If you were a student assigned to read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” for English class but never did, the Truman State University Theatre Department’s newest production, “Pride@Prejudice,” is for you.
The play will be performed live in Baldwin Auditorium and will be livestreamed March 25-27. Tickets are $2 for the in-person showing and $5 for the livestream showing and can be purchased at boxoffice.truman.edu. The higher livestreaming cost covers both the licensing fee and per-customer fee.
“The show ‘Pride@Prejudice’ is described as a romantic deconstruction,” Ann Rapp, senior and director of the play, said. “It’s the classic story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but with a modern twist. It’s got excerpts from internet forums and letters from Jane Austen sprinkled throughout to explain, clarify and emphasize certain points of the show.”
Junior Emily Kemp, the lead actress who plays Elizabeth Bennet, said the characters in the play switch between acting out their British roles to interjecting as the American students who perform the roles. These interjections aim to provide clarity and humor for modern audiences.
“Pride@Prejudice” was submitted by Rapp as a lab show, which is the one fully student-lead show per semester. For the lab show submission process, students submit a play and a directorial approach to a steering committee, a group of elected students who review submissions and pick one to be performed.
“Pride@Prejudice,” written by Daniel Elihu Kramer, was chosen by Rapp because it fit well with COVID-19 restrictions. Such restrictions include a limit of five actors on stage at a time, face shields during the performance, social distancing on stage — with a few exceptions — and separation of the audience from the stage.
“The reason I chose this show, besides just adoring ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in general, is in regency society when the story takes place, everyone stands very far apart from each other,” Rapp said. “So it seemed like a good fit for the COVID guidelines that we had to follow.”
Kemp said it has been challenging to do a romantic play without getting close to the other actors. It has also been difficult during more intense scenes where her instinct is to get closer to the other person, Kemp said. The only time that she has contact with another actor during the production is on three occasions where she holds an actor’s hands. She and the actors both sanitize their hands off stage before those particular scenes.
Catch a sneak peek of “Pride@Prejudice” below:
Junior Maddie Sarasio Meyer, who has several roles in the play, said there is little physical contact on stage. The cast is careful to wear masks and use lots of hand sanitizer. Sarasio Meyer said there are only five people in the cast all together, and all are in the same small “pod.” Four of the five cast members have also gotten the first dose of the vaccine.
Along with providing a blend of classic literature and modern interpretation, “Pride@Prejudice” is an unusual play in that there are only five characters. All actors play more than one role, with Sarasio Meyer playing eight different roles.
“It’s been interesting trying to learn different voices and really nail down different postures and stuff that indicate one character specifically to help the audience as much as possible realize that those characters are different individuals, because we don’t have a lot of time to do big costume changes,” Sarasio Meyer said.
Sarasio Meyer said she has never had to play that many roles for one show. There are times when one of the characters she plays introduces a different character that she also plays. There is also a lot of fatigue with the show — mainly because it is two and a half hours long — but the supportive cast helps, Sarasio Meyer said.
Rapp said directing the show has been a lot of fun and she is thankful for the cast and their positive attitudes. She said the choices the actors make and their ideas make her job easy and her first directing experience valuable.
“As an actor, it’s maybe the funnest show I’ve ever been a part of, and as an audience member, that will definitely come through,” Kemp said. “The cast, we have fun every day at rehearsal, and I know people say that a lot, but genuinely we have a lot of fun.”
Sarasio Meyer said the show has been a way for her to have a break and shut out everything that’s happening in the world. The cast and crew all are excited to be there, and are able to leave their stresses and worries at the door, she said.
Rapp said she hopes the fun and romantic play can give people an escape from the exhaustion many people are feeling a year into the pandemic.
Sarasio Meyer said classic literature can often be confusing or scare people off. As a person with dyslexia, Sarasio Meyer explained that she has had issues with the word order of older books like “Pride and Prejudice.” She said it is fun for her to see a version of it that explains exactly what is happening where the characters playing the roles sometimes don’t understand the motivations of those roles. Sarasio Meyer said she thinks “Pride@Prejudice” will make the audience feel safe with their limited knowledge of the original work.
“Academically, I think it’s a really good way of understanding the story,” Kemp said. “I first started ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was in seventh grade, and there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand, and I think if I read it now and I didn’t know the story at all, I would still not understand a lot of things. So because we have this guise of being American students half the time, we are able to really convey what is going on and what that really means.”
Kemp encouraged people to come see the show live in order to have the full experience but said the streaming would also be a great option.