Improvised Jane Austen? Set in Regency England, with all its myriad rules for ladies about how they may go about in society? As Mrs. Bennet (the mother of Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice) might say, “Preposterous!” But then again, she wasn’t well known for thinking outside of the box and breaking rules.
However, Jane Austen fans Meghan Wolff and Maggie Sotos thought it was a perfect fit. After coming up with the idea a couple years ago, they rented a theater, auditioned cast members, and went for it; thus, Manners and Misconduct: Improvised Jane Austen was born. Now, after two successful subsequent runs—one at Huge Theater and one at the Minnesota Fringe Festival—they’re back for their fourth, at the Bryant-Lake Bowl from April 14 through 28, 2017. Meghan is directing again, and cast member Emily Townswick is serving as a producer. Emily’s favorite Jane Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice, and she vastly prefers the BBC production with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Fellow Austen fans will understand how vital it is to know that information about someone who is staging an Austen-related piece of theater.
How do they keep the show fresh for its fourth run? A combination of continuity and ingenuity, much like Miss Austen herself. While working within a traditional format, the novel, and characters whose types would have been well known to anyone residing in the upper-class reachers of the English countryside, Jane nevertheless managed to make observations about people that continue to speak to readers for more than 200 years later. In a similar way, Meghan, Maggie, and the rest of the cast use familiar tropes—weddings, engagements, teatime, country parties—to tell a brand-new story within the improvised format, night after night.
The cast has been largely the same for all four runs, but they did add three new members this time around, and Meghan and Emily are very excited about how quickly the group has turned into a family. Generally speaking, they are a mix of improv veterans and newcomers. Meghan herself came from the Austin, Texas, improv scene and has been performing for around 10 years; Emily came in with only a year of experience before the first performance. Every time they stage a run, however, they discover new ways they can make the show more interesting, whether it’s something small, like new interactions between characters or something large, like a restructuring. This run, for example, they’ll be starting the show with a monologue to set up the characters and the setting. Another new element, though not part of the show itself, was being able to record a promotional video at Bingley’s Teas Limited, which both Meghan and Emily also said was one of the highlights of this run. (Twin Cities Geek’s editor Madeleine Vasaly recently wrote all about Bingley’s, which is highly recommended for all your Regency tea needs—and Bingley’s owner Julia Matson, herself a huge Austen fan, highly recommends the show!)
In the past, Manners and Misconduct has attracted a mix of Jane Austen fans and people who are generally interested in improvised comedy, and they’d like to continue that. Austenophiles will find a show put together by people who sincerely love the author and her time period—while giving show notes after rehearsal, Meghan (favorite Austen novel: Persuasion) gently corrected one of the cast members for having done something that wasn’t common during the Regency era. Improv fans will also find lots to enjoy even if they don’t know the subject well; representing students of the classes at the Huge Improv Theater, Brave New Workshop, and ComedySportz, these women have done their homework.
The show runs about 70 minutes, with a break in the middle; the cast is made up of all women, but about half of them play male roles in what they call “Regency drag.” Each actor plays one role, typically, but a few will play additional roles. The cast is about eight to ten people per performance, and this year’s cast includes Maria Bartholdi, Sophie Brossard, Sarah Busch, Breanna Cecile, Sami Haeli, Emily Lindholm, Emily Townswick, Sarah Turner, Amanda Underwood, Becky Wilkinson Hauser, and Meghan Wolff
Tickets are available here and are $12 at the door or $10 in advance. The show runs Fridays and Saturdays at the Bryant-Lake Bowl starting at 7:00 p.m., from April 14 through 28. Learn more about Manners and Misconduct by following the group on Facebook.