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Archive for the ‘Sense and Sensibility’ Category

 

regency ladies

Regency ladies with a drawing pad

When studying a woman’s role in the Regency era, one truly appreciates the great strides today’s Western women have made in making personal choices and leading interesting and independent lives. In Jane Austen’s day, women from all walks of life were constrained by their family, society’s mores, and unfair laws that prevented all but a blessed handful from the rights to their children or owning property.

If you watched Regency House Party, a 2004 reality TV show (Wall to Wall/Channel 4) you would have seen the boredom of the modern young women who reenacted the lives of upper crust Regency women. Overseen by a strict chaperone, their days were indolent, filled with long periods of visiting, reading, walking, sewing, painting lessons, music lessons, dance lessons, meals, naps, and letter writing.

Regency House Party 2004

Modern women reenact Regency ladies in Regency House Party, 2004.

In Regency House Party, the women were forced to follow a prescribed daily schedule, while the men slept late, caroused late, hunted, fished, played sports, drank and ate and lived their lives on a whim. The modern young women found this unfair. Their days were not only long and boring, but if they broke a minor rule, they were punished and kept to the house.

gertrude-saville-spinster

Gertrude Saville, unhappy spinster, At Home with the Georgians, Amanda Vickery

The situation was worse for single ladies. The diaries of spinsters are filled with laments – unable to work or own property, they depended on the largesse of families. Many were deeply depressed. I imagine they found some solace in pursuing the arts, as Anne Elliot did when she played the piano for her family, and Cassandra Austen, when she painted portraits of those she loved. As a wife, a woman had some standing as a head of household and as a mother (if she bore children). Many spinsters rotted deep inside the cores of their beings from lack of direction, affection, and true meaning in their lives.

Even if a woman demonstrated extraordinary talent as an artist, let’s say, the game was fixed. She would not be allowed to attend life drawing classes at a proper Academy of the Arts, but would be forced to draw the likenesses of statues. If she had the good luck of being the daughter of an open minded artist, then she would learn everything he knew about preparing canvasses, mixing paints, drawing from nature, and other tricks of the trade. This was an exception, however.

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Detail, Regency Selfie of I.J. Willis, 1830’s

Most children of the gentry learned from drawing or painting masters either at home or in school. Some were better than others, but the overall effect of their instruction was tepid. Women tended to paint what they knew – flowers, gardens, interiors, family scenes of the lives they lived, portraits and self-portraits, etc. This detail of a 1830’s Self Portrait of the Artist Painting at her Desk by I.J Willis is typical of the era and in many ways reminiscent of Jane Austen’s writing desk in the dining room at Chawton Cottage – domestic, cozy, and feminine.

Rolinda-Sharples-selfportrait-ca1820

Rolinda Sharples with her mother, Regency selfie, 1817

Miss (or Mrs.) Willis sits facing her mirror in 3/4 pose (typical of the selfies of the day.) She has placed her flowers, paintbox, water, and paper in front of her. It is obvious she is painting from life. The self-portrait is quite accomplished. I rather like it is much as Rolinda Sharple’s selfie with her mother, Self-portrait by Rolinda Sharples, with her mother, Ellen, 1817. Rolinda is well-known, I. J. Willis is not. The quote below, made by three clergy men, explains why so many paintings and drawings that countless women in the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian eras made have disappeared:

…when a young lady, who has neither eyes, nor ear, is completed to drudge at music and drawing, the result of her labors is discomfort to herself, and annoyance to the friends and strangers who are summoned to witness her proficiency; and whom if they possess any relish for the fine arts, are embarrassed between their unwillingness to bestow hypocritical praise, and to utter unwelcome truth.” – Artisan or Artist: A History of the Teaching of Art and Crafts in English Schools, Gordon Sutton, Elsevier, May 12, 2014, p.33.

Mary Bennet’s piano playing can best be described by the above quote, and while one can appreciate that the only portrait painted from life was drawn by her sister Cassandra, by no stretch of the imagination can we term the portrait of Jane Austen at the National Gallery in London “accomplished.” (Heresy!)  The portrait has value only because it was drawn from life and because it is one of a handful that are undeniably of Jane. One wishes it were as good as the portrait of Cassandra’s niece, Fanny Austen-Knight, painting at a table. This watercolor by a woman depicting another woman painting with watercolors is interesting. Fanny needed very little to paint – a table, a glass of water, and a box of watercolors. I can’t quite tell if she is painting from imagination or from a model in front of her. All I know is that, while a few of Cassandra’s watercolors survived, I have yet to see any of Fanny’s – the inevitable fate for most womens’ paintings. Few have survived. Few are in art history books or museums.Few are larger than life. Cassandra’s watercolor portrait of Jane Austen is so tiny that I walked past it several times while actively looking for it.

diana sperling

Diana Sperling’s painting shows the carpet rolled up. One can imagine Anne Elliott playing the pianoforte at this gathering.

