Monthly Archives: March 2012

Snappy Suits & Dandy Dresses

One of my favorite moments of any rehearsal process is the day the cast goes on a costume parade. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Actors raid their characters’ closets and walk back and forth across the set while the director and costume designer give each outfit an official “yay” or “nay”.

Nick knows he looks good in this snappy jacket and vest combo.

Perhaps I’m biased, but don’t you agree that Pride and Prejudice is filled to the brim with ridiculously attractive actors looking exceptionally dapper? (I know you do. And I promise not to be mad if you come to the show for the romance, but stay for the wardrobe).

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— Hallie

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Colpo Di Fulmine

“When you are in love you can’t fall asleep because
reality is better than your dreams.”
-Dr. Seuss-

Dear Diary,

Photo courtesy of Paul Simcock Photography.

Lizzy is fast asleep but I am too excited to go to bed. Tonight we went to a dance at Meryton where we met Mr. Bingley, Caroline, and Mr. Darcy. Caroline is a sweet, refined, classy girl. She told me all about Grosvenor Square and I already feel we could be great friends. Lizzy, however, did not seem impressed by her. Mr. Darcy was very nice as well but he was more reserved than the others. He refused to dance with Lizzy and this greatly offended her.  I hope he was just having a bad night and that was why he refused her.

Mr. Bingley… is heavenly. From the instant Charlotte pointed him out I was taken aback by how handsome he was.  As he walked across the room to greet us, I felt as though the whole world and all my worries vanished and all I could see was him. I’ve never felt more pleasant and light headed in my life! He kept smiling at me and I felt in such a daze I could hardly hold myself upright. I had to look away to conceal my attraction to him. Then he asked me to dance! I was so nervous I could hardly get my words out properly but somehow I managed to say yes. The way he held me as we danced was so tender. I felt so at peace, whole, and alive all at the same time. He gazed at me through his soft brown eyes with such attention and affection it made me feel like he really saw me, every aspect of me, and respected and admired me. I have never met a man more pure, honest, and kind. Since the moment I laid eyes on him I haven’t been able to think of anything else but him. I know it sounds silly and premature, and I feel ridiculous saying this, but I honestly feel I could spend my life with him. I am not sure, but I think he likes me too! When we were saying goodbye he held my hand and told me he had a very enjoyable evening.  Hopefully I will get to see him soon! I just hope Lizzy can forgive Darcy for refusing her and see how nice Caroline really is.

I could lay up all night with this ridiculous smile plastered on my face but it is getting late and I really should go to bed. Goodnight for now!

— Jane (Elena Mae Spittler)

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Feel Free to Invite Jane Austen

Spoiler alert!

With a well-written, compelling story comes….a billion adaptations! Did anyone see the Hunger Games movie? Yeah, it was okay, but everyone liked the books better.  And who’s excited about the new “Spiderman” movie?!!? Trick question. Nobody is. They have already made 15 “Spiderman” movies and none of them were that great. (I don’t want to belabor the point here, but Spiderman is supposed to be good-looking. So they put Tobey Maguire in the role? If I fell off a building and he tried to save me, I would be appreciative, of course, but pretty disappointed. And now Andrew Garfield is supposed to be the Spiderman upgrade? Oh, please. I’d say he’s…”tolerable at best”).

Barnaby and Rose drafting line possibilities for one of the show's most pivotal scenes.

When the audience already knows the story and has high expectations, adaptations can be quite tricky. However, I firmly believe that Hallie respects the essence of Pride and Prejudice and has written a version of the story that Jane Austen would watch with utmost approval. We were originally struggling with the lines for Darcy’s second proposal, but then Hallie sat us down with copies of the original book, transcripts of the BBC version and the Keira Knightley version, and our current scripts. We read various selections from each, combined lines from different versions, and eventually came up with with a scene that reflects the original sentiment. Hallie has changed the language throughout the play to make it 1940’s-appropriate, but Jane Austen’s prose still shines through the entire play.

Our talented vocalists will be performing before the show and during intermission to jazz up the production. We’re not putting on a full-on musical, but it has certainly been done! Check out this clip from the finale of Pride and Prejudice, The Musical:

And our Netherfield dance doesn’t look anything like this scene from Bride and Prejudice, but I have no doubt that we’ll be able to match their level of energy if we drink enough sodas from Rocky’s:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoLtHqS_LhA

–Rose Oser (Elizabeth Bennet)

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Each Fleeting Moment

(This post was inspired by motivational talks from my roommate, cast-mate, and forever-Hall-&-Oates-dance-partner, Laurikins O’Brien).

