The Fort Smith Little Theater jumpstarted the new year by hosting auditions for its upcoming season opener, "Pride and Prejudice." Dozens of hopefuls made their way to the theater on Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 5-6) evening to read lines and vie for a spot in Jane Austen's classic tale.
Director Duff Taylor led the charge as nearly 40 men and women tried out for the play, taking part in partner read-throughs, group scenes, and other exercises. Participants took turns waiting in the audience, practicing in the lobby, and performing in front of the crowd for the roles of Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, Mr. Darcy and other infamous characters.
The mood alternated between serious during scene readings to more humorous moments as actors grappled with the old English dialogue. Actors were rotated in and out of groups and even placed alongside one another to help determine good fits for the various roles.
Auditions took place over two days, with Taylor and other FSLT regulars continually taking notes and giving feedback to the participants. On Tuesday evening, Taylor and his group convened backstage in the green room to begin sorting out the line-up. Members compared notes and shared thoughts on which actors would be best-suited for the lead and supporting roles.
The final cast was announced following auditions that night. Actors not present were notified by Taylor and his crew, and a complete listing was posted online for all to view. Taylor noted that the cast would need to return on Wednesday for the first scheduled read-through.
"Cast members will have a busy few weeks preparing for the show," said Taylor. "They will rehearse from 7 to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, until the performance. We will spend the first bit blocking on stage and reading through with scripts in hand. After that, they will ditch the scripts for rehearsals. The final week will be full dress rehearsals."
Taylor considers it perfect timing for the romantic classic, as the show will debut at the theater during February, the most romantic month of the year.
"Pride and Prejudice would make a wonderful Valentine's date for any pair," said Taylor. "Or just a fun night for anyone who appreciates the famous tale."
It is the first time FSLT has performed "Pride and Prejudice" and Duff believes audiences won't be disappointed.
"The theater put on Emma a couple of years ago and it was very well-received," said Taylor. "The man who adapted this play, John Jorie, also adapted our last show, "Gift of the Magi," which played right before Christmas. The staging in this one is very similar to Magi, so returning audience members will recognize the overall style of the show."
Jorie's adaptation of Austen's 18th century work "tells the story of five daughters, their zealous matchmaking English mother, and a string of unsuitable suitors. Elizabeth, the most independent of the girls, has no interest in suitors – and then she meets Mr. Darcy." The tale is one of the original romantic comedies, incorporating love stories along with humorous plots and one-liners. The play will utilize a minimalist approach, featuring a bare stage, that will come to life as actors bring props with them during the show. Characters will at times, speak directly to the audience, as well as interact directly with fellow cast mates.
"This is a great adaptation of the novel, which is about 400 pages long," said Taylor. "Our script is 80 pages, so this consists of some of the great highlights of the literary work, including many of its most famous lines and scenes. We hope people will really enjoy it and that it will help sell more season tickets."
"Pride and Prejudice" will kick off a season of new shows for the Fort Smith Little Theater, which will include performances of the comedy, "Don’t Dress For Dinner," as well as take on the changing role of women in a play entitled "The Best of Everything."
Fall shows will include "A Curtain up on Murder," and Neil Simon's "Rumors." FSLT will also produce a summer musical, with the title to be announced in the coming weeks.
The show will debut with a gala performance on Feb. 12. Evening performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 13-14, and 18-21. Matinee shows will be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 15 and 22.
General admission tickets range from $10-$15 per show. Season tickets are also available. Reservations can be made by calling the FSLT Box Office at 783-2966.