Sydney Berggren ® Staff Writer|
In the words of director Vladimir Rovinski, “The heart of the novel is the story of two sisters… navigating this world where everybody is watching them and trying to make arrangements for them. It’s a story of the place of independent, strong-willed women and how they will find their way in this world.”
Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Theater Department is currently creating their production of actress Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility.
The two sisters that the story centers around are Marianne, played by Lydia Prior, and Elinor, played by Chloe Sirbu. Both Prior and Sirbu are MNSU seniors in the Theater Arts BFA program.
The story begins with the death of the girls’ father. His inheritance is passed on to their stepbrother, who promptly moves into their house and asks them to leave as soon as possible, at the insistence of his wife.
The audience then follows the girls, along with their mother and younger sister, on their journey in finding a new home and trying to figure out their roles in society, all the while looking for love along the way.
“Marianne tries to break all possible rules and live by only what her heart says, and Elinor plays by the rules and does what is needed from her. As a result, both of them suffer big catastrophes,” said director Rovinski.
The students involved with this production were enthusiastic to learn about and prepare for this story, as it’s a genre they don’t always get to work with.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning about the time period and ways things have changed and things that are exactly the same,” mentioned Prior.
“The story is about how society has expectations of women and how these women oppose that in different ways. Looking a certain way, behaving a certain way, doing certain things. Little things that society expects women to do simply because it’s feminine. It is still so similar to how things are now.”
Adding onto this conversation, Sirbu stated, “Society then and society today are very similar in the ways of pitting women against each other. I think it is interesting to look at Marianne and Elinor’s relationship with each other and how they sometimes fall to that in the show, but then they have their moments together when they are lifting each other up”.
Both Prior and Sibru agreed that that message of lifting each other up, instead of tearing each other down for gain, is something they work hard to portray.
“With the acting input and caliber of the talent in the cast, every rehearsal gave me a lot of joy to watch these young people work on stage,” said director Rovinski.
Both actresses, along with Rovinski, echoed the lamentation of not being able to apply physical touch into the acting, as to comply with COVID-19 guidelines, and to keep everyone safe.
“I am a very physical director in order to explain blocking and other aspects, so for me to keep distance between actors is hard, especially when you have intimate moments, and you want to touch but you can’t. It was a challenge, but we found some creative solutions to that,” explained Rovinski.
Sirbu agreed with this and continued, “One thing we really thrive for in this theater is to find that connection between us as actors and as people, and to tell that story physically. Having to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart makes it hard to demonstrate that connection and figuring out how to find different ways to portray that to the audience has been really difficult.”
The most intriguing thing that has been incorporated to allow for and simulate touch is actually quite simple: handkerchiefs. Not only do they fit the time period the actors are portraying, but utilizing these small pieces of cloth between hands allows actors to briefly touch, or to simulate holding hands by each person grabbing one end.
“This year is so different,” said Prior, “everyone has had to adapt because the industry is changing with COVID-19. All we want to do is create art in this time, so we do what we have to do to keep everyone safe.”
Prior and Sirbu expressed gratitude at not only being able to work in person, but also at being in an academic setting as the theater industry changes, as they have been able to adapt.
“We really encourage people to come see us, knowing that we are doing everything possible to keep everybody involved safe. It’s an experience that you don’t realize how much you miss it until you do it again,” said Prior.
Sense and Sensibility runs Feb 7-21 and 24-28 in the Ted Paul Theater of the Performing Arts Center. Tickets may be purchased online.
Header photo courtesy of the Department of Theater.