What would Jane Austen think of the latest take on “Emma” on stage after 202 years?
Shannon R. Eichenauer and Nichole Decker won’t presume to speak for the 19th-century English novelist. But the East Allen University teachers and drama advisers will venture a guess that Austen would appreciate the high school’s focus on its young women.
The EAU student production of “Emma!” will feature the modern music of Natasha Bedingfield and contemporaries, but it will honor the outline of Austen’s 1815 novel.
“If she were alive today, she would understand,” Eichenauer said. “She would appreciate it, I would think, and she would be excited because it’s very girl-centric and we have a very high population of girls here at EAU, and I think it’s the first show we’ve done here where we’ve highlighted that.
“I wouldn’t want to speak for her, though.”
True to the novel, the play opens with a marriage that had been set in motion by a matchmaker.
“It’s a romantic comedy and it takes place in a high school, so you’ve got student matchmakers, you’ve got relationships and all the drama that comes with that,” Eichenauer said.
“I am playing a biology teacher and I am being fixed up by our main character and I have my wedding at the beginning. I’m ‘marrying’ our history teacher here,” she said. The students enjoy watching their teachers share in the fun, she added.
This marks Eichenauer’s first venture as a faculty cast member, and EAU faculty member Kevin Jehl’s third appearance on stage. EAU teachers often contribute onstage, Eichenauer said, adding that three staff members have roles in this latest production.
Decker and Eichenauer have been part of every play in EAU’s brief history, helping to launch the drama program five years ago.
“In my class I had a 20 percent project, where students were allowed to pick something that they wanted to create or do to solve a problem in the community, and we had two students in the class who wanted to create a drama program here,” Eichenauer said.
Eichenauer had been part of drama at Plainfield High School. “But I did technical, all the backstage stuff,” she said.
Decker had been on the stage at Bluffton High School, and her onstage experience extended to her middle school years and Wells Community Theater.
“Shannon’s a master of all the tech and the backstage,” Decker said.
“So I went to see her and we just combined our strengths,” Eichenauer said. “We just kind of combined forces and guided the students and here we are.”
Student directors have been part of every production. “That was a facet that we embedded in the beginning, that students would not only be part of it but take the lead,” Decker said. That opportunity has been part of the draw for the drama program, she said. “It’s really great to see them from the beginning of a production to the end of a production, how much they’ve grown with the cast, how must they find different strengths within themselves, their leadership roles.
“We’re giving students something to put on their resume so that when they leave here they can say that they took part in something that was supported by them and made by them.”
EAU seniors Audrey Kindy and Erin Simons are the student directors of the pop rock musical. For Kindy, who lives in northeast Fort Wayne, this is her second time directing. She also wrote and directed the spring 2016 production, a showcase titled “Ruptured Reality.”
She said she would not have had that opportunity at any other school. “Oh no, definitely not,” she said. The staff was supportive, she said. “They walked me through that whole process with rewriting and everything. Oh, it was great. I loved it.”
For Simons, who lives in New Haven, this marks her seventh student production. The Fort Wayne Ballet student also serves as choreographer. Both teachers and students accept her direction and offer their own suggestions, she said.
Kindy said she plans to attend IPFW and study theater. “I definitely want to do something in theater and I would like to be a high school drama teacher or a college professor,” she said.
Simons said she plans to attend Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., earn a minor in recreation, and become a camp director.
Eichenauer released the following cast and stage/tech crew list: Emma Woodhouse – Autumn Quinn; Harriet Smith – Ti’anah Stuff-Kelso; Jeff Knightley – Jason Mayer; Frankie Churchill – Rhiannon Hurley; Jane Fairfax–Mandy Nayes; Philip Elton–Peyton Easterday; Martin –Lincoln Turk; Ashley – Brittney Graebner; Miss Bates – Lydia Ade; Welcoming Committee – Brittney Graebner, Kinzee Davis and Giana Berrios; Chorus – Erin Babcock, Jamie Grice, Alyssa Bowman and Graclyn Brooks; tech leads – William Collins, Elizabeth Faulkner; spotlights – Aaliyah LeShore, Lilli Hagadorn; stage manager – Max Moord; stage crew – Faith Meyer, Stephanie Spotts, Susie Spotts, Rose Cross, Cheyenne Barronn, Bella Sabine and Briana Gump.