Home for the Holidays at Pemberley

By Courtney McLaren

December 14, 2018

“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that the life of a young actor can be fraught. I felt this way in August upon leaving the American Stage apprenticeship. I was uncertain, not quite knowing where I would next find myself. Luckily, I soon found myself employed back at American Stage. Then a few weeks later, discovered that I would get to join the cast of CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY in the role of Lydia Wickham.

As you know, MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY is a sequel to Jane Austen’s iconic novel Pride and Prejudice. I read the novel in high school and the 2005 Keira Knightley movie had long been one of my favorites to turn to whenever having a