Diana Sperling’s wonderful watercolors are cherished for their depiction of Regency family life in the country, but her talent, though undeniable, was homegrown and not influenced by rigorous academic training. In this wonderfully descriptive painting, she depicts the family dancing and the carpets rolled up. It is delightful but amateurish, but we don’t care. These domestic products of a young woman’s observations are priceless. Diana was probably taught by one of the many drawing or painting masters of the day who taught young ladies the accomplishments of painting and drawing. They could be found in towns  like Meryton and in abundance in a town like Bath, where the rising middle class clamored for, well, class.

Some painting masters were more talented than others, and they could make a decent living if they found a permanent gig. From 1814 – 1819, David Cox made a respectable living as drawing master at Miss Croucher’s Academy for Young Ladies. He earned £100 per year for twice weekly lessons, as well as 7 s. 6 d. – 10 s. for private lessons. (Gordon Sutton, p. 35). Obviously, Mr. Cox did not become wealthy as a drawing master, and one wonders how often he had to bite his tongue as he taught a class of talentless young ladies.

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Romola Garai as Emma at her easel

One can tell a great deal about Jane Austen’s female protagonists through their talents. Emma’s sheltered but cosseted life is reflected in her artistic abilities. She never needed to overly exert herself to win praise, and so she doesn’t bother to complete her drawings or paintings. Elinor Dashwood is made of sterner, deeper stuff. Her paintings are accomplished. One imagines that they might even be better than Cassandra Austen’s paintings, but we’ll never know. I have not had the pleasure of reading Jane Austen’s critique of her sister’s work or Elinor’s, for that matter.

Below, is Jane’s masterful scene in Sense and Sensibility. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood finally meet the formidable Mrs. Ferrars. All the characters are true to form – a despicable Fanny, a haughty Mrs. Ferrars, a hen-pecked John Ferrars, a love-sick Colonel Brandon, a reticent, self-effacing Elinor, a fiery, audacious Marianne, and a kind, clueless Lady Middleton – and play a role in the scene. The topic is Elinor’s painted screens:

Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted and brought home, ornamented her present drawing-room; and these screens catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the other gentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to Colonel Brandon for his admiration.

“These are done by my eldest sister,” said he; “and you, as a man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whether you ever happened to see any of her performances before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well.”

The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseur ship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dash wood; and the curiosity of the others being of course excited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor’s work, particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received the gratifying testimony of Lady Middleton’s approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother, considerately informing her at the same time that they were done by Miss Dashwood.

“Hum “—said Mrs. Ferrars—” very pretty,”—and without regarding them at all, returned them to her daughter.

Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rude enough,—for, colouring a little, she immediately said,

“They are very pretty, ma’am—a’n’t they?” But then again, the dread of having been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came over her, for she presently added,

“Do you not think they are something in Miss Morton’s style of painting, ma’am? She does paint most delightfully. How beautifully her last landscape is done!”

“Beautifully indeed. But she does everything well.”

Marianne could not bear this. She was already greatly displeased with Mrs. Ferrars; and such ill-timed praise of another, at Elinor’s expense, though she had not any notion of what was principally meant by it, provoked her immediately to say with warmth,

“This is admiration of a very particular kind! What is Miss Morton to us? Who knows or who cares for her? It is Elinor of whom we think and speak.”

And so saying, she took the screens out of her sister-inlaw’s hands to admire them herself as they ought to be admired.

Mrs. Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up more stiffly than ever, pronounced in retort this bitter philippic: “Miss Morton is Lord Morton’s daughter.”

Fanny looked very angry too, and her husband was all in a fright at his sister’s audacity. Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne’s warmth, than she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon’s eyes, as they were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only what was amiable in it; the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point.

Excerpt From: Jane Austen. “Sense and Sensibility.” iBooks.

Antique English Papier Mache Face Screen Pair (Fan), Oil Painting in E. Landseer Highlander Hunt Genre, Kilt & Dog, Ruby Lane

Victorian hand-held paper screens, Ruby Lane

This image shows two hand-held, hand-painted Victorian face screens from Ruby Lane. They were used to shelter a lady’s face from the heat of a fire. Back in the Georgian era, such screens prevented thickly applied makeup from melting and running down a person’s face. Elinor’s screens were probably not as accomplished, but good enough for John Ferrars to pay attention to them.

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Young Woman Drawing by Marie-Denise Villers

The reality was that only a few truly talented and lucky women were able to free themselves from the straight jackets with which society constrained them.  Even so, a few are renowned today. Click here for an article by Leslie An McCleod.

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What awful news! Alan Rickman, one of my favorite actors, has died. He will always be Colonel Brandon, in my estimation. The sort of man that mature women want and marry.

