Here is Part 4 and our final interview of our behind-the-scenes look at Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Pride and Prejudice. Meet Artistic Director and Director Sally Boyett-D’Angelo.
Joel: Why did you select Pride and Prejudice?
Sally: Actually, I chose this production in early 2012 before we knew we were moving into our new space! I had recently directed three Shakespearean works in a row (Twelfth Night, Merry Wives, and Romeo & Juliet) and was already scheduled to direct two more that year (The Comedy of Errors and Cymbeline). My Shakespeare productions are usually highly conceptualized and I do all of the script cutting myself. So while I could never get burned out with Shakespeare – there is so much to discover and learn with each project – I felt like it was time to diversify ASC’s season to appeal to theatre lovers who might not necessarily choose a Shakespeare play for their first introduction to a new company.
And I personally welcome an opportunity to direct someone else’s adaptation for a change! We knew we would be looking for a building in 2013 for our rehearsal studios, offices and costume shop, but we had no idea how fast we would find a home! Our performance venue hasn’t changed, though, and this production was always scheduled to be put up in the Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park. I chose our season with the size and capabilities of the Playhouse in mind. The theatre is small (150 seats) but mighty, and I have never asked for something technical that they couldn’t do, or weren’t willing to try. We are thrilled with our partnership with the Bowie Playhouse and will continue to present three main-stage productions there each year, even as we expand with our free Shakespeare in the Park at the City Dock in Annapolis and our own blackbox productions at 111 Chinquapin Round Road.
Why did you want to direct this production?
I am a huge fan of English period pieces and an avid Jane Austen fan. Knowing the 200th anniversary of the writing of Pride and Prejudice was in 2013, I started looking at adaptations of the novel. After the first few pages of Jon Jory’s script, I fell in love with it and knew I had to direct his version. The flow of the play is beautiful, the scale is perfect for the Bowie Playhouse stage, and the vast amount of characters have been distilled to 14 principals with doubling, perfect for an emerging professional theatre company! We added 6 ensemble members to fill out the ball scenes, give us a full cast of understudies, and give our acting interns an opportunity to participate and train with a professional cast.
What were auditions like? How many actors auditioned and how long did it take to select the final cast?
The auditions took place over an entire week in mid-November 2012. We had received a huge response of local and out-of-town submissions for this project and the most challenging part was scheduling those called in into the time we had allotted. Through our connections with other Shakespeare producing theatres in the Shakespeare Theatre Association (STA), our season was visible to actors from as far away as Canada and in addition to our in-person auditions, we accepted video submissions. We saw over 80 actors for the in-person auditions and conducted call-backs for out-of-town actors over Skype. We actually hired our Mr. Darcy, New York-based actor Michael Ryan Neely, from a Skype callback!
Introduce us to your cast and tell me what you admire most about their performances.
First of all I have to say that this is a stellar cast! They are so open and giving in rehearsals and it has been an absolute joy to collaborate with each of them. I am continually impressed by their professionalism and their true ensemble spirit. Our Elizabeth Bennet is played by the charming and talented Caitlin McWethy. Caitlin comes to us with recent principal credits from Pennsylvania Shakespeare and Georgia Shakespeare among other notable companies and is truly setting the example of professionalism that we aspire to have in our new company. Caitlin embodies the beauty, intelligence and wit of the character while still maintaining the character’s vulnerability. She is on stage for the entire production and does an amazing job of setting the right energy and pace.
Her co-star, the enigmatic Mr. Darcy, is played by New York-based actor Michael Ryan Neely. Ryan comes to us with professional credits from Pennsylvania Shakes and even a stint at the Globe in London. Ryan is a hoot to work with – he’s actually one of the funniest actors I’ve ever worked with in the rehearsal room – but as Mr. Darcy, our audiences will see his “aloof romantic hero” side, and I predict will not be disappointed as he exudes the charm and appeal so necessary for this role.
Jim Reiter and Carol Randolph, as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, bring a vast amount of experience to the production. Both actors do a marvelous job of capturing the idiosyncrasies of their characters and make the Bennet family dynamic come alive.
Zach Brewster-Geisz, as the obsequious Mr. Collins, is an absolute riot! I don’t think there has been a rehearsal where I haven’t fallen out of my chair laughing at something he has spontaneously brought to a scene. I could go on all day about this amazing cast: Grayson Owen (Mr. Bingley), Rob Mobley as Mr. Wickham, Liz Kinder as Kitty Bennet, Alyssa Bouma (Jane Bennet), Lauren Turchin (Caroline Bingley), and the list goes on. It’s been a wonderful and fun journey putting this show together. I hope everyone can come and see the result of our collaboration.
Which character is most like you and why?
That’s a great question! I’m tempted to say that I have the frankness of Elizabeth Bennet, but I think the cast might be tempted to think I am more like Lady Catherine!
Introduce your design team and how did their work help to bring your vision to the stage?
