If you see any theatre majors drinking tea and walking around very upright do not be alarmed, they are simply getting into character.
As part of their preparations for Emma, the upcoming theatre performance adapted from Jane Austen’s novel, the cast has been studying everything about the time period from garb and accent down to the way they walk.
“We did a lot of physical work,” said Nick Palmieri, senior acting major from Amarillo. “The show is extremely iconic because of the time period and the physicalities of how everyone moves and acts is a big part of that.”
Especially for period pieces, acting requires much more than simply learning the lines. Cast members watched other versions of the play, researched the time period and studied the characters to make sure they were believable as privileged 19th century characters.
“We did a lot of period studies,” said Annie Merritt, sophomore musical theatre major from Amarillo. “How you carry your body is really upright with a lifted spine and loose arms. It was a very dancelike period.”
As another way to help the cast embody the characters, each member took on an animal that best represented the mindset of their character. Merritt represents the naive Emma as a cat while Palmieri’s character, Mr. Knightly, is represented by a lion.
Palmieri also drew insight on his character when he realized how similar he was to his father.
“Mr. Knightly has points where he likes to be fun and well humored but is also really logical,” said Palmieri.
Merritt and Palmieri plays the lead roles and while the two both grew up in Amarillo and attended the same high school, they were not acquainted until arriving at ACU.
“We kind of ran around in the same circles but just at different times,” said Merritt.
While their have been many stage adaptations of Emma, this remains the most recent being published in 2010.
“It is the newest adaptation,” said Dawne Swearingen, assistant professor of theatre and director of the play. “But there is something that is sort of exciting about a piece that is freshly pressed. We have a opportunity to be on the cusp of something new.”
Swearingen picked the adaption by Michael Bloom because she felt it was more accessible to the audience and was designed more like a film.
One of the most important factors in adapting a novel for the stage is how true the play stays to the original. Bloom’s version uses many direct quotes from the novel and serves as a very correct representation of Austen’s original work.
“Just through my research I have realized that people are very protective of their Jane Austen characters,” said Merritt. “You have to stay very true to the novel because their are people in the audience who have read it a thousand times.”
The cast and crew of Emma has been furiously preparing to perfect the characters, the set and the costumes.
“We’ve had about three and a half weeks to launch it and that includes the technical elements,” said Swearingen. “So with a cast of 15 and 23 scenes that is an enormous amount of work coupled with the fact that the majority of the cast are freshman and sophomores. They are still growing in their process but they are the ones who earned these roles outright.”
The cast and crew will take stage to perform Emma at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and again on April 19-21. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or in person through the ACU box office.
“I’m looking forward to the performances a lot,” said Merritt. “I’m ready for this cast to show what every single one of them can do.”