I first met Alan as Hans, a dastardly terrorist in Die Hard. With his steely eyes, he was evil incarnate and more than a match for Bruce Willis’s John McClane – until McClane killed him off.

The next time I saw Alan, he played the vile Sheriff of Notthingham with a mullet in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Alan’s accent was real; Kevin Costner’s most certainly was not.

I then saw Alan as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Swoon. We first encounter him when he sees and hears Marianne sing. I think I fell in love a little with him then.

He then rescues Marianne from the rain. He did not stagger, although Marianne (ahem) was no lightweight. When Marianne lies abed with fever, he begs Elinor for something to do – an occupation, anything, and so he fetches Marianne’s mother, just in time to see her recover from her fever.

Having shown his sterling character, Marianne is able to see Colonel Brandon’s finer qualities and contrast his character to Willoughby’s. Our fine Colonel then gives Marianne a pianoforte and reads to her – perfect husband material.Sigh.

Alan goes on to play Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films and a cheating husband in Love Actually. This scene with Rowan Atkinson is priceless and still keeps me laughing.

A gifted actor, Alan Rickman graced the stage and screen with his talented presence. You are missed, Mr. Rickman. You will be missed. Rest in peace and thank you for the many years of pleasure you have given me. You must away, and we cannot follow you.

Alan Rickman recites Sonnet 130

To view a catalogue of his work, go to IMBD, Alan Rickman

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13 vignettes 1790 rowlandson

Image, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

I love this 1790 hand-colored etching by Thomas Rowlandson from the Royal Collection Trust, which depicts 12 vignettes of everyday life and work in Georgian England. Sketches like these offer us a glimpse of ordinary life in the 18th century, much as photos and videos today. These vignettes are drawn from life, and unlike the serious, well-thought out poses of formal portraits, they show people of a bygone era going about their ordinary business.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen wrote of the militia visiting Meryton and Brighton. In her day, soldiers were encamped throughout Great Britain, ready to go to war at a moment’s notice or defend the homeland from invasions. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were enamored with the smart bright uniforms of officers, who they regarded as quite the catch. The men passing through town provided new faces as well as relief from the routine of village life, for village folk (most of whom rarely traveled beyond the confines of their counties) moved in small and familiar social circles, for better or worse. (Mrs. Elton, anyone?)

new recruits

A soldier assessing new recruits for the army

The well-fed officer above assesses new recruits, who are obviously not officer material. One imagines that their lives in the army will not be as cushy as Captain Denny’s or Mr. Wickham’s, and that they would perform the most plebeian tasks.

A woman driving a phaeton

A woman driving a phaeton

High perch phaetons were the race cars of their day and a status of wealth. It is obvious that this woman is a skilled driver, but her escort remains close at hand to ensure her safety.

detail

Detail of the driver with her mannish driving habit, which was created by a tailor, not a seamstress.

Increasingly throughout this century, women were allowed to marry for love, but ensuring one’s future as a wife could be a risky business. What if she married for love and her husband turned out to be a ne’er-do-well, barely able to support his family, as with Fanny Price’s father? Aristocratic women had no choice but to follow family dictates in order maintain the family’s status or improve their fortune. Other families sought to move up social ranks through their daughter’s mate. One wonders  in the image below if the young woman is married to her escort … or if she is simply taking a stroll with her father or uncle? We can only guess.

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

The trio below seems to be promenading along a street (or park). The women look chic in their walking outfits, the younger one wearing a hat with feathers and carrying a fan; the older woman, no doubt, making sure that her charge’s reputation remains spotless. Jane Austen began writing Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at the end of the 18th century, when these garments were fashionable. It’s one of the many reasons why we glimpse such a variety of costumes in various Austen film adaptations. In creating movie costumes, some costume designers choose the era in which Austen wrote the first drafts of those early novels; others choose to dress their actresses in the filmy empire gowns that were popular when the books were published.

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A solder escorting two women. Is the older woman on the right the mother of the younger woman he is courting, or her governess?

Taking tea was not as formalized a ceremony at the end of the 18th century as it would become later during the 19th century. Tea was quite an expensive commodity, kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house. At Chawton Cottage, Jane was in charge of the tea chest and making tea in the morning. Servants often brewed tea from leaves that had been used by their betters, thereby imbibing a much weaker beverage.

A tea party

A tea party

In this group, the hostess at right dispenses the tea one guest at a time, which her footman delivers to each in turn, with the ladies having been served first. It is an afternoon tea, for the ladies are not dressed for the evening. Mrs and Miss Bates would have been often invited to tea to Hartfield, but rarely to dine, a privilege reserved for more exalted guests, like Mr. Knightley. This was just the way of the world.

An equestrienne about to go on a ride

An equestrian about to go on a ride

It is hard to tell if this young woman is about to ride in Hyde Park or in the country. For both instances, she is suitably dressed.