As opening night rapidly approaches, I feel a cauldron of nervous energy brewing in the pit of my stomach. I genuinely forgot how much hard work a production takes. Sweet baby Jesus, it’s a lot of concerted time and energy.

When the Bennet sisters stand in line according to age, the cast calls it "Von Trapping".

And, as so proves my experience with most other things in life, the more time and energy you put into a project, the more emotionally invested you become. And, the more emotionally invested you become, the higher your hopes and expectations for the anticipated outcome. Anticipation for the unknown causes anxiety…and there’s a helluva lot of unknown tangled up in my expectations for the next few weeks.

My anxiety stems, I think, mostly from anticipation of my ability to deliver for the two groups whose opinions I care about the most: our audience and our cast.

A flurry of questions around those two subjects has been floating around in my head lately. While sitting on BART commuting into work, I find myself imagining our future audience: Will we have an engaged and supportive crowd? Will they laugh at the right moments and appreciate our creative interpretation of Jane Austen’s epic story? What message will they take away from it all?

While throwing my laundry into the dryer at home, a different set of questions about our cast wanders into my mind: Will our long nights spent at rehearsal pay off in the fluidity of our scenes? Will I forget a scene change and screw up someone’s blocking? Will I drop a line and dampen the integrity of Hallie’s script?

An epic battle ensues between Kitty and Lydia.

And the answers? …nobody knows.

Great. More anxiety.

Yet, among the wild unknown occupying space and igniting fear inside my brain, there is one small but significant piece that I can control: how I react to it.

Arguably, I have two choices when deciding how to respond to my fear. I can:

  1. choose to resist; forcing nervous thoughts to the corners of my mind, creating a distant but condensed, and often overwhelming, form of my anxiety… or
  2. use it. Accept my nervous energy as a sign that this is something I care about deeply. Bottle that energy and transform it into a force propelling me to do the best that I can, and to appreciate each moment as it passes—the successes as much as the failures. With a big smile and a light heart, I can choose to embrace and even appreciate my own sense of fear. I can let go of self-inflicted pressure in favor of enjoying the experience.

So, with a resounding sense of confidence, I choose option #2.

I make this choice partly because I care about our audience, and feel that my energy-infused performance will help make the most of their experience, and partly because I care about our cast, and feel that my positive attitude will help make the most of their experience.

Kristin as Mary, Rachel as Kitty, Taylor as Lydia, and Terry as Mrs. Bennet.

…but mostly because, once this is all over, I know it will have passed by too fast. And I know that making a conscious choice to appreciate the distinct flavors of each fleeting moment as it passes is the only way I can possibly make the most of my experience.

And that is what it’s all about, anyway.

All of my love,

Kitty Bennet (aka Rachel Olmedo)

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Pride and Playfulness

This post discusses major plot points in the story. Divert your eyes if you want to be surprised!

I am Austen-obsessed. I’ve seen every movie-adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I could get my hands on, read sequels and re-imaginings from Darcy’s Daughters to Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and researched enough for a lifetime of scholarly discussions. Everything about the work enchants me, from her characters to the portrait Austen draws of the times; even mentions of the price of a new dress or what they’ll cook for dinner that night inspire me to find out the approximate currency exchange to today, or how exactly one would cook that particular game fowl.

So why do I (and many others) care so much about stories written two centuries ago, set in a world so far removed from our modern lives? What is it about Jane Austen that has inspired so many, all the way up to this whole new take on Pride and Prejudice?

The reasons are many and won’t fit into one blog post. But I think one of the most important is humor.

A group of high school students being ‘forced’ to read Pride and Prejudice won’t agree with me here (not YET), but Austen is hilarious. And part of what makes her stories so funny is how real it all seems. Who among us hasn’t been mortified by our relatives, or made fools of ourselves in new company? It’s part of the human experience, as is telling the tale to a friend later and rolling on the floor laughing at ourselves, even if at the time we could only think a Kitty-esque “My life is OVER!”

Charlotte Lucas shares surprising news with Lizzy.

Elizabeth Bennett loves to laugh at people, as does Charlotte Lucas. These are the characters we identify with, as they observe the absurdity in their surroundings and find ways to have fun at their expense. But what truly makes these characters so likable is a willingness not to take themselves seriously, to laugh at themselves as much as at their neighbors, so strongly juxtaposed with the self-righteousness of Mr. Collins, Mary’s too-serious take on life, and Lady Catherine’s incredible sense of importance. Darcy’s pride is what first gets between him and Lizzy, and even when all is settled between them “to be the happiest couple in the world,” Lizzy knows that “he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin.”

