“I will be mistress of myself.” –Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
I wrote my first novel twenty years ago. It was thin in concept, long in syllables, but filled with characters I loved. I picked it up ten years ago, realizing it was a perfectly good story that just needed revising. But it was tricky: now I was a different person. My early, fanciful ideas didn’t charm me anymore. I stopped revising out of sheer boredom.
Normally I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but this year the resolution found me: I will complete this book and make it amazing.
One the hardest things to find, as a creator, is balance between letting old things go, bringing on the new, and holding onto what truly matters.
This in mind, I fell in love with the Portland Center Stage production of Bedlam’s Sense and Sensibility I saw with my daughter on a recent rainy January evening. We settled in for a girls’ night, expecting all the frills and old-fashionedness of the 1889 novel – and to be honest, I was trying to get myself into the mood but feeling bored with the traditional story.
And then. We were knocked out of our seats by the outrageousness. Victorian girls’ night? My petticoat!
This play captivated me in a thousand ways. It was innovative, fresh, colorful, wacky, inspired and even obnoxious – yet it kept the core of the original story, without ever making fun of the ideals or timeless truth of what these characters were going through.
It was all about the way the story was framed for us. We were forced to see with new eyes, much to our delight and amazement. Imagine: a stage where everything is on wheels, and the action whisks and arrests you, accelerating your heartbeat with the motion and surprise of it all. Imagine: a character change that consists of a person flung across the floor, who rises as another, donning glasses. Laughter erupts from the audience at silly sound effects, and at the whirlwind of movement as doors become carriages, as characters become horses, as men and women are driven together by emotion or scattered far apart. Brilliant choreography brings to light the struggles of a bereaved family in a society far, far removed from our own. We feel it. It comes alive.
The world has changed, oh so incredibly much, since 1811. No doubt we’re a bit bored with the conventions of that time; we don’t speak or live that way anymore.
Ah, yes, back to my own changes. I can honor them, knowing I don’t want my novel to be what it once was, twenty years ago.
You and I move, we wheel about, we surprise the universe.
But the core of our story, the substance of our hearts, it remains timeless.
Top: Quinlan Fitzgerald as Marianne Dashwood, Danea C. Osseni as Elinor Dashwood
Photos by: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye tv.