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Austen, Hanreddy, and Sullivan: Sense and Sensibility at the Utah Shakespeare Festival

By Marlo M. Ihler

 

Renowned English novelist Jane Austen is revered worldwide for her literary genius, social commentary, and satirical wit. Ironically, she never enjoyed public acknowledgement during her lifetime, as she used a pseudonym when she wrote. Today her works are read, studied, performed, translated, and admired by millions of people.

Austen was born on December 16, 1775, at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, England. She was the seventh of eight children born to an Oxford-educated clergyman and his wife, George and Cassandra Austen. Her father also farmed and taught school in their home. Thus, Jane began her education at home and was surrounded by literature from her father’s extensive library at an early age. Education and creativity were highly valued and encouraged growing up. At age eight, she and her sister Cassandra were sent to boarding school for more formal education. However, after near-death bouts of typhus and because of financial constraints, the sisters returned home.

By age twelve, Jane began writing stories and poems, a collection now referred to as the Juvenilia. It didn’t take long for her to realize she wanted to become a professional writer. By age nineteen she had written her first mature work, a novella entitled Lady Susan written in epistolary form (as a series of letters). It was preserved by her family and was later published after her death (www.jasna.org/info/about_austen.html, accessed Dec. 18, 2013).

Jane was very close with her family, especially her father and older sister. Her family served as her audience, as she read to them her manuscripts. They enjoyed a story called Elinor and Marianne, which was the beginning of what would later become Sense and Sensibility. Around the same time she also began Pride and Prejudice, (originally called First Impressions) as well as Susan that would be published as Northanger Abbey after her death.

Also in her early twenties, in the era when marrying well was the only way a woman might improve her situation, she met and fell in love with a wealthy gentleman named Tom LeFroy. According to record, this is the only time Jane admitted to being in love, documented in letters to her sister. However, because she had nothing to offer to the match financially, Tom yielded to family pressure and left town, never to be seen by Jane again. This heart-wrenching experience greatly influenced her writing and her life: she never got married ("Jane Austen," The Biography Channel website, http://www.biography.com/people/jane-austen-9192819, accessed Dec 18, 2013).

At age twenty-six, she moved with her parents and sister to Bath, England. Only a few short years later, her father died, and the three women moved around until they were able to settle in Chawton, in a cottage provided by Jane’s brother Edward, near his estate. This began a period of prolific writing for Jane. In 1811, at age thirty-six, she published Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice followed in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Emma in 1815. All were published anonymously.
By age forty-one, Jane’s health was beginning to deteriorate. She continued to write and edit older works as best she could. She even began a new novel called The Brothers (published after her death as Sandition). It was believed she suffered from Addison’s disease, which ended her life on July 18, 1817 Winchester, Hampshire, England.

Following her death, Jane’s brother, Henry, published Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, and revealed to the public it was Jane who authored all of her novels (www.jasna.org/info/about_austen.html, accessed Dec 18, 2013). Since then, Jane’s popularity and prominence have only continued to grow, as she has become known as one of the greatest writers in the English language. 

As two individuals who have long admired and studied Jane Austen and her works, the adapters of the Festival’s Sense and Sensibility,Joe Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, are also no strangers to literature, theatre, and classic works. Both have directed productions at the Festival, and, in fact, Hanreddy will direct the Festival’s production of Sense and Sensibility in 2014.

Joe Hanreddy was born in southern California and always had a love of literature and learning, but artistic influence by family members was limited as a child. His family moved to the San Francisco Bay area when he was a teenager. After graduating from high school he happened to attend a play (because a friend had a free ticket) and this experience reshaped his path as an adult. Instead of continuing training in the trade industry as a cabinetmaker, Hanreddy decided to take a few acting classes at the local community college. This led to enrolling at San Jose State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in acting and a master’s degree in directing and dramatic literature.