This is one of the many things I love so much about our production. Real life is full of the slapstick, and consequently, so is our production of Pride and Prejudice. This week we’ve been working more intensely on individual scenes, going deeper into our character’s motivations, and finding so many new jokes we can hardly say our lines for laughter. Doors are slamming, nervous boys are tripping over their feet on the way to talk to pretty girls, and heads are popping around doors in a cartoon stack to spy on what must be one of the worst proposals OF ALL TIME. (It’s vying for the title with one just a few scenes later, which it is my pleasure to interrupt (of course!) at quite an awkward moment).

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So the moral of this particular story is that we love Austen for her humor, because that is what makes her stories (and us) so very human. The ability to laugh at oneself, not money, manners or even sweetness of temper, is Pride and Prejudice’s greatest virtue.

— Sarah Asarnow (Charlotte Lucas)

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Austen Meets Improv

Taylor and Alex improving a scene.

I moved to the Bay Area recently from Chicago. If you’ve been to that toddlin’ town, or if you know anything about Second City, you know that Chicago theatre has a strong foundation in improvisation. A lot of people think that improv is solely comedy and coming up with ridiculous situations and ideas in a matter of seconds. That’s definitely a large part of it, but improv is essentially unscripted story telling in its most raw and honest format. It can be between one, two, three, seven, twenty-eight, or any number of people about any subject.

We’ve been using improv during some “Pride and Prejudice” rehearsals for several reasons. First of all, Austen is like Shakespeare in that the language is specific, lyrical, and follows a certain pattern. Even though Hallie is updating the script to fit a more modern setting, some of the language and situations are antiquated. Improv allows the actors to make the scenes and words real for themselves. Second, improv puts everyone on the same page. Whether you are an actor with years of experience or a young person just starting out, on book or off book, improv brings everyone to a similar starting point.

Jane and Lizzy gossip about Mr. Collins.

 

In our production, there are a few wordless moments that are happening in the background simultaneous to dialogue in the foreground. We’ve been asking the actors to improv these moments by adding their own dialogue – which hopefully assists them in finding the emotional reality of the situation as well as their character’s subtext. It’s been very interesting watching the actors tackle and explore this format for rehearsals. This cast is unique in their willingness to explore and play and take chances.

Barry and Barnaby love to improv.

I hope the audience will have as much fun as they are!

— Eileen Tull, Assistant Director

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It’s Raining Men

Everyone knows that Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Although our production is chock-full of gorgeous girls galore, this post will be dedicated to the men of Pemberley, Netherfield, Longbourn, and Hunsford who make our hearts go pitter-pat.

Who hasn’t swooned over the highly intellectual, dark and broody, devastatingly handsome, hard-to-get-because-he-has-such-high-standards Mr. Darcy?

Barnaby Williams as Mr. Darcy.

Or the ever-optimistic, heart-on-his-sleeve, finds-love-and-runs-after-it Mr. Bingley?

Barry Eitel as Mr. Bingley.

Or the roguish swagger of the I-know-you’re-bad-but-I-want-you-anyway Mr. Wickham?

Alex Skinner as Mr. Wickham.

That’s where the romance ends for most readers of Miss Austen’s popular novel. Luckily for our audience members, we’re turning up the heat in the English country-side!

We’ve got handsome husbands clinging to your every word:

Scott Van de Mark as Mr. Bennet.

And hot mailmen delivering more than just the mail:

Ulises Toledo as the mailman.

And Sinatra-singing officers wearing make-you-melt uniforms:

Nick Kempen as Captain Denny.

And for you less sinful types, let me recommend England’s most meticulously groomed, upwardly-mobile, sure-to-shower-you-with-compliments pastor:

Julio Rafael as Mr. Collins.

There’s truly someone for everyone in this fantastic story. No wonder we still love it 200 years later.

— Hallie

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The Five Sides of Mr. Toledo

This will a challenge for me because I am playing several different characters (five to be exact) and each has an elaborate history. Luckily, they are all fun to embody and bring to life and the director and I are working on ways to bring out the best of them. There’s so much humor in this story – it’s everywhere. Sometimes when we rehearse the whole cast is overwhelmed with laughter, so I know the audience will have bursts of laughter every now and then also. Just thinking of those laughs makes me smile. There can never be too much happiness, so come and laugh.

Ulises Toledo plays five characters in our production.

We’re setting the show in the 1940s which was a wonderful era for clothing and fashion. The way people dressed was just so elegant. Whenever a person left the house they looked fancy. I sometimes wish I could dress like that without people staring and it’s interesting to see that some of the fashion trends from the era have been resurrected today. I’ve longed to be part of a play like this, and now that I am, I’m giving it my all and relishing these moments. The play is coming together very well and I know that the atmosphere in the theatre will transport the audience to another era.

