Jaya Ducharme's Dual Role in Mount Sentinel's Pride and Prejudice: Actor and Historical Advisor
Jaya Ducharme’s performance as Elizabeth Bennet in Mount Sentinel’s production of Pride and Prejudice this past weekend was more than simply an acting role. The 17-year-old was also called upon as a consultant because of her knowledge of Jane Austen and life in England in the early 19th century.
She says she has watched the movie of the Austen classic “hundreds of times.” She’s one of those people who so identifies with a past era that she wishes she’d been born then—except for the place of women in the society at that time, she adds.
Pride and Prejudice ran for two nights at he Capitol to large crowds.
Playing her favourite fictional character
“Elizabeth Bennet is my favourite character from literature,” Jaya says, “and to play her on the stage was really fun.”
As the dramaturge—the official consultant on questions of believability and authenticity—she kept an eye on whether the production accurately portrayed the costumes and manners of the early 19th century.
“In one rehearsal I had the girls in the room with the character Mr. Wickham,” says director and Mount Sentinel drama teacher Heather Shippit, “and Jaya stopped the rehearsal and explained that there is no way they would be allowed to be alone around men without chaperones like that. And the same with things like the way they would cross their legs or bow, she was very particular.”
Teaching them how to bow
Shippet says for fun they sometimes introduced manners from the Jane Austen era into their day. “Every time a girl walked in the room we made all the boys stand up and greet them. Teaching them how to bow, it was so awkward for them, but we had lots of fun learning the ballroom dances, learning all about quadrilles.”
“Jane Austen came along when I was about 12,” says Jaya. “I watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I love British humour, because it’s very clever instead of obnoxious.”
“She is an incredibly well-read and intelligent girl and she is a perfectionist,” says Heather Shippet. “Wonderful to work with, easy to direct.”
Jaya’s confident performance as Elizabeth Bennet seemed to work as an anchor for everyone else on the stage.
The challenge: sexual repression, no songs
Not that the production as a whole was easy. “We do a lot of shows that are highly entertaining musicals,” Shippet said, referring to past shows Mount Sentinel has produced at the Capitol. “They’re bright, they’re big, they are sort of easy to do, but this was a challenge because they had to really work in a new way, they had to learn so many lines, they had to learn accents, understand the difficult story. It was tiring and there was no instant gratification. They did not know until opening night that the play is funny!
“It is such an adult show, the language, how reserved they were in their bodies, the sexual repression. To do that as a teenager, when you have not experienced that yourself, is a real challenge.
“It’s been a great lesson for the kids, you know, the work ethic, sticking with it and just working hard and getting through it, and then being excited and proud of it, and they did. They rose to an incredible challenge.”
The raw passion of teenage actors
What does the future look like for these two artists? Jaya is going to Thailand on a Rotary exchange next year. After that, she wants to study international development. “Social justice issues and history and politics are my three main interests.”
As for Heather Shippet she’ll keep on working with young actors because “they do it because they love it and for no other reason. That is something we have to learn from kids. They don’t do it for money, they don’t do it for to make their way in society. And you can see it when you watch them. They don’t do it for any other reason than they want to. Many professional actors say that as soon as it became a job they lose that passion. I think that is why people go to teenage shows, because you are seeing this raw passion that for some reason as an adult goes away.”