BWW Interview: Andrea Unger, Lydia McCleary, Sara Youcheff, Jessica Crowe of JANE EYRE at DreamWrights Center For Community Arts

BWW Interview: Andrea Unger, Lydia McCleary, Sara Youcheff, Jessica Crowe of JANE EYRE at DreamWrights Center For Community ArtsFree and self-reliant, the title character of Jane Eyre has been studied in English and Literature classes for many years. Charlotte Brontë's novel was published in 1847 and, with its elements of social critique, explorations of morality and classism, and hints toward modern feminism, Jane Eyre has found its rightful place in the canon of classic literature. Today you can find adaptations of the classic novel on the screen and stage. At DreamWrights Center for Community Arts in York, Jane Eyre comes to life on the main stage. As one of the cast members noted, "It's definitely different from the book and any of the movies." I had the opportunity to speak with three of the actors and the guest director prior to seeing the show. Keep reading to get a behind-the-scenes look at Jane Eyre from the perspective of these actors as well as some tidbits from my experience of opening night.

BWW: Introduce yourself to us with your name, your role in this show, and your favorite role ever.

Sara Youcheff: I'm playing young Jane, and my favorite role is probably this one.

Lydia McCleary: I'm playing Jane, the middle Jane in age, and this is definitely my favorite role that I've done in theatre.

Andrea Unger: I'm playing the adult Jane, who is also the narrator. My favorite role was probably Mrs. Pennyweather in the Beverly Hillbillies because she was very snotty, and I've never had an opportunity to do that before.

Jessica Crowe: I'm the guest director for Jane Eyre.

BWW: Narrator Jane, what was the biggest challenge for you playing a character who is also the narrator?

Andrea: Two things: The sheer number of lines that I've had to memorize. And then, being on stage all the time, and while I am on stage all the time, I'm not really interacting with everybody else so it makes a really sort of interesting dichotomy to be there but not really be there...and you can't really help each other out if something goes wrong on stage; we're there as a team, but I can't just jump in and help them and they can't jump in and help me, we have to sort of figure that out.

BWW observations: Unger certainly achieves a wonderful balance of narrator and character as she remains engaged in the story even when she is not actively involved in the scene. Some of my favorite elements of this production were watching narrator Jane's face as she experienced the thoughts and feelings she had in the past as her memory unfolds on the stage.

BWW: Each of you plays Jane at a different age and a different time in her life; what is your favorite thing about your Jane?

Sara: So I have to say screaming in the red room. That was really fun-getting to scream at Mrs. Reed all the time.

Lydia: I would definitely say that the strong moral core of Jane and the fact that even though she's desperately in love with Mr. Rochester, she will not do what is wrong. She would rather run away, she would rather literally starve on the moors and faint on someone's doorstep than go and live with a man that she knows is married. Because she knows that God will consider that wrong

Andrea: What I like about my character is that she knows the whole story. So, there are places where...there's one place where I get to play with Lydia a little bit because I know what she was feeling because it was me and I kind of get to tease her a little bit and play with that. Those are parts of the show that are really neat because my character knows what's going to happen.

BWW observations: Each stage of Jane's life shows the audience how she never lost her sense of self-even when it seemed like the world was against her, she always followed her heart. When she was locked in the red room-the room where Mr. Reed had died-Jane has a terrifying experience with Mr. Reed's spirit. Even when Mrs. Reed berates her and forces her to stay in the room, Jane never wavers in her conviction about what she experienced. These three actresses successfully portray Jane's story in a cohesive way so that the audience believes they are truly seeing her grow and mature from a young girl to an eighteen-year-old to a mature woman.

BWW: As the director, what have you done, what has the cast done, what have you all done together to draw in a modern audience and to make them feel like a part of the story when the book was written quite some time ago?

Jessica: So, my vision for this was to really bring in the classic romance of this tale because it is a very classic romance story. But I also did some more modern twists based on my own personal inspirations. I'm a very big fan of Tim Burton, so for some of the darker sequences, we've actually gone a little darker with that to give the audience some more excitement throughout different parts of the show.

BWW observations: Some of those darker scenes revolve around the mystery woman locked in a room on the third floor at Thornfield. The lighting, sound, staging, and acting in these scenes is superb and draws the audience into the question of just what is going on in Mr. Rochester's home. Even those who know the story will find themselves on the edge of their seats during these scenes.

BWW: What would you say is your favorite part of the show?

Sara: My favorite part is when I actually get to go over and talk to Jane Eyre and we get a little sequence together.

Lydia: I guess for me I think probably the final scene because it brings a conclusion to the pain that Jane has felt literally through her entire life. She's always been rejected, and she's finally finding that home that she always wanted. Not just a love with Mr. Rochester and a marriage but also children and a future. And I also like the part where I kind of get to tease Mr. Rochester just a little bit. Because he did kind of play with me when he said he would marry Blanche Ingram, so I get to kind of play with him a little bit.

Andrea: I would say for me the couple of times I do get to interact with the two other Janes are my favorite. One is a very sweet interaction with Sara and then with Lydia I get to tease her. So I think those are my favorite parts.

BWW observations: One of the most beautiful parts of the production is near the very beginning of the show. When the three Jane's first come together in the middle of the stage in an embrace, the audience gets the sense of the mature Jane embracing her past and seeing how it has led her to who she is as she tells the story. Embracing the past is not always an easy thing to do, especially when it is filled with tragedy, so that moment right at the top of the show is extremely well-staged, well-acted, and profound.

BWW: What was the most difficult part about trying to cast Jane at three different stages of her life?

Jessica: the most difficult thing there was finding three actresses that would really have that singular connection of playing one person at three different stages. I think all three of them have really done a great job of really connecting and getting that down.

BWW: Why should people come see this show?

Andrea: I think in today's political climate and in our culture, even though this is a classic tale, it really speaks to the strength of women. She was a very independent person, which was very rare at the time. And I think that even though it is a classic tale, it will speak to everybody because of where we are in time.

Lydia: People should come to see the show because there is a moral tone in our culture and our society that seems to be sometimes low or lacking, and so I think for people to be reminded that how you conduct yourself and what you do and what you exalt in your own life is very telling thing about your person and your personality. And that this is a very important thing to consider, whatever you're doing, because it impacts not just you but people around you.

Sara: Basically what they both said; a mix of what they said. Basically, the show reminds us not to let anybody tell you what to do, just follow your heart and do what's right. So with Jane, she does all this stuff without letting anyone tell her what to do because she knows what's right.

Jessica: I would add that in today's society with everything that we have going on, it can be very easy to let society shape you, and with things like social media, letting those things determine who you are. But this show reminds us that it's a lot more rewarding to know that you're holding onto your own moral core and being who you are and not letting anyone or anything else shape that for you.

BWW observations: The production of Jane Eyre at DreamWrights is a wonderful adaptation of the classic story, retaining the elements of social critique and a focus on strong independent women that have helped the book withstand the tests of time. It's a great evening for audiences who enjoy a little romance mixed in with some mystery and drama all wrapped up in a memory.

Jane Eyre will run until February 11th at DreamWrights Center for Community Arts. Visit www.dreamwrights.org to order your tickets today.

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From This Author Andrea Stephenson

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