I am especially glad to part of such a diverse cast that reflects our community. I am proud to be performing in my own city’s community theater.

— Ulises Toledo (Ensemble)

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Six Ladies and a Gentleman

Mr. Bennet and his women.

I vaguely remember reading Pride and Prejudice in high school many moons ago. I remember it was a difficult read and pretty dense stuff.  It seems that the folks who write the SAT exams must pull a lot of sections from the novel and use it for reading comprehension as part of their standardized tests.

I’ve been rereading the novel as we rehearse, and although my memory was sound (it still seems dense), I am really enjoying the writing and the story. Perhaps the passage of the many intervening years has helped a little in that regard. It’s clear that Jane Austen was a very smart lady and her most sympathetic characters in the story, Lizzie, Jane, and Mr. Darcy are pretty darn smart as well. I’ve found myself rereading a lot of what they say in the novel in order to better understand what they truly mean, and I’ve discovered that they have a lot of great things to say about integrity, loyalty and modesty.

Kitty, Rose, Mr. Bennet, Mary, and Jane.

While playing the role of Mr. Bennet, it is easy to be especially sympathetic to my two eldest daughters, Jane and Lizzie, because of their strength of character and the way they treat others. The play is also a lot of fun for me as the only male in a family of ladies who are each unique and provide lots of good acting choices and challenges. Some of those choices include having fun with some trying circumstances for the family.

The story and the play have several situations that would give any parent a lot of grey hair and worries. Coming from a large family of seven children, the play is giving me a more powerful sense of the stress I know that my siblings and I put our parents through. The story also shows how the Bennet family members, including their cousins, support each other in tough situations.

The cause of grey hair.

It’s been a lot of fun to work with a dedicated and talented group, and I’m looking forward to a great run in a few short weeks.

— Scott Van de Mark (Mr. Bennet)

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The Multiple Role Playing Game

As a child, Jane Austen to me was synonymous with a long, boring British miniseries.  For as long as I can remember, my mother has been a die-hard Austen fan, and it took me until my early 20’s to give up the rebel act and discover the sheer joy and brilliance of her works for myself.  No other book but Pride and Prejudice has left me with the same feeling of utter bliss and satisfaction for having completed it.  To this day, I hold it as my firm favorite and as one of the greatest stories of all time, so I knew when my roommate Rachel (who plays Kitty) alerted me to auditions for a local P&P adaptation, I had to jump on board.

Georgiana and her big brother.

I have the privilege and responsibility of playing three roles in the show (in order of appearance): Lady Lucas (Charlotte’s mother/Mrs. Bennet’s go-to partner in gossip crime), Anne De Bourgh (Lady Catherine’s sickly daughter) and last but not least, the frequently mentioned yet scarcely seen Georgiana Darcy.

Although I have fewer lines than the show’s other characters, I’ve got plenty to work with. I won’t give too much away but let’s just say Hallie has had a bit of fun with her sickly Anne adaptation which I can’t wait to deliver for an audience.  I haven’t rehearsed for Lady Lucas yet but certainly look forward to stretching my acting muscles to find my inner middle-aged flibbertigibbet for the Meryton and Netherfield dance scenes!

As for Miss Georgiana Darcy, I love that her role is so crucial to the plot line, even if she doesn’t make her appearance until close to the end.  She is a character left to the reader/audience’s imagination, helped along by various, sometimes conflicting descriptions by Caroline Bingley, Mr. Wickham, and the Pemberley tour guide.  Her brother–Mr. Darcy himself–is the keenest clue we have to forming anything conclusive about what she might be like… but even that point of comparison can only serve to tell us superficial things like how she grew up, her level of etiquette, and good breeding.  Of course she turns out to be modest, sweet, and lovely as can be when we do finally meet her in the flesh… making the anticipation all the more worthwhile.  As someone who grew up with an older brother as my only sibling myself, I definitely identify with that personality-shaping dynamic, so it’s naturally the factor at the forefront of my mind when personifying her on stage.

Kristin House and Danielle Gray practice styling Laurie's hair in a 40's fashion.

Acting stuff aside, I’ve loved getting to know my fellow castmates–everyone is so talented and seems to fit his/her role seamlessly.  It’s so much fun observing the scenes coming together–particularly the ones highlighting the Bennet family at home in a 1940’s context.  I think Austen lovers in particular will get a kick out of seeing their favorite, flawed yet lovable Bennets in this setting.  April 14th can’t come soon enough!

–Laurie O’Brien (Lady Lucas, Anne de Bourgh, and Georgiana Darcy)

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