Having a Ball: UMTAD’s Pride & Prejudice
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.”
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.”
This story was written by Max Pritchard, an undergraduate student in CLA.