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Archive for the ‘Diversity’ Category

By Brenda S. Cox

We got to enjoy “Jane Austen in the Arts” at the 2021 Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM). Over 500 participants gathered in Chicago last weekend to learn, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun!

The crowd was smaller than usual, and covid precautions were taken. Europeans weren’t able to come, though we had a few brave Canadians join us. It was a delight to be back together in person. Most regional JASNA groups are only now re-starting in-person meetings after many months of gathering only on Zoom. (If you didn’t know about JASNA, check it out; you will likely find a group near you.)

The Jane Austen Society of North America recently held their Annual General Meeting in Chicago.

So what does Austen have to do with the arts, you might wonder? We learned both about the arts during Austen’s time, and artistic adaptations of Austen today. Here are some of the topics we discussed.

Plenary Sessions

  • Gillian Dow told us about theatre and Austen’s dialogue.
  • Devoney Looser compared Jane and Cassandra’s inspiring one another through writing and art with Jane and Anna Maria Porter, sister-novelists writing at the same time.
  • Desmond Shawe-Taylor explained the Prince Regent’s enjoyment of art, especially the Dutch and Flemish painters popular at the time.
  • Maestro Stephen Alltop and Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg gave us a concert of some of Jane Austen’s favorite music. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was their hilarious interpretation of “The Battle of Prague,” with Josefien’s farcical dramatization: shooting, riding an imaginary horse, “suffering” from wounds, and ducking cannonballs. (And, Maestro Alltop introduced the piece with a wonderful reading from Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad about it, which started us laughing and we didn’t really stop!)

Special Interests

Participants chose from a rich palette of special interest sessions and breakout sessions, addressing all of these arts:

  • Music of the time, and the music used in Austen movies
  • Fashion
  • Painting
  • Sketching
  • Drama
  • Elocution
  • Dance
  • Embroidery
  • Costume Design
  • Graphic Novels and Comics
  • Cooking
  • Art Appreciation
  • Collecting Art
  • Adaptations of Austen
  • Satirical Cartoons
  • And even making videos for Tik Tok!
Joy Refuerzo Provost shows the silhouette she cut of the Prince Regent. Cassidy J. Alexander, standing next to her, is a professional silhouette artist and historian who taught the workshop at the AGM.

Tours and Workshops

For those who came a day early or stayed late, tours were offered of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Chicago movies, and more. Workshops, organized by Lori Mulligan Davis, let participants try their hands (and feet) at:

  • Calligraphy
  • Making Feather Headpieces
  • Watercolors
  • Silhouettes, and of course
  • English Country Dance

Entertainment

Besides all these fascinating learning opportunities, I loved the two main events.

  • Chicago’s Ghostlight Ensemble performed a captivating reading of A. A. Milne’s play, Miss Elizabeth Bennet: A Play from Pride and Prejudice. Bennet stole the show, with many hilarious lines. The play more or less followed the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but with some fun new twists thrown in.
  • And of course, the Ball, following a banquet. So fun to be back dancing again, even with masks on! Callers Tom and Toni Tumbusch led the four long lines of dancers through two easy dances, to get the newbies comfortable, then brought us through the complex dance from the 1995 movie of Pride and Prejudice. This was loosely based on the dance “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot”—maggot meant a favorite, not a worm! The caller explained that choreographers totally revised that dance so that it would look good on film and give Darcy plenty of chances to give Elizabeth “smoldering” looks! The changes did make it harder to dance, but we did it. And the last dance was the slower Duke of Kent’s Waltz. It didn’t actually include waltzing, though it was in ¾ time.
  • Those who didn’t want to dance could play whist or join a trivia tournament.
Renata Dennis, chair of the Diversity (JEDI) Committee, and Brenda S. Cox, dressed for the banquet and ball at the AGM.

Diversity

JASNA has been making great efforts to make Austen more accessible to a wide variety of people, including younger audiences and audiences from various backgrounds. The JASNA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (fondly called the JEDI Committee) includes nine committed Janeites from a variety of backgrounds. I asked the JEDI chair, Renata Dennis, what she saw as the highlights of this AGM.

Renata sends kudos to the amazing AGM organizers, Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, for making a point of including topics related to Jane Austen and diversity.

Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, organizers of the 2021 AGM

Some examples Renata appreciated:

  • Johann S. Buis and Lisa Brown shared about musicians of color including George Polgreen Bridgetower, Ignatius Sancho and others, with samples of their work.
  • Georgie Castilla, an artist from Mexico, gave a fascinating presentation on Austen adaptations in comics, manga, and graphic novels. I was surprised to learn that while comic adaptations of other classics have been around for a long time, the first Austen comics appeared only recently. Georgie also pointed out that in cartoon adaptations, the characters can easily be shown as from diverse backgrounds. I bought one of his t-shirts, which proclaims “Austen is For Everyone,” and shows a variety of people in Regency clothes. 
  • Lena Ruth Yasutake talked about ways to introduce “new, younger, and more diverse audiences” to Austen through drama, education, and costume.
  • Devoney Looser talked about Charles Austen’s connections to suppressing slavery. She encouraged us to not fear addressing difficult topics of the Austens’ connections to slavery. The issues are complex, with many gray areas, but well-worth exploring in depth.

A recent issue of Persuasions On-Line also focuses on Jane Austen and Diversity.

Dancing at the Ball. Georgie Castilla and Sheila Hwang, members of the JEDI Committee.

Shopping

What else? Of course we also got to shop! Jane Austen Books offered their usual incredible selection of books, magazines, and other goodies, including a book signing with authors who spoke at the AGM. Other vendors sold clothing, accessories, socks, the Wisconsin region’s lovely Austen calendars, and other fun stuff.

This image by Georgie Castilla premiered at the AGM, featured on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and tote bags. Items are available from Cassandra’s Closet.

Want to join in?

JASNA will be offering recordings of many of the sessions for those who didn’t make it to the AGM, for a fee. (My own talk on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” will be included.) I suspect that, like the AGM, the recordings will just be available to JASNA members, but I encourage you to join. The organization provides wonderful resources as well as great friends to network with.

And, you might want to start saving up for the next AGM, which will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2022 in Victoria, BC, Canada. I hear it’s a gorgeous place. The theme is “Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens.” I’m looking forward to it!

SPECIAL NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO JOIN JASNA, DO IT THIS WEEK! FEES WILL INCREASE ON NOVEMBER 1. INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIPS, NOW $30 PER YEAR, WILL INCREASE TO $45 PER YEAR ON NOV. 1.

 

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen

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