Jane Austen scholars and fans alike will fill the Loretto-Hilton Center Dec. 6 to 8 for a Jane Austen festival. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis will host the festival in conjunction with the Webster University English Department.
The festival coincides with the premiere of “Pride and Prejudice,” the play at The Rep that runs on Dec. 6. “Pride and Prejudice” is one of Austen’s most popular stories and tells an ironic depiction of British class society in the early 19th century.
Hana Sharif, The Rep’s Augustin Family artistic director, is directing “Pride and Prejudice” said she is excited to expand Austen’s literary influence to a wider audience.
“Generation after generation continues to discover Jane Austen and fall in love with her bold, charismatic female protagonists,” Sharif said. “I cannot wait to experience this festival alongside the entire St. Louis community, from longtime Austenites to new readers.”
Sheila Hwang, chair of Webster University’s English department, helped organize the event.
“Jane Austen offers something for every kind of person,” Hwang said. “When new generations enter and enjoy Austen’s world, they learn very quickly that she provides keen insights into people and their complex relationships — insights that continue to have relevance to our lives today.”
The English department reached out to the Rep when the theater announced its 2019-20 season back in February. With Sharif as a new artistic director, Hwang reached out to talk about setting up a place to get stronger ties between the English department and the Rep.
“The festival will provide participants with greater depth to their experiences in theatre and literature,” Hwang said. “The humanities-based components will also allow casual readers and fans to acquire a deeper understanding of Jane Austen’s world.”
According to Hwang, these humanities presentations will be supported by a grant from The Jane Austen Society of North America. These activities include things such as hosting a librarian to present a slideshow on period dress, recruiting card players to assist in teaching favorite period card games such as whist and speculation, and enlisting the help of experienced Regency dancers to assist in teaching period social dances.
These events will of course also complement and be complemented by The Rep’s live theater stage production of Pride and Prejudice, backstage tours, a display of costumes, and a director/playwright interview, according to Hwang. The Rep also took a major role in organizing the scone baking classes and afternoon tea.
Over the years, Hwang said, various members of the English department have supported The Rep through writing program notes and public talks. For example, her colleague Anne McIlhaney has participated in many of The Rep’s Shakespeare productions over the last 20 years. Hwang herself gave a public lecture during the Rep’s last performance of “Emma,” another Jane Austen work adapted to theater.
“These humanities presentations will allow theatre patrons to gain more meaningful connections to literary, cultural, and historical contexts that will enhance the theatrical performance,” Hwang said.
For more information on the festival, visit repstl.org/jane-austen-festival.