During the month of April, I am meeting individually with each actor in the show to talk about the piece, their role in it, and their process. In preparing for these meetings, I've been trying to specify what the world of this play is.
It's not completely in 2016, as there are characters that sound like Austen.
It's not completely in the Regency Era, as there are characters that sound like you and me.
How do you give concrete answers to normal stage questions like, "What year is it? Where are we? What are we wearing? What does the room look like? What are we hearing in this world?" when the play straddles two seemingly very different worlds?
I'm finding that the simplest answer is, you don't.
Instead, I'm looking more closely at the circumstances under which I wrote this piece, and using those to understand why it made sense to me, at that time, to have Lydia screaming "HELLS YEAH!" whilst Mr. Darcy is flipping words around in that confusing, Regency way, "Do not you feel inclined to dance?" And I think it has to do with my curiosity around the way a writers' brain works.
I've never thought of myself as a writer. So in taking on this project, I felt a need to understand how a writer thinks. I was fascinated by the idea that some writers can imagine their characters in a room together and listen to what happens between them. However, this is a terrifying prospect, because in order to do such a thing, an artist has to relinquish control and be okay if the dialogue is initially weird or kind of shitty.
I am not particularly good at relinquishing control or allowing my work to be kind of shitty.
So I tried to keep myself safe by simply copying & pasting dialogue from the novel into a Microsoft Word document. I loved Jane Austen. How could I possibly think that I had anything to add to her brilliance? But if spending hours at a computer copying & pasting Regency dialogue into a Microsoft Word document sounds super boring, tedious and devoid of any creativity, that's because it is.
Something had to change. I mean, the reason I love Jane in the first place is that sometimes she says things in a way that pulls on my solar plexis and makes me go "YES! THAT. I HAVE EXPERIENCED THAT, BUT NEVER KNEW HOW TO EXPRESS IT BEFORE." So how could I provide that opportunity to an audience that, perhaps, is daunted and disconnected from Austen's language?
Elizabeth is already written as a character that stands out in the Regency world. She says what she thinks, a trait that today is still responsible for making people stand out from a crowd. So she became the voice of my frustrations, joys and struggles as a writer.
In our adaptation (I can hardly call it mine anymore, with 25+ folks working to bring it to life), Elizabeth Bennet is a writer. She is writing her story. And initially, much like I did, she tries to take control of it. She brings each additional character to life, almost forcefully, conducting the conversation. But she quickly realizes that her sense of control is false and fleeting, and her characters start to take over. They start to speak to her.
When I stopped trying to push the show in a particular direction, and I started listening, weird (and sometimes shitty!) dialogue started coming out. I couldn't tell you why Darcy needed to be Regency and why Lydia needed to say BTW. But they did.
So here is the world of our play: We are inside a writer's mind.
As you watch the play, you are watching the creative process unfold. Characters sound like us and simultaneously not like us, and that's okay. Elizabeth has a laptop, and that's okay. The Meryton Dance music is rock n' roll, and the Netherfield Ball music is classical, and that's okay. All of it is happening in Elizabeth's mind, where she is trying to make sense of the events happening to her using whatever references make sense to her.
And by the way, this is also why we have so many smaller creations happening all the time, under the umbrella of "The Pride & Prejudice Project." Pride & Paraphrase, #CrazyJane, Darcy Dub, our upcoming live events, these are all part of our journey to let go of control over the creative process, and find those nuggets of gold in this story. You don't get the nuggets without making a lot of weird shit first.
We are exploring the questions:
How do we release control on the creative process?
And what happens when we do?
Thanks for your time. Much love,
Caitlin Lushington is the Co-Artistic Director of the Enso Theatre Ensemble, a teacher, director, and actress. Sometimes she works too hard, sometimes she forgets things, and she strives to put the car keys back in the same place every time. She drinks tea every morning from her TARDIS mug and "Mr. Tea" diffuser. She loves the morning and wishes she had a photographic memory, so she could remember the names of every person she meets.