NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Women take the lead on stage and behind the scenes when the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theatre presents Kate Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice” as a feature of this year’s Mainstage Series.
Based on the novel by Jane Austen, Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Feb. 18 through 22, in W.M. Turner Auditorium in the Griffith Fine Arts Building. The play is a fresh and witty adaptation to Austen’s beloved 1813 novel, according to Scott Shattuck, professor of theatre at SFA and the play’s director. Shattuck has described the play as “a celebration of smart, strong independent young women” who will not settle for the stereotypical choices history has forced on women.
Heather Samuelson, assistant professor and coordinator of dance in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science at SFA, is choreographer for the play and said “Pride and Prejudice” was “always a favorite of mine.”
“Jane Austen was a pioneer in expressing through written literature what was once taboo,” Samuelson said. “I feel that this play demonstrates the struggles women of the 19th century endured – how families were pieced together by monetary gain and how being an independent woman could cause the demise of a family.”
However, the play also illustrates how some men were open to uniting with an outspoken, independent woman, regardless of what it would do to their reputation, she said.
“Through some aspects of this play, we begin to see similarities that are still current in today’s society,” she said, “including the segregation of families due to one’s deportment, elevated rank among siblings by marital gain, and the level of importance determined by education and maturity. This play has an underlying message for women, regardless of their looks and rank, that one has to be strong and persevere.”
Bethany Trauger, senior theatre major from Gilmer and the play’s assistant director, believes Austin’s novel “made great strides in giving its main female character agency and control over her situation.”
“But this play takes that one step further by letting every female character have complexities and motivations that were not clear in the book,” she said. “Even the seemingly one-dimensional and stereotypically silly Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are shown to be much more than what they seem. The play goes to great lengths to show the different strengths that women can have, and I hope that audiences see that in these familiar characters.”
As dramaturg for the play, Austin freshman Rose Collins said she discovered in her research that playwright Hamill was “discouraged by the lack of interesting roles for women in theater.”
“She was tired of going to auditions to try for [the part of a] wife or girlfriend or prostitute,” Collins said, “so she began writing adaptations for characters that she wanted to see herself and other women portray. This adaptation says to me that there is still so much further for women to go to be considered equals. But if we can look back and see how far we’ve come and respect those who helped to pave the way to a more equal future, then we should celebrate that.”
On the technical side of theatre, CC Conn, assistant professor of theatre and lighting and sound designer for “Pride and Prejudice,” has witnessed and experienced “historical gender inequity,” she said, adding the reason for that, in part, could be that fewer women were drawn to lighting and sound design. “But theatre, overall, like other professions, makes little effort to help with the challenges of balancing work and family,” she said.
“As a professor I was able to have some flexibility in my hours and in the need to incorporate my child into my work life,” Conn said. “However, professionally, that is nearly impossible. And there are little to no options for maternity leave situations, so young women assume they have to give up their position to have a family. I had to fight my way through that maze of obstacles. I would like to see theatres, entertainment companies and unions find ways to be more family-centered about those choices and options, so women can feel that they can maintain their career to some extent while having a family, as well.”
An example of the kind of strong women the play advocates, Hamill is an award-winning New York City-based actor/playwright whose work often examines social and gender issues as well as the timeless struggle to reconcile conscience and identity with social pressure. Passionate about creating new feminist, female-centered classics, her stories center around complicated women. She was named 2017’s Playwright of the Year by the Wall Street Journal. She has been one of the 10 most-produced playwrights in the country three seasons running, from 2017 to 2020, meaning in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, she wrote two of the top 10 most produced plays.
Hamill had four world premieres scheduled in 2019-20, including “The Scarlet Letter” at South Coast Repertory Theatre, Costa Mesa, California; “Dracula” at Classic Stage Company Off-Broadway, New York City; “Prostitute Play” at Cygnet Theatre, San Diego; and “Emma” at the world-renowned Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“Although women are prospering in today’s society, we still haven’t reached gender equality,” Samuelson said. “Women still make significantly less than men, even though they hold the same jobs.”
Samuelson said she hopes that the students involved in the SFA presentation of “Pride and Prejudice” “understand how far we have come in societal change, but also recognize and acknowledge how much more needs to be done.”
The performing arts can be a great place for women to express their individuality, as well as their passion and need to find equality, she added.
“Whether it be through drama, art, music or dance, the performing arts is an area where women can unite, create and advocate for their gender and recruit others to find their individuality.”
Single tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and non-SFA students and $7.50 for youth. Tickets for SFA students are $5. For tickets or more information, call the SFA Fine Arts Box Office at (936) 468-6407 or visit www.theatre.sfasu.edu.