Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Local improv actors put twist on Jane Austen style

Emma George

The success of Jane Austen’s works emphasizes the human desire for slow-burning romances and light-hearted comedies. Her classic novels, such as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma,” inspired numerous Hollywood and pop culture adaptations. Motivated by the world’s modern fascination with Regency era England, a group of actors in the Austin area took a unique approach to portraying the Jane Austen narrative style through improv comedy shows.

Jane Austin Improv debuted in 2023 as a professional long-form narrative improv company. Troupe leader Sophie Hard organized the group after a spontaneously-successful Jane Austen-style set at the Hideout Theatre in downtown Austin, where a handful of the actors, including two UT alums, took classes together. After one performance, Hard said she wanted to explore the genre further. 

UT alumna and cast member Rebecca East said none of the troupe were die hard Jane Austen fans before joining.

“We were just really drawn by Sophie’s dedication and how she already knew so much about (the genre),” East said. “She already had such a clear vision. It was really easy to jump on board with that.”

Shows run about an hour long and the niche genre encompasses Austen’s fundamental themes including love triangles, strong family ties and strict societal guidelines. Unlike the common structure of improv shows, Jane Austin Improv follows a single romantic-comedy narrative all the way through. Hard said that due to the nature of the genre, every show presents the opportunity to switch it up.

“It’s really fun to explore the depths of characters and try to challenge yourself,” Hard said. “We try to create something that Jane Austen may have written if she was to continue writing.”

In October 2023, the group received the Ethel Hinkley Outstanding New Improv Troupe Award from the B. Iden Payne committee that recognized the excellence of their craft. The troupe now performs regularly across several venues in the Austin area, with hopes of expanding their market. UT alumnus Paul Cook said the troupe welcomed last year’s award and their newfound publicity within the Austin improv space. 

“We started off as a lark,” Cook said. “Our success has kinda been a surprise for the group.”

The cast focuses more on period accuracy than satirizing the style but parody still finds its moments, Hard said.

“I like to think of us as serious actors committed to this art. Comedy is a natural byproduct of the commitment to the character,” Hard said.

Jane Austen’s work encapsulates themes related to gender equality that still hold value in our society today, despite being written over two centuries ago, said Hard.

“Jane Austen really confronts this idea that women didn’t have the ability to choose,” Hard said. “I think of her as this big, feminist voice in a time where women didn’t have a lot of options.”

Even for those unfamiliar with Austen’s books, East said anyone can appreciate the troupe’s work.

“You do not have to know a single thing about Jane Austen to enjoy watching this show,” said East. “No two shows are alike. It’s always a fun show (with) lots of unexpected laughter.”

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About the Contributor
Emma George, Comics Editor
Emma is currently a Spring 2023 Comics Editor. She is a junior civil engineering major whoe loves to draw, read, and visiting art museums. She has previously been a Comics sStaffer and Comics Senior Illustrator.