How did you meet Lauren Gunderson?
Lauren and I first met when I was working at Marin Theatre Company as their dramaturg – she was brought out in 2009 to work on a play of hers called Rock Hill. She ended up moving to the Bay Area, and she and I began collaborating as playwright-dramaturg. We worked on several pieces in development at Marin Theatre, as well as on the world premiere of her play I and You.
How did the two of you come up with the idea of writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice?
In the summer of 2014, she was working at Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor on a one-woman show with banjo that was loosely based on King Lear. [That play became The Heath, which premieres here at MRT in February.] We decided to take a road trip up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to see a production of Lear and on the six-hour car ride, we came up with the idea for Miss Bennet. The impulse came from both a practical place – all theater companies need good holiday shows to produce, and there just aren’t that many to choose from – and a place of desire to see a different kind of holiday story. Ours is rooted in the complications of being part of a family, one that is made up of very different and dynamic women, and what it means to support each other.
You are a highly regarded dramaturg. Had you written a play before?
Though I had read literally thousands of plays as a dramaturg and the director of new play development at Marin Theatre, I had never written a play. So, my only experience of writing has been as a co-writer, but it has been an incredibly gentle entry into the world of being a playwright. The process of writing can be very solitary, very much alone, even in the theater, which is ultimately a collaborative artform. The nice thing about being part of a writing team is that the collaboration starts early, from the inception of the idea, so you’re never staring down at a blank page by yourself. From the beginning, neither Lauren or myself were precious with the words we wrote, or took too much ownership. It was all in service of the story.
What do you think is the enduring appeal of Jane Austen is?
Jane Austen will never go out of style because of her incredible use of wit and comedy. It is never not fun to dive into a world of people with problems that are maybe a little superficial, but always serve to showcase great and complex characters, especially the women. What I love especially about Pride and Prejudice is that each of the sisters has such a unique personality – at different times in your life, when you read the novel, you’ll identify with a different one of the sisters. If you used to be more of a Lydia, you may evolve into a Lizzy. Or maybe you’ve always felt like a Mary at heart, until one day you wake up, and you’re relating to Jane. That’s the lovely thing about complicated characters: they resonate differently because each one of us has a little bit of each of them in us.
*What is a dramaturg?
A dramaturg is the most misunderstood position in the theatre because the work of a dramaturg varies widely from project to project. In a nutshell, a theatre dramaturg is a literary editor, who consults with authors and analyzes and edits texts. Further, dramaturgs assist playwrights in structuring new plays. Dramaturgs also work with various aspects of the production, including crafting educational materials, creating marketing copy, and facilitating artistic and community conversations.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs November 28 – December 23, 2018.