His desire to work in theatre first landed him a job as a director of a dinner theatre in Carmel, California, which was, in his words, a “modest beginning” (Personal interview with Joe Hanreddy, November 2013). He then taught for four years at the University of California, Santa Barbara. From there, he co-founded the Ensemble Theatre Project (now the Ensemble Theatre Company) in 1978 in Santa Barbara and served as its artistic director for seven years. During his early career he started adapting literature into dramatic works.
“It was fun to pick the literature, adapt it, and create scripts for the strengths and talents of the resident company,” he said.

A new adventure took he and his wife, Jamie, to Wisconsin, where he was the artistic director at the Madison Repertory Theatre for seven years. It was here that Hanreddy began his now-thirty-year friendship with J.R. Sullivan.

“When I got to Madison, he called to welcome me, a California native, to the Midwest” (Personal interview). Sullivan, at the time, was the artistic director at the New American Theater in Rockford, Illinois, a city only a couple of hours to the south of Madison.

In 1993, Hanreddy became the artistic director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, one of the nation’s preeminent regional theatres. While there, he directed classical and contemporary plays, acted in productions, and wrote stage adaptations of literature. In fact, over fifty new American plays, translations, and adaptations were created under his leadership. Many of these have subsequently been produced in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the nation’s leading regional theatres (www.josephhanreddy.com, accessed Dec 18, 2013).

In 2010, he resigned from Milwaukee Rep (as it is called), after giving “a long, two-year notice” (Personal interview). During those last two years, he “crammed in” some of the projects he had always wanted to do but hadn’t been able to yet. These included an adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that the Festival subsequently produced in 2010. That was Hanreddy’s first adaptation project with Sullivan. This season’s production of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is the team’s second project together. Since Hanreddy’s resignation from Milwaukee Rep, he has had various guest directing opportunities around the country, among other things, and lives in rural Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan with his wife and daughter.
J.R. Sullivan’s background is very different from Hanreddy’s. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, and is the oldest of eight children. When he was young, his family moved to South Bend, Indiana (ninety miles east of Chicago) and Rockford, Illinois (ninety miles north of Chicago) before Sullivan was in high school (Personal interview with J.R. Sullivan, November 2013).

He enjoyed significant artistic influence growing up. Both of his parents were involved with the community theatre in South Bend, and he became very involved in theatre in Rockford. From this, he knew that working in the theatre was what he wanted to do with his life.

He attended Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in theatre and English composition. He began adapting plays during this time because it helped to meet the requirements for both degrees. Also while in college, he had an acting internship at Milwaukee Rep, which was the beginning of lifelong relationships with the organization and theatre professionals he worked with there.

Right after college, a friend convinced him to start a theatre company in Rockford, Illinois. He founded the New American Theatre, and thought he would only be there for a couple of years. In 1994, after twenty-two years, he decided it was time to dedicate his career to freelance directing, teaching, writing, and adapting.
He has directed throughout the country, including off-Broadway, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Milwaukee Rep, Northlight Theatre, here at the Festival, and other regional and university theatres. In 2002, he was invited to be an associate artistic director here at the Festival, a position he held for seven years. In 2009, he became the artistic director for the Pearl Theatre Company in New York City, an off-Broadway theatree company which was awarded a Drama Desk Award in 2011 for “notable productions of classic plays” (www.jrsullivan.net, accessed Dec 18, 2013).  

It was while he was at the Pearl that he and Hanreddy collaborated on both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. When asked what attracts him to Jane Austen, he replied: “Her wit and wisdom that is still applicable today; great dialogue and interactions between characters; family dynamics and their connections to the larger world. Jane Austen’s writing is so rich” (Personal interview).

He stepped down from the Pearl in July 2013 and relocated to Chicago to prepare for his wedding to fiancée Cheryl Hamada in the spring of 2014. He also remarks that by moving to Chicago, he is “returning back home where it all began” (Personal interview).

(For more insight and information about Joe Hanreddy, J.R. Sullivan, and their adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” visit the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s blog at http://utahshakespearefestival.blogspot.com/2013/11/utah-shakespeare-festival-guest-blog.html.)


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