Our terrific design team consists of Maggie Cason (costume design), Garrett Hyde (lighting design) and Wally Kleinfelder (sound design). Maggie Cason’s work on the costumes is spectacular.
What does Pride and Prejudice have to say to audiences in 2013?
Even though conventions have changed and families may look very different today, people today still resonate with what it is like to be a part of a family with all the quirks and relational fun and challenges. The Bennet family is a classic portrait of a family that is all at once lovely, strange, comic, and a little dysfunctional.
Even more though, Pride and Prejudice is a stinging social commentary, highlighting society’s biases and the harm that they cause. Our biases in 2013 may be different, but today’s audiences may be struck by the fact that, just like 200 years ago, love can over come most any difference that two people may have and become the foundation on which to build a relationship, a family, or a whole community. Finally, romance never grows old does it? No matter what, if there are two wonderful people who need to find each other, we always root for them and feel very satisfied when they finally learn what we have known the whole time- that they belong together! Throughout the history of story-telling, people have been able to observe a romantic tale and put themselves in the lovers’ places and dream of a love story that is fulfilled. Elizabeth and Darcy are the consummate romantic pair. Their relationship gives hope that love can find its way through many obstacles and is worth the journey. The truth and hope of this story defies time, class, race, culture, age, and background.
Where were some of the main challenges you had during rehearsals and how did you resolve them?
One of the main challenges of the rehearsal process was an actual place to rehearse. Early into the process, we found our very own rehearsal space in Annapolis on Chinquapin Round Road. It is a beautiful black box space that can function as a rehearsal room, a performance venue, a dance studio, and the new home for our Young Company.
How long was the rehearsal process? Take us into a rehearsal…
The rehearsal process was 19 hours a week for 8 weeks;typically three weeknights and all day Saturday. Early in the process, a typical rehearsal would include everything from dialect coaching, to character work, to choreography, to blocking. Most Monday and Wednesday rehearsals were reserved for working with principals in their scenes and a good part of each weekend rehearsals were spent working on the choreography with the full ensemble. After the blocking of the scenes was outlined, we worked the scenes, then worked the scenes with the transitions, and then finally to polishing scenes. There are so many transitional moments in this adaptation, that we spent a good deal of time creating the flow from one into the other. About two weeks from the end of rehearsals, we began running entire acts with director’s notes afterwards. During the final week in the rehearsal room, we were running the entire show and the actors would receive notes from the director and dialect coach. The actors would start incorporating props, costume pieces, etc. into their rehearsals as the weeks went on. Most of the actors have been working in their show shoes or boots since early in the process. Throughout the entire process, the actors would have occasional costume fittings, or publicity calls or interviews.
How would you describe your choreography and which scene was the hardest to choreograph and why?
The choreography reflects the period by portraying authentic English Regency Dances. The English Regency style then had to be tailored to the original music and the action of the scene. Sometime the dancing is meant to be in the foreground and sometimes in the background – constantly flowing from one to the other. The hardest part of the choreography is that the dialogue continues through the dancing. The challenge in this was to have the actor with the next line always arriving downstage just in time to be heard, seen, and understood. Timing really is everything.
What have you learned about yourself as a director working on this production?
I have been affirmed in my belief that combining professional actors, with emerging professional actors is not only possible, but produces a wonderful rehearsal atmosphere and a fantastic finished product. How nice to have young actors just starting out in their career learning from experienced actors. It is more than possible to be committed to actor training while also being able to deliver a polished, professional production.
As for the material itself – reading Jane Austen’s novel is certainly a pleasure. However, in analyzing every line, every scene, and every character with the insight needed to direct this play, I have been reacquainted with Jane Austen’s skill as a writer and developer of delightfully rich characters. I have a deeper appreciation for her expertise in unfolding a beautifully crafted story of depth, humor, romance, and social commentary. She was far ahead of her time, a brilliant and talented writer whose work has endured and still speaks today.
What has been the most gratifying thing for you working on this production?
The most gratifying thing to me is to see the entire production come together for the for the audience’s pleasure. This not only includes my love for the rehearsal process, but ultimately seeing the costumes, lighting, music, staging, set, choreography, and the play itself unfold. There is nothing better than creating something that causes an audience to think, to cry, to laugh, and to journey fully with a story worth telling well.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Pride and Prejudice?
I would like the audience to leave the theatre feeling like they’ve had a peek into the real lives of Elizabeth and Darcy – that they have been on this journey of finding love along with these two characters. I would like for the audiences to reconsider the biases they may carry regarding people who may be different, and the impact that love and respect can have on even the simplest of lives. I would like audiences to fall in love with this work and these characters as I have – to understand that the depth of this work makes the story worth telling, hearing, seeing, and remembering!
Part One: Behind the Scenes of Pride and Prejudice: Meet Annapolis Shakespeare Company by Terry Bouma.
Part Two: Behind the Scenes of ‘Pride and Prejudice’: An Interview With Michael Ryan Neely by Joel Markowitz.
Amanda Gunther reviews Pride and Prejudice on DCMetroTheaterArts.