“Once you’re known for something, people ask you to keep doing it,” posed playwright Kate Hamill at the end of a long day of workshopping her new adaptation of William Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR at The Pearl Theatre Co. The workshop fell just after the close of an unprecedented run of Hamill’s SENSE & SENSIBILITY at Bedlam, and a few months before starting PRIDE AND PREJUDICE rehearsals for Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.
Adaptations are kind of Hamill’s thing lately. “I’m planning to do all of Austen’s books, and in the order in which they were written. It’ll be fascinating for me to see how our journeys align as young artists and young women.”
“I feel this immense responsibility and honor as a female artist to help
reclaim the classics for everyone. ”
– Kate Hamill
Why now? For Hamill – an actress as well as a playwright – the answer lies onstage. “I’ve been in the audition room with 400 other women all vying for the chance to play ‘Guy’s Girlfriend #1.’ The truth is there just aren’t enough truly great parts for women, by women, and the majority of plays and adaptations are by men. I feel this immense responsibility and honor as a female artist to help reclaim the classics for everyone.”
Digging into Austen’s work, which often explores women’s dependence on marriage in the pursuit of improved social and economic standing, has allowed Hamill to explore her own thoughts on contemporary pairing culture. “I guess PRIDE’s subtext should really be Thoughts on Marriage. There’s still all this pressure to pair off and get hitched. Rules to be followed. Do’s and dont’s to be honored. But how do you know when you’ve found the right person?”
Janeite, noun \ˈjā-ˌnīt\
A devotee and enthusiastic admirer of the works of Jane Austen.
She concedes that the conventional wisdom is, generally speaking, awful. “I’m not trying to give advice with this adaptation. For me, PRIDE is the question, not the answer.”
Compared with Austen’s first novel (SENSE & SENSIBILITY), PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a simpler tale with less exposition, offering an ideal environment for exaggeration and creative casting decisions. Hamill, a self-proclaimed Janeite, has leveraged her absurd humor to reshape the world of the Bennets and Bingleys while respecting Austen’s original aims. “Mary Bennet’s someone I find particularly interesting because she’s super tragic. The sisters are all so mean to her throughout the story, so I’ve made her the worst. Totally insufferable. There’s something inherently funny about a black sheep and she’s become the blackest of the black sheep in my adaptation. Lizzy Bennet’s also a total weirdo and should be treated as such. She and Darcy are both odd ducks… odd ducks that swim together. ”
Exposition, noun \ĕk′spə-zĭsh′ən\
The part of a play that provides the background information needed
to understand the characters and the action.
Reactions from other Janeites have been surprising and humbling for Hamill. “I’m conscious of the very personal, committed relationships Austen fans have with these characters, and the very real disappointment they feel when their favorites have been desecrated. However, their input has been so lovely and gratifying – they can appreciate that plays and novels are different and require different things.” And while Hamill recognized the hunger in her own life for women’s stories told by women, she didn’t expect that other Austen fans would echo her sentiments so strongly: “They really need women’s voices onstage now more than ever.”
Hamill will join PRIDE Director Amanda Dehnert in January to workshop the play before rehearsals start in April. Dehnert, a household name at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, is no stranger to vibrant adaptations of tested classics. “I think we both prize theatricality, storytelling, and not being too precious about what goes onstage,” said Hamill. “When you’re workshopping or rehearsing with a director, everyone’s kicking the tires. Sometimes the stuff that’s feverishly written at 3:00AM that I thought would sound stupid can become the most important part of the play. This baby lives in the room, not on the page, and I’m really looking forward to co-parenting with Amanda.”
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is in previews June 10 – June 23, 2017 and runs June 24 – September 4, 2017. Season tickets go on sale to the public in March, but members of our Saints & Poets Society and Festival Circles have early access. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.