Sewing, woman's work

An industrious woman sewing

One can only imagine how boring the daily routine was for the average Georgian woman, whose life was constrained by society’s strictures and who was not allowed to “work” for a living. Woman’s work consisted of sewing, overseeing the kitchens, or, as in Mrs. Austen’s case, actively taking a part in cooking, and making wines and preserves. While many ladies of the house did not sully their hands in the kitchen, they actively collected recipes, which they passed down to their cooks. On an interesting note, while tailors made men’s clothes, they did not sew the shirts. This task was left to the women, who hand-stitched shirts for their men and made clothing for their babies and the poor.  Jane and Cassandra Austen often made shirts for their brothers, a fact mentioned in letters.

A well-dressed couple

Flirtation: A well-dressed man peers at a woman through his eye-glass. She is without an escort and seems to encourage his perusal.

The image above causes me to believe that the woman being ogled may not be entirely suitable for polite company, or she may well be a widow who cares not a fig about her reputation. Her companion is openly eyeing her through his eye glass. To be sure, they might well be standing in the Pump Room in Bath, where they would be surrounded by a crowd of people. Can you imagine Lizzy Bennet holding still under such scrutiny? Methinks not.

A musical interlude

A musical interlude with two ladies.

Entertainment was left to professional performers, many of whom roamed from town to town, and to talented family members. One can imagine how quiet and uneventful life in the country must have been! Had Emma liked Jane Fairfax, this scene could have shown Jane playing the pianoforte as Emma sang. Women in general contributed much to a family’s entertainment.  Jane Austen wrote comedic plays in her younger years (and made up fanciful stories for her nieces and nephews as a spinster), and her mother wrote poetry. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have been a proficient if she had ever bothered to apply herself to the pianoforte (Hah!). Modest Elizabeth Bennet considered her musical skills merely pedestrian, although Mr. Darcy was charmed by her efforts. Marianne Dashwood probably found an outlet for her passions while at the pianoforte. Austen characterized her heroines by their talents. Instead of energetically joining the family during impromptu dances, mousy Anne Elliot made herself useful at the instrument. Mary Crawford’s extraordinary talents with the harp made Edmund Bertram fall even more in love with her, whereas poor Mary Bennet committed one social faux pas after another by failing to understand that her musical talents were painful to witness.

An outing

An outing in the country

Emma’s planned outing to Box Hill was no doubt accompanied by servants, who carried the food, plates, and cutlery and laid out the repast for the party. In this scene, it seems that the soldiers performed the offices of serving the food to the ladies. Except for the boatman, I can find no evidence of servants, unless they are assembled inside the tent, which makes no sense. One soldier plays the flute to his companion, another couple promenades as they talk. A group sits on a blanket, finishing their repast and drinking wine or ale.

Detail

Detail of the tent, inside and out

A dog sleeps peacefully among the assembly and a female guest rests while leaning against the tent. Inside, a man sits at a table. It must have taken some effort to transport all that food and equipment, and I wonder if this was done via the boat and river earlier in the day as the rest of the party walked from the country house (visible in the background) to the picnic site. One thing is for certain, Rowlandson’s contemporaries would have known first-hand how such a picnic was contrived.

detail

Detail of the riverside, with a country house in the background.

A foppish gentleman in the image below examines a bill, while the inn keeper (?) looks on and a servant carries his case. This image must have been duplicated at many roadside inns and coach houses, and would not be unusual today. This scene was labeled “exchanging” money, which explains the merchant’s/innkeeper’s outstretched hand.

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

The man below is peering through a telescope at … what? A balloon ascent? Birds? A boat on the horizon? Curious minds want to know.

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the sea shore?

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the seashore?

The last scene depicts vendors selling their wares, either from a stall, from containers on the pavement, or from baskets attached to donkeys. A variety of shoppers, some better dressed than others, are shown examining goods or purchasing items.

Market scene

Street vendors

Our moderns sensibilities are struck by the unhygienic way that food was sold by street vendors back then. There were no disposable plates, so one can only assume that used plates and cups were merely wiped with a wet cloth before food was ladled out to serve another diner. Many individuals lived in small one or two room “apartments” that had no kitchens. For them, eating street food was common … if they had the money.

Street food

Street food

detail

Detail of vendors with donkeys

Items of clothing seem to be sold in the stall, while bulk food (potatoes, grain?) is carried by the donkeys. When the Austen family moved from Steventon to Bath, their diets changed drastically, for they had to depend on food purchased at local markets. They had grown their own vegetables in the country, and owned a cow and a few chickens and pigs. In Steventon, the Austen family could largely eat off the bounty of their land, stretching their budget, but in Bath they depended on food carted in from surrounding farms and milk from anemic city cows who lived in dank stalls and were put out to pasture in public parks. Purchased food was often doctored, and it was almost impossible to eat fresh seafood, unless one lived near the coast. For many reasons, including the matter of finding fresh and affordable food, Jane Austen must have been in shock the entire time she lived in Bath.

