period-accurate ballroom dance and more modern sequences between scenes. Kooyer reflected that “it was so wonderful to watch the cast embrace the time capsule that is practicing regency dance and find the joy that is dance in general. My gratefulness and reverence for this cast and crew know no bounds.”

Mr. Bingley and Jane dance, with a dark background
Photo by Dan Norman Photography

This blend of historical and modern is represented in the show’s costumes, too. The designs feature small contemporary touches like the cast’s Converse shoes, which are color-coded to match each characters’ main costumes. The show’s many quick costume changes posed unique challenges. Costume Designer Nat Smith explains that “it led to a lot of rigging of the costumes: lots of magnets, lots of snaps.”

A Very Austen Autumn

The Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and the Department of English invited Jane Austen scholar Devoney Looser to the University in a cross-department collaboration. Looser, a Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University, and Distinguished Alumna of Augsburg College, gave a talk titled “Staging Austen: Past and Present.” At the event, Looser discussed adaptations of Pride & Prejudice in theater and film. Looser and Channer then discussed the University’s production in this historical context.

Craft and Collaboration

Family, friendship, and personal relationships are all at the heart of Pride & Prejudice—and similarly, the bonds formed between cast and crew were central to the success of the show. “My favorite part of working on Pride & Prejudice is working with the lovely cast and crew,” Marshall Kelly, who played Mr. Collins, says. “It makes showing up a lot easier, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to be a part of a great show.”

This sentiment is echoed by sophomore Jamie Lupercio, who worked as sound designer and composer on this production. They say, “My favorite part of working on this show has been collaborating with my fellow artists both in and out of the rehearsal room to make some really fun music for this show.”

Aishu Nagasunder, who played Lizzy Bennet in what was her third mainstage show at the U, agrees: “My favorite part about working on Pride & Prejudice has been working with the cast and crew to create a show that is not only exciting for the audience to enjoy, but also for ourselves.” The legacy and popularity of the source material helped make the show a special experience for those involved. “Pride & Prejudice has been an all-time favorite story of mine for years,” Nagasunder says, “so this has been a very wonderful experience for me.”

Looking for more behind the scenes material? View a full slideshow with images from the production on Facebook and watch the full costume design interview on Instagram.

This story was written by Max Pritchard, an undergraduate student in CLA.

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