Jane Austen defied 18th and early 19th-century norms for women through her career as a writer and life as a single woman. Hers is an admirable story of struggle, defiance, and success — much like that of her heroine Elizabeth Bennet.
Aquila Theatre’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice celebrates diversity with a rotating cast of characters while staying true to Austen’s original work. Learn more about their modern restaging from the cast in our latest Meet the Artist interview.
How does this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice differ from others?
Elizabeth Belfast (Lydia Bennet/Georgina Darcy/Charlotte Lucas/Ensemble): Our production of Pride and Prejudice is unique because we as an ensemble decided to lean into the diversity amongst ourselves as a cast and find ways to implicate it within the story, while still staying true to Austen’s original work. We consider what it may have been like for people of color to try and integrate themselves into society during the Regency era without making it the sole focus of the show. We also found a way to take certain challenges, such as not having enough women in the ensemble to fill all of the female roles, and use them to our benefit! A few of our male company members throw on a wig and a dress and offer hilarious takes on some of our favorite characters! Our adaptation is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, but it is without a doubt my new favorite version of this show.
As a note, this is a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that was developed by the ensemble cast, our director Desiree Sanchez, and our Script Coordinator and Transcriber Alex Moon, during our three-week rehearsal process in New York City. We all read the book, pulled out all of the dialogue, and went scene by scene to determine what we wanted to focus on, what we wanted to say, what could be combined, and what we felt we could lose. What characters, scenes, words, and moments we wanted to include in our production was completely determined by the company during rehearsals. We faced a lot of challenges — like how to portray a family of seven with only six actors in addition to the eight other characters outside of the Bennet family that we have included in our version and how to logistically balance the costume and scene changes throughout.
How long have you been performing with Aquila Theatre?
James Lavender (Mrs. Bennet/Mr. Gardiner/Lady Catherine de Bourgh/Ensemble): I’ve been performing off and on with Aquila for the last twelve years. I’ve seen some amazing places and toured 46 states — and have the fridge magnets to prove it! My first shows with Aquila were As You Like It — which I loved — and An Enemy of the People by Ibsen.
How does embodying different characters affect your outlook on the world?
James Counihan (Mr. Bingley/Mr. Wickham/Mr. Collins/Mary Bennet/Ensemble): I feel very fortunate to get to embody so many characters in Jane Austen’s story. One of the biggest pleasures of portraying these characters is the ability to show many different sides of who I am in the span of two hours. I think what’s essential about playing different characters is to never judge them. Each of my characters have very different wants and needs in this story and my job is to highlight those to the best of my abilities. By highlighting these different wants and needs, I hope I convey a sense of truth in this world. Some of my characters do very questionable and hurtful things to the people around them and I think accentuating “the good, the bad, and the ugly” qualities of the men in the Regency era is an important step in telling Austen’s story honestly.
Playing many characters affects my own outlook on the world because it gives me a better sense of differing perspectives. I think it’s dangerous for humans to be stuck in their own way of thought and I believe theater has the ability to shift your perspective more than any other artistic medium.
I think every role an actor takes has the ability to change them. One role that certainly changed me was Mark Antony in Julius Caesar as the level of complexity in which Shakespeare wrote this character opened up many different emotional sides during every performance. Edmund and the rest of the Tyrone family in Long Day’s Journey into Nighttime also had a profound impact on me.
How do you maintain the drive to give your best performance night after night?
Leda Douglas (Elizabeth Bennet): I used to have a whole list of pre-show rituals to make me feel show-ready, but these days I focus on conditioning my body and voice. Probably the only quirk I like is something that bonds me and my fellow cast members together before a show, maybe that’s a group warm-up, game or just having a laugh together. It always feels important to connect before going out on stage.
What has been your most memorable moment working with Aquila Theatre?
Katie Housley (Jane Bennet/Miss Bingley/Ensemble): There was a moment during a performance when James’ wig fell off as he was playing Mrs. Bennet hearing the news of Lydia’s elopement. James hilariously played it off as if it was the stress of the situation that was making Mrs. Bennet’s hair fall out and it really took everything within my power to not break character for the rest of the scene.
Jane Austen is wildly popular in the theater world, why do you think that is?
Katie Housley (Jane Bennet/Miss Bingley/Ensemble): I think one of the reasons why Jane Austen is so wildly popular in the theater world is because when it comes to writing witty dialogue, no one does it better than she does. She somehow manages to combine humor, satire, social commentary, longing, sorrow, and so many other elements into her work while actively challenging her audience to look at the bigger picture.
What does your rehearsal schedule look like?
James Lavender (Mrs. Bennet/Mr. Gardiner/Lady Catherine de Bourgh/Ensemble): We tour the country with two shows. This year it’s Pride and Prejudice and Julius Caesar. We rehearse one show for three weeks and the next for another three weeks. We then go into technical and dress rehearsals which can take up to two weeks. So overall for both shows, it’s just shy of eight weeks!
Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?
Leda Douglas (Elizabeth Bennet): A combination of taking care of myself (sleeping well, eating healthy, the occasional spa day!) but also reconnecting with why this particular play is important. Sometimes going back to the script or finding a piece online that’s relevant to the play can be very helpful. I also like taking myself on an ‘artist date’ to see other works and places that inspire me and remind me why I love to do this work
Post-show … I just like a hot shower. 🙂
We want to thank the cast for their answers. Don’t miss Aquila Theatre’s modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice March 3–4 at the center!