More about the image:

Creator: Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) (etcher)
Creation Date:
27 Jun 1790
Materials:
Hand-coloured etching
Dimensions:
38.5 x 28.0 cm
RCIN
810396

Description:
A hand-coloured print with 12 vignettes of everyday life and work. Included in the designs are: Assessing new recruits for the army; carriage driving; promenading; a tea party; horse-riding; a woman with needlework; flirtation; a woman playing the harpsichord whilst another woman sings; a picnic by a river; a man looking through a telescope; an exchange of money between one man and another man and street vendors. Plate 7.

Inscribed in the plate: Pub June 27 1790 by S.W. Fores N 3 Piccadilly. Click here to go to The Royal Collection.

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Thanks to Netflix, my houseguests and I are watching the Vicar of Dibley and savoring each episode, for we are viewing the last season, in which (be still my beating heart) Richard Armitage plays Geraldine’s swain Harry, and Jane Austen’s novels become a point of discussion. Dawn French as Geraldine is at the top of her comedic game in this series, which was woefully short and had too few episodes to please this Dibley addict.

In the The Handsome Stranger, Harry and Geraldine discuss a scene in Sense and Sensibility. (Click on image.)

Richard Armitage and Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley

Richard Armitage and Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley

If you have a Netflix account or can watch the videos streaming somewhere, I highly recommend this funny, warm-hearted series. The fact that the Vicar is a Jane Austen fan put more icing on the cake for me.

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Inquiring Readers: This post combines two of my passions: Jane Austen and the Regency Era and Project Runway. Emilio Sosa’s (Esosa’s) beautiful fashions earned him the runner up position in Project Runway Season 7. Two of his sketches  for the costumes of Sense and Sensibility the Musical are included below.

CASTING ANNOUNCED FOR

WORLD PREMIERE OF

“SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL”

Image used with permission, @Carla Befera & Co.

Image used with permission, @Carla Befera & Co.

 

The Denver Center Theatre Company’s (DCTC) world premiere production of SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL,with book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow and music by Neal Hampton, will receive its world premiere production April 5 – May 26, 2013 in The Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for Performing Arts at 14th and Champa.

Starring in the pivotal Dashwood sister roles will be Stephanie Rothenberg as Elinor and Mary Michael Patterson as Marianne. Ms. Rothenberg made her Broadway debut last season as Rosemary opposite Nick Jonas in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and then starred as Princess Anne in the Guthrie Theater’s world premiere musical, Roman Holiday. Ms. Patterson had her Broadway debut in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony-winning revival of Anything Goes.

The sisters’ romantic entanglements will be portrayed by three of Broadway’s leading men. Nick Verina, seen as Young Ben in the recent Broadway revival of Follies with Bernadette Peters, will take on the role of Edward; Jeremiah James, who starred as Billy Bigelow in the West End revival of Carousel and as Curly in the first national tour of Oklahoma!, will portray Willoughby; and Robert Petkoff, Broadway’s recent Lord Evelyn Oakleigh opposite Sutton Foster in Anything Goes, will be the upstanding Colonel Brandon.

Additional Broadway talent joining the cast includes Ed Dixon (Anything Goes, Sunday in the Park with George, Mary Poppins, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) as Sir John; Ruth Gottschall (Mary Poppins, The Music Man, Funny Thing…Forum) as Mrs. Jennings, and Joanna Glushak (Sunday in the Park with George, Urinetown, Les Misérables) as Mrs. Dashwood/Mrs. Ferrars.

Logo used with permission, courtesy @Carla Befera & Co.

Logo used with permission, courtesy @Carla Befera & Co.

The production boasts a formidable production team, including Set Designer Allen Moyer, Tony nominee for Grey Gardens; Costume Designer ESosa,2012 Tony nominee for The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and “Project Runway” finalist; acclaimed Lighting Designer James F. Ingalls; Sound Design byCraig Breitenbach (world premiere of The Laramie Project); Music Supervisor David Loud, whose recent Broadway productions include The Gershwin’sPorgy and Bess and The Scottsboro Boys; Music Director and Conductor Paul Masse, whose Broadway credits include The Scottsboro Boys, as well asCurtainsChicagoAvenue Q42nd Street, and Gypsy, and Orchestrations are by Kim Scharnberg and Neal Hampton.

Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson selected SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL after it became a runaway hit at the 2012 Colorado New Play Summit.

