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  • Writer's pictureAndrew G. Cooper

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly at Citadel Theatre

It's November and you all know what that means...winter in Canada.

I've lived in Edmonton once before and I recall, quite fondly, the autumn season. In particular, I remember wearing my Halloween costume over-top of my snowsuit as a child for trick-or-treating. We did not, thankfully, have snow ON Halloween this year in Edmonton, it waited a total of one day, but it is now a winter (and icy) wonderland here in the great white north of Alberta.

So it's winter in Edmonton. Why would I be here? Well, Christmas theatre of course! I'm currently working as the assistant director on Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at the Citadel Theatre! It's part two of my self-guided season of assistant directing project for this year (you can read more about that in my last blog post). While organizing this whole project last fall, I talked to Daryl Cloran about how much I wanted to work at Citadel Theatre since he relocated there from leading Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops and we decided that this show would be the best one for me to join in their 2018/2019 season. Last season, I was the choreographer and assistant director on WCT's A Christmas Carol and I grew really fond of working on a Christmas themed show (and one based on a 19th century novel). I'm very excited about the chance to be working on another delightful Christmas production and, as I'm sure we will see in years to come, a holiday classic. It was a bit weird to be jumping into the Christmas spirit before Halloween (we started rehearsals in late October), but now that we're in November I say bring on the holiday cheer!

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley has appeared on the American Theatre's list of top ten most produced plays in America both last season and this season. As a joy to Austen fans, and no surprise to anyone, Sense and Sensibility was among this list last season and Pride and Prejudice is on the list for this season. Not included on this list, because it would always win I assume, is A Christmas Carol, with various adaptations totaling 40 productions or more both seasons. If there are two things that American theatregoers love, it's Christmas and Jane Austen and this new play I'm working on has both so it's sure to be a hit in Canada this year! The play is charming and clever and romantic and it's something I really believe audiences are going to love. Our cast and creative team (led by our amazing director Nancy McAlear) are doing a fabulous job on this production and I think Edmonton is really in for a treat this season.

As the assistant director on this show, I've been focusing a lot on the Regency Era and the etiquette around the social spheres of the middle and upper class. I constructed a research package before we began rehearsals for the team (and really got to put my English Degree and dramaturgy experience to work!) and have been learning more and more throughout the process. Besides tirelessly searching online, a big part of my research has been from Deirdre Le Faye's Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. If you're looking into Jane Austen or this period in England, I would highly recommend this book. It's slightly outdated in some regards (written in 2002), but for the most part it's a wealth of knowledge.

Here's some of my favourite fun facts that I've come across so far about the Regency Era and the History of Christmas

  • Husbands weren't allowed to have extra-martial affairs because it would bring shame on the lady. A man found guilty of adultery was one of the few things a woman could cite as a reason to file for divorce in this time. A lady could, however, take a gentleman lover, so long as she had first given birth to a child, and thus provided her husband with an heir (and, ideally, with two children, or an "an heir and a spare"). Though it was acceptable, these affairs would still need to be conducted discretely.

  • According to one report from the eight-century biographer Æddi Stephanus, Saint Boniface, who was a missionary in Germany, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Trinity.

  • One big social misstep in the Regency Era, referred to as "cutting," was failing to acknowledge the presence of someone you had previously been introduced to socially. Cutting, or even being accused of cutting, could prove to be a major stain on your character. All I can say is that I'm glad this still isn't considered a necessity because if there's one thing I'm good at it's awkwardly avoiding people I know when I see them in public...

The next show I'm working on after this is also set right around the same period but in a very different world. The Robber Bridegroom, which I'm producing at Chimera Theatre in Kamloops, is also set in the early 19th century. The show is based on the Brother's Grimm fairy tale of the same name. The second edition of their fairy tale collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen, including this story, was published in 1815, the year Miss Bennet is set. It's been very interesting to see the difference between the glamorous world of wealth in Regency England and comparing it to the impoverished world of folklore from the German countrysides across the English Channel.

That's going to be a dark show, with much heavier themes, so for now, I'll keep on with my holiday cheer with the Bennet sisters and their escapades. If you love the holidays too, let me know your favourite holiday traditions (whether Christmas related or not!) in the comments below.

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