'Chemistry on stage': Austin Shakespeare returns to Austen with 'Sense and Sensibility'
“I choose a play because I love it,” says Austin Shakespeare artistic director Ann Ciccolella. “And often times, if you do what you love, other people love it too.”
She’s talking about Austin Shakespeare’s upcoming production of Sense and Sensibility, a play dear to Ciccolella’s heart but which, she admits, is also likely to sell plenty of tickets. “I do have to say that I also have the knowledge that Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s… second novel was our most-attended show. And as we come back from Covid, we all thought oh, people are gonna really want to come to shows! It’s good to pick a show that people really want to see, so hence Sense and Sensibility. And these are the same adaptors, Joe Hanreddy & J.R. Sullivan, that wrote the adaptation that we were doing for Pride and Prejudice.”
Ciccolella is more than ready to put productions on an actual stage again, with a live audience, after a couple of years of producing for a computer screen and a Zoom audience. And so is actor Corinna Browning, who plays Elinor Dashwood in this production. “Well… with Zoom I felt like you get to do a bit of film acting, which I really like because I always want to do things very small and intimate – and Ann’s always telling me, ‘Bigger! Bigger! Bigger!” she says. “So I liked Zoom for that reason, but there’s just something about chemistry on stage. Getting to experience that with someone and connect with them and just exercise a larger set of emotions is really exciting and I’ve missed that so much. Just being with people has been so nice.”
“We have 17 actors in our cast,” Ciccolella agrees, “and they are so happy to be together!”
Browning says she’s really connected with the character of Elinor and grown to love her, but the actor came into Sense and Sensibility as a complete newbie to the world of Jane Austen. “You know, I actually didn’t have any Jane Austen experience coming into this project,” she confesses with a laugh. “I started Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and I didn’t finish it. And that’s where we’re at with Jane Austen. Yeah, I know. My apologies to everyone who loves Jane Austen! But coming into this role, I love Elinor Dashwood. I feel like – I tell Ann all the time – I feel like I have a ton in common with Elinor. She’s super-smart, she thinks she knows best for everyone in the world, which I occasionally admit to feeling that. And she’s just a really sensitive person. She loves art, she loves to draw, she loves to support people. And so I feel I resonate a lot with her.”
“I’m looking forward to the audience being in the room with us,” Ciccolella says. “Because all of a sudden, things sound differently. And, you know, laughter’s always a plus, and we know that Jane Austen is very witty. But we also know that she’s really touching, and it shifts from being very bright to very dark kind of quickly.”