Esosa was one of the contestants in Project Runway 7, and won runner up. Image Credit: Lifetime Television

Esosa was one of the contestants in Project Runway 7, and won runner up. Image Credit: Lifetime Television

About ESosa, the Costume Designer

ESosa, costume designer for Sense & Sensibility The Musical, based on Jane Austen’s much loved first novel, moves effortlessly between the fashion world and the theatre world. This rising fashion star, better known as Emilio to his Project Runway fans, is also widely admired for finishing second in Season 7 as well as in the most recent Project Runway All-Stars. Yet ESosa has supported himself for much of his career by designing costumes for more than 75 productions regionally and on Broadway.

Today he sees himself as a fashion designer first: “I’ve had a wonderful career in theatre and I’m very blessed, but when I look in the mirror, I always see a fashion designer first and a theatre designer second. I use elements of both, because my fashion informs my theatre and my theatre informs my fashion. They go hand in hand.”

So when conceiving the costumes for Sense & Sensibility, he approached it as a time-travelling fashion designer working in 1810: “I start by designing clothing, and then I worry about theatricalizing the garments later.”  The Regency period of Austen’s novels, recognized most of all for the signature Empire waistline of the ladies’ dresses, provided an abundance of elements to work with: stripes which allow for the creation of chevrons and diamonds, but also florals, polka dots, brocades, lace, jewelry, chiffon. “What was big in this period was transparency. It was a very sexy period for women and men. Bosoms were big, and bosoms don’t go out of style.”

And of course color. On Project Runway ESosa became known for his bold use of color. Will any of that be on display?

“Oh yes, we’ll be playing with bolder colors. You have some characters that call for it, like Lucy. She’s more of a free spirit. For me color is an indication of personality.” The two Dashwood sisters will be dressed in blues (Elinor) and pinks (Marianne). One can only imagine the color palette he’ll come up with for Mrs. [Jennings], the boisterous and comic busybody.

How will this production differ from fastidiously researched film and TV versions of Austen’s oeuvre that periodically come to us from across the pond?

“We’re going to be true to the period,” says ESosa, “but we’re going to experiment with color and pattern and make it visually exciting.” Marcia Milgrom Dodge, director of the musical, wanted to bring his “fearless fashion sensibility” to the refined, stately Regency fashions. “The world of Jane Austen is often depicted in film and television with slavish authenticity,” she explains. “I wanted someone who would honor the period but also be bold and find modern gestures that will illuminate character and help the audience identify with them in a very immediate way.  With his keen fabric choices, witty accessories and smart use of color, ESosa is exactly that designer to bring these beloved characters to vivid life.”

As far as the men are concerned, the designer says he’ll be staying very true to the period’s silhouette—tailcoats and top hats—again taking some liberties with color and fabric selections: “Where I have my freedom is in the color combinations, the details that we add, the shaping. We will tweak it a little. My goal is always to make my actors feel and look good and able to tell the story.”

Oddly enough, ESosa says he is more often recognized as a former Project Runway contestant by theatre people than by people from the fashion industry. Perhaps more theatre people watch the show than those who do fashion for a living? But the show has helped raise his profile in both worlds. He believes a series like Project Runway can do a lot of good: “It’s a great platform for American fashion, and I’m a great proponent of Made in America. I think as a country we need to support our homegrown artists, especially in fashion.”

Mrs. Ferrars costume sketch
Born in the Dominican Republic and brought to the United States at age 3, ESosa was raised in Fort Apache, a tough area of the South Bronx. His interest in art and fashion eventually took him out of the Bronx, first to Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design and then to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his early professional jobs was as a personal dresser for Judith Jameson and as an apprentice costume-maker for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

The story about how he landed his first Broadway production, Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, shows the moxie underlying ESosa’s low-key demeanor. Running into Public Theater artistic director George C. Wolfe in the streets of New York, he summoned his courage and went up to him, announcing “Mr. Wolfe, I’m the best costume designer you’ve never worked with.”

“George likes that kind of bravado,” the designer explained. “He was interested. …They brought me in and I had a great, great meeting with him.” Needless to say he got the job and even went on to design Suzan Lori Park’s wedding dress.

ESosa’s two-track career continues full steam ahead. The fashion designer recently launched his own clothing line and has shown collections in New York, Miami and Paris. The costume designer won a Lucile Lortel award for Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on Porgy and Bess. He feels that his burgeoning fashion fame will not pull him away from the theatre: “I will always have a presence in the theatre. It’s just a matter of finding the balance. It’s part of my life. It’s part of my DNA.”

More About ESosa

More About Sense & Sensibility The Musical

April 5 – May 26 • Stage Theatre
Producing Partners: The Anschutz Foundation, Joy S. Burns, Daniel L. Ritchie, June Travis
Sponsored by The Ritz-Carlton, Denver and U.S. Bank
Signed & Audio Described • May 19, 1:30pm

SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL is based on the novel by Jane Austen. Book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow, Music by Neal Hampton. Directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. 

 

Performance Schedule

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday performances at 6:30pm

Friday and Saturday evening performances at 7:30pm

Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30pm

No children under four admitted.

