October 28, 2011

Theater Emory's 'Persuasion' pulls audience into world of Jane Austen

Emily Kleypas and Brian Kimmel star in Theater Emory's "Persuasion."

Theater Emory opens Jane Austen's "Persuasion," the second show of Theater Emory's "Bloody, Breathless, and Bold" season, on Nov. 10 in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater at the Dobbs University Center.

John Ammerman, artistic director of Theater Emory, has adapted Austen's classic novel for the stage, and now directs its premiere performance with a cast of professional actors, students and Emory alumni.  Ammerman recently took some time away from directing to answer a few questions about the production:

Are you a Jane Austen fan yourself?

John Ammerman: I am a latecomer to Austen. I admit that I was significantly influenced by the films of her books and then got into exploring her in a greater way. Now of course, I am an admirer of a writer who is exquisite in her use of language and astonishingly perceptive of human behavior and its foibles.

What about the novel "Persuasion" made you want to adapt it for the stage?

I have always had a distinct interest in the 19th century—the writing styles of English and American writers, and the poetic process of how people communicated their ideas and perceptions through letter writing. The trick is trying to write in Austen's style, blending my own style into how she might structure something. In many ways, I truly am a romantic and thought that "Persuasion" was a novel that I could adapt my own writing into a clear understanding of Austen's style.

How does your adaptation differ from the novel?

The play does completely follow the progression of the novel's plot, and I have utilized as much of the dialogue as I could. The adaptation also differs from the novel in many ways. For example, I have written for the protagonist, Anne Eliot, a number of monologues not in the novel. This addition not only increases the narrative connection directly to the audience, but also digs into her very personal world. Also, some things that are only alluded to in the novel as rumors or hearsay have been staged so that we have a greater experience of what specific characters are going through.

Will the style of the production be true to the period?

The style is very true to the period, whether it has to do with etiquette, dancing and movement, dialect and pronunciation, or how one should behave in public contrasting to a character's internal struggle that must be kept in private.

How does directing something you have written or adapted differ from directing someone else's work?

Directing your own work can be tricky in that there is a clarity of the text and how you see the imagery and mechanics, the use of language, characterization and relationships. However, actors and designers bring a fresh perspective to everything and you have to be open to how they interpret and sense things that may or may not be in total agreement with how you are used to perceiving things.

How do you deal with these discrepancies in vision for the play?

I really approach the whole production as an ongoing process, and tackle it now with a whole group of contributing artists who bring their own expertise to the project and grapple with the text like I would with any other author's work. I often forget that I wrote the play—if, of course, it's working.

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