By Eden Iazeolla and Mila Mascenik
Going from a JASP attendee to the head of our Theatrical Production, Adam McCune is well acquainted with Jane Austen's Juvenilia. In this Q/A, McCune has given us a little look into the path he has traveled (with Austen in hand - of course), and what to expect from his production this summer!
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in literature and what your academic research focus is?
A. My research is in nineteenth-century British literature, particularly the representation of children as performers of childhood. My background in literature goes back much further. Because my parents, who are linguists and Bible translators, studied English and Russian Photo by James Hughes
literature in undergrad, I grew up surrounded by books, stories, poems, and language. Q. How did you get interested in Austen’s Juvenilia and what interested you most about it?
A. I knew a little bit about Austen's juvenilia from a chapter in Madwoman in the Attic,* but I really got into the juvenilia for JASP. The original plan for the first JASP was to stage some short plays from her juvenilia. However, Ted Scheinman and I thought those plays were more difficult to follow than the stories in her juvenilia, so we decided to adapt her stories for the stage instead. I helped Ted with his adaptation the first year and have written the adaptations ever since. Reading Austen's Juvenilia to prepare the stage adaptations has been a delight in its own right, because they are clever, funny, outrageous, and interesting. I say interesting because as chaotic as they feel compared to Austen's more orderly or realistic adult novels, you can certainly see some common themes and continuity. *[note: Sandra Gilber and Susan Gubar's influential study of "the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination", 1979. The chapter in question is "Shut up in Prose: Gender and Genre in Jane Austen's Juvenilia"]
Production Crew during JASP 2017; McCune third from left
Q. For the Upcoming JASP 2023, do you know which Juvenilia you will be adapting into a theatrical? What do you wish the participants will take away from the creative process you lead them through?
A. My tentative plan is to adapt Evelyn this year. It's a story named for a town rather than a character and, like much of the juvenilia, paints absurd, exaggerated social scenes and pokes fun at literary conventions. I always want the takeaway to be Austen's original story, themes, and humor--the audience is there for Austen, not for me, and I'm here for Austen, too!--so I try to make my adaptation process as straightforward and direct as possible. The easiest part of turning Austen's prose into drama is copying Austen's brilliant dialogue, which the actors can simply deliver as written. The greatest challenge--as every adapter of Pride and Prejudice must feel when they must actually write Darcy's first disastrous proposal--is converting Austen's brilliant narration into good dialogue when she does not supply the dialogue.
Q. What has been your favorite piece from Austen’s Juvenilia to adapt and why?
A. I think my answer has to be the History of England. That's an odd answer, since I try to make my adaptations straightforward, and History of England is perhaps my least "straightforward" adaptation. There was no straightforward way to do it justice. Austen's original is a parody of history books, and plays off of other authors who have narrated English history, including the historian Oliver Goldsmith and even William Shakespeare--so my adaptation not only has the historical figures as characters, but also Austen and the other historians as characters, trying to present their version of the history, with Austen getting the last laugh. The fact is that, delightful as Austen's
McCune as Mr Johnson in Austen's Jack and Alice writing is on the surface, there's an additional layer of enjoyment I get from understanding it in relation to the literature she's responding to (often in the form of parody). Her responses to other literature are clever and funny, and learning about her source material helps me to get more of her jokes--and writing an adaptation that puts her work side-by-side with her source material helps me to share those jokes with other people. (If you would like to take a look at the History of England production, click here Editor's note: Highly Recommended!)
Q. Being that you are a leader of JASP and an attendee, what advice would you give to a new JASP attendee?
A. There is so much to learn and enjoy at JASP! Some of it is about enjoying Austen by learning more about her works, her life, her time and place, and so on, in the form of words and pictures and presentations and conversations. Some of it is about experiences that help you imaginatively enter into Austen's world, like eating scones and dancing. My main advice for someone coming the first time is try a little of everything and see if you like it!
For more on Adam's adaptations, see his website!
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