 

Tickets and Subscriptions

Tickets ($55 – $65) are available now by calling 303.893.4100 or 800.641.1222 (TTY 303.893.9582). Subscribers enjoy free ticket exchanges, payment plans, priority offers to Broadway shows, discounted extra tickets, a dedicated VIP hotline, free events including talkbacks and receptions, and the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed.

SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL is presented by special arrangement with Betty Ann Besch Solinger and Alice Chebba Walsh. This production of SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL, generously sponsored by U.S. Bank and The Ritz-Carlton, is part of the Denver Center Theatre Companyand Denver Center Attractions (DCA) 2012/13 seasons. SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL Producing Partners: The Anschutz Foundation, Joy S. Burns, Daniel L. Ritchie, June Travis. DCTC is generously supported by Larimer Square, The Steinberg Charitable Trust and Wells Fargo Advisors. DCA is generously supported by United Airlines and Vectra Bank. Media sponsors are The Denver Post and CBS4.  The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is supported in part by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.  Please visit our website at www.denvercenter.org

**Please be advised that The Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the ONLY authorized online seller of tickets for Denver Center Attractions (the Broadway touring productions) and the Denver Center Theatre Company (the resident theatre company productions). Currently there are scalpers, also known as ‘second party vendors,’ selling tickets online at a rate more than double the standard price – and up. Tickets bought through these vendors MAY NOT BE VALID. You could not only be refused admission, but also lose your entire investment.

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Lady writing at her desk, 1813, Ackermann fashion plate, morning dress.

It is a truth universally known that during her lifetime, Jane Austen published her novels as “a lady.”  While some in the family knew about her writing success – her brother Henry and sister Cassandra swiftly come to mind – many did not, including the cousins. When a genteel woman like Jane was described as being at “work”, the phrase meant needlework and sewing clothes for the poor basket. A lady simply did not sully her hands by toiling at a trade. Jane did not want it bandied about that she was the author of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but her proud siblings, Henry in particular, couldn’t restrain themselves and bragged about their talented sister.  The word got out and the least well-kept secret was the name of the lady who wrote those delightful novels.

James Edward Austen, the son of Jane’s eldest brother James, and a favorite nephew of hers, discovered at school in 1813 that his favorite aunt was the author of two novels he had enjoyed immensely. The 11-12 year-old was so delighted with the news that he penned an enthusiastic poem about his discovery and sent it to her:

To Miss J. Austen

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed throughout the whole of the nation.

I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad;
Oh dear! just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods, and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr. Collins, so grateful for all,
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear Patroness call,
‘Tis to your ingenuity he really owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.

James Edward Austen as a young man.

When Edward Austen-Leigh, as he became later known in life, was 72, he penned his now famous Memoirs of Jane Austen,  leaving a legacy of the memories that he and his cousins retained a half century after her death. Had Edward not embarked on this quest, his memories (he was 16 when Jane died), and those of Caroline Austen and Fanny Knatchbull, might not have been captured in print. While his book preserved those fading memories, they also “sanitized” his aunt Jane’s reputation, erasing much of her sharp tongue and wit and replacing it with sweetness of character:

The grave closed over my aunt fifty-two years ago; and during that long period no idea of writing her life had been entertained by any of her family. Her nearest relatives, far from making provision for such a purpose, had actually destroyed many of the letters and papers by which it might have been facilitated. They were influenced, I believe, partly by an extreme dislike to publishing private details, and partly by never having assumed that the world would take so strong and abiding an interest in her works as to claim her name as public property. It was therefore necessary for me to draw upon recollections rather than on written documents for my materials; while the subject itself supplied me with nothing striking or prominent with which to arrest the attention of the reader…

Edward Austen-Leigh at the time he wrote Memoirs of Jane Austen

The motive which at last induced me to make the attempt [to write this memoir] is exactly expressed in the passage prefixed to these pages. I thought that I saw something to be done: knew of no one who could do it but myself, and so was driven to the enterprise. I am glad that I have been able to finish my work. As a family record it can scarcely fail to be interesting to those relatives who must ever set a high value on their connection with Jane Austen, and to them I especially dedicate it; but as I have been asked to do so, I also submit it to the censure of the public, with all its faults both of deficiency and redundancy. I know that its value in their eyes must depend, not on any merits of its own, but on the degree of estimation in which my aunt’s works may still be held; and indeed I shall esteem it one of the strongest testimonies ever borne to her talents, if for her sake an interest can be taken in so poor a sketch as I have been able to draw.

Bray Vicarage:
Sept. 7, 1869.

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Inquiring Readers: All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith is now available through Sourcebooks. I will be reviewing this fabulous, intelligently written book later this week. Meanwhile, enjoy my interview with Ms. Smith about her Latin American adventure as she discusses Jane Austen’s novels en Español with Latin American book groups. All readers of this blog from any country can enter a contest to win a copy of this charming book. Please click on this link and leave your comment. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. Contest is now closed!

Amy, I love that Jane Austen, a spinster who didn’t travel far or frequently in her lifetime, is so beloved the world wide over. Which country surprised you most in terms of her popularity there and why?

I found translations of Austen left and right in bookstores in Argentina. I met plenty of people there who’d read Austen and liked her or who’d seen film adaptations of her novels and enjoyed them. And the Jane Austen Society of Buenos Aires was the first Austen society in South America. But sometimes it’s hard not to be influenced by stereotypes about people — I’d heard that Chileans were “the English of South America,” so somehow I thought Austen would be popular in Chile. But when I was living in Santiago, the capital (which I absolutely loved), a number of people told me Austen’s not very well known in Chile.

As for Argentineans, I’d heard over and over from people in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and other places that Argentineans are, well, pretty arrogant. Other latinos kept passing on jokes like, “When Argentineans see lightening, what do they think is happening? They think it’s God, taking their picture!” So, I guess I got the idea that Argentineans might think Austen was stuffy or old fashioned or some such thing. But she’s popular, at least in Buenos Aires, according to my experiences.

What aspects of that particular culture do you think Jane would have enjoyed the most?

Bookstores, bookstores, bookstores. I had great experiences in bookstores all over Latin America, but Argentina — and Buenos Aires specifically — really is the bookstore capital of South America. It’s so easy for us now to take for granted that we can get our hands on just about any book we want, any time. We’ve got access to bookstores, next-day delivery with websites, and good public libraries. And electronic readers have made it easier than ever — just order whatever book you want, wherever you are on the planet! But imagine what it must have been like for an imaginative, inquisitive reader like Austen — how often did she ever set foot in a bookstore? How often could she afford to pay for books from a circulating library? How many books did her family or friends or neighbors actually own? I think Austen would have fainted from sheer pleasure at the sight of bookstore after bookstore on Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires.

Librerias Libertador: One of my favorite bookstores on Corrientes, in Buenos Aires

Jane Austen fans cross all religious boundaries. Can you identify any characteristics that Janeites share across the world, besides their obvious love for Jane Austen’s novels?

I honestly can’t speak for many places beyond Latin America (although I might try a next project in some other interesting countries!). But I suspect that there’s a kind of optimism that people — especially women — love about Austen. Her leading ladies find love, not in spite of being strong and intelligent, but because of it. That’s a pretty appealing idea in a world were, in many places, women are still told they’d better not appear too smart, or they’ll scare men off.

What were some of your most memorable experiences in writing this book?

I actually started the book while I was still traveling, although I didn’t finish it until after my trip was done. I wrote the first portion on Guatemala while I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was living well away from the tourist area, renting a partially-finished house that had glass in only one or two windows, so it was pretty noisy — street vendors would cruise by with loudspeakers, selling ice cream, vegetables, you name it. The people across the street had a huge bird caged outside their house that shrieked and chattered like a demon. And animals would wander in at will — there was one very persistent cat that kept making me jump out of my skin by appearing under my writing table with no warning.

There were animals all over the place in that neighborhood — no leash laws for dogs, and some of the neighbors had roosters and other farm animals. When I wanted a break from writing, I’d wander out to buy groceries or take my clothes to the laundromat. I always carried them in a plastic bag, and there was this goat a few houses down from me that was only tied up about half of the time. When it was loose, it usually ignored me, but when I had that plastic bag with laundry, it would come bolting after me — maybe its food came in a plastic bag, and it thought I had something good to eat? Or maybe it knew I had laundry and really wanted to eat my socks. Who knows. Sometimes I actually miss that goat — laundry day’s not the same without it.

A friendly neighborhood rooster from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Thank you, Amy, for your wonderful insights and good luck with your book. (I just love the cover!) Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about All Roads Lead to Austen?

Amy Elizabeth Smith

I had two main sources of inspiration for this book — Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and my own Jane Austen students at the University of the Pacific, in California. Readers can enjoy All Roads as a fun opportunity to sit back and be an armchair traveler, but I’d also love it if the book inspired some other international journey I could sit back and read about. Austen in China? Turkey? Belgium? Bora Bora? I’d love to see somebody else take on a journey like this with Jane. Even if they don’t want to write a whole book about it — I’d love to have people share reading-on-the-road stories on my website (http://allroadsleadtoausten.com/). Consider that an official invitation! And thanks so much for letting me visit here at Jane Austen’s World!

To Enter the Contest: Please make sure to leave your comment on Jane Austen Today at this link. The first two comments left on this post will be included in the random number generator drawing at midnight EST USA time on June 11. Please leave all other comments on Jane Austen Today. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. 

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