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The Secret Garden and Kid-Lit’s Golden Age

The Golden Age of British children’s literature refers to a remarkable period during which a vast number of western literature’s best-loved books were written. Consider that between 1900 and 1930:

  • Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated her many picture books for young children, beginning with The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
  • A.A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh.
  • E. Nesbit wrote her wonderful children’s novels, including The Railway Children, Five Children and It, and The Enchanted Castle.
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote A Little Princess, The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy.
  • J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan.

And this list is not exhaustive at all. There was also an explosion of American children’s literature at around the same time: The Wizard of Oz, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Call of the Wild and Pollyanna, to name a few.

The wonderful thing about all these books, to my mind, is that they are not written “down” to children, over-simplified and dripping with moral lessons. Rather, they are strong original stories which are amusing, engaging and often thought-provoking, but which are most appropriate to the genre (fairly new at the time) of children’s literature.

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Frances Hodgson Burnett, writer of classics

TSG-web-1-238x300The first in a series of posts on the background of all for One’s The Secret Garden, which opens April 20, 2018. For tickets, call (260) 422-4226.

Who was the woman who gave the world two of its most beloved children’s classics? She was not perhaps quite what you might have expected.

  • Her books were all set in the British Isles, but she left England as a teen and did not return for some years. In fact, the last years of her life were spent on Long Island, where she is buried.
  • She wrote famously of little girls, but she bore only sons.
  • Her books focus on comfortably wealthy families, but she experienced a “riches to rags” life and only regained financial stability by long years of perseverance as a writer.
  • Her stories are full of lively and optimistic characters, but she suffered from depression on and off throughout her life.
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The cast of The Secret Garden

We are excited to announce the cast for the closing production of our 25th anniversary season, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (adapted by Sylvia Ashby): MARY LENNOX--Violet Park* COLIN CRAVEN--Micah Gilliom DICKON SOWERBY--Jack Voirol* MARTHA SOWERBY--Tori Beth Bowman* ARCHIBALD…

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What does “Regency” mean, anyway?

Regency 1Most of us have heard the term ‘Regency England’ at some point. You may associate it with a particular kind of romance novel, or with the novels of Jane Austen. You might even rightly recognize that the women’s fashions of the time included high-waisted (“Empire”) dresses with fairly slender skirts (no hoops or bustles).

The Regency in Great Britain has both a broad and a technical definition.

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A list of all music used in SENSE & SENSIBILITY

S&S posterAll the period music used in our production was recorded on a Casio Privia (PX 350M) digital keyboard. The pieces marked “arranged” had added instrumentation (french horn, contra bass, bassoon, etc). For the two Beethoven Symphonies, a one-piano four-hand edition was used to create the orchestrations.  The pieces marked “altered” were amended in some way:  measures removed, tempos significantly changed.

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Unique attributes of afO’s production of SENSE & SENSIBILITY

It is always a challenge to take a script developed by another company, for their stage and their actors. Bedlam Theatre’s innovative production of member Kate Hamill’s adaptation has received rave reviews for its lively and unusual devices.  Their cast of 10 required far more doubling of roles, and their script suggested using a puppet for one character. But the script itself is robust, well-constructed, and lends itself to a variety of interpretations and flexibility in cast size, making it ideal for any company with more imagination than money.

Norland dining room

Two tables make a long dining table. Lorraine Knox as Mrs. Dashwood (standing).

afO was blessed by Tod Mohr’s willingness to construct our rolling tables, which attach securely with near-invisible magnets. We ended up using them a bit less than originally intended, but they still managed to serve us well as desks, dining tables, a piano forte and a bed, as well as several different horse-drawn carriages.  Our Lady Middleton was the only actress to be wheeled about (our tip of the hat to the original production, in which ALL the furniture was on wheels).

One of the more significant changes to our production was the prologue.

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What is Sense & Sensibility ABOUT, anyway?

The story of Sense & Sensibility (without spoilers)

S&S posterHenry Dashwood was a wealthy landowner and master of Norland Park, a beautiful estate in Somerset. His first wife died, leaving him with a son, John. His second marriage produced three daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. Henry’s unexpected death after 20 years of marriage results in John Dashwood, now married with a child, inheriting Norland Park and the whole Dashwood fortune, through a legal contract known as an ‘entail‘. An entail means that the property can only pass from father to son, not to daughters. If no son were living, the nearest male relation would inherit. (This is the device that drives the plot of the popular BBC drama, Downton Abbey.)

Although the dying Mr. Dashwood pleads with his son to “provide for” his step mother and three half-sisters, John’s wife, Fanny, persuades him to offer them only some minor assistance in moving out of Norland. Meanwhile, Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars, visits and he and Elinor develop a warm friendship. When Fanny makes it clear that her mother, Mrs. Ferrars, will never allow Edward to marry a woman without dowry (money from her family which goes to the man she marries) and station, Mrs. Dashwood hastily removes herself and her daughters to a cottage in Devonshire, on the estate of her cousin, Sir John Middleton.

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A Brief Biography of Jane Austen

S&S posterJane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) spent most of her 41 years living quietly with immediate family members in the English village of Steventon and Chawton, Hampshire. Her father was rector of the parish church at Steventon for many years, and took in pupils to supplement his modest income. Jane was the seventh of eight children born to her parents, and the second of only two girls. (Jane and her older sister Cassandra were extremely close throughout Jane’s life, as evidenced by their many letters to one another.)

Jane Austen goodJane received most of her education from her parents. Interested in writing from an early age, she wrote many short humorous pieces to be read at family gatherings. As an adult, she continued this practice, but began to write longer works—still with no thought of publication. In 1795 she finished Elinor and Marianne, (the prototype for Sense & Sensibility), and in 1796 she wrote First Impressions (which would become Pride and Prejudice).

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Dance and Music in SENSE & SENSIBILITY

S&S posterIf you’ve ever seen a screen adaptation of any of Jane Austen’s works, you may have noticed that dancing plays a significant part in the social life of her characters. Whether it’s Anne in Persuasion, who is considered an old maid and consequently is expected to play the piano while her younger cousins dance with the man she loves…or the drama of who dances with whom in Emma, an instance where dance really moves the plot along…or the younger Bennett sisters in Pride and Prejudice constantly clamoring to dance, or the tense conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy during several dances in that same novel…Austen uses dancing in dramatic, specific ways to advance plot and reveal character.

Sense and Sensibility is no exception, although it is not dancing per se which is the key to the London ballroom scene in Act 2.  Nonetheless, the dances need to be right, and there was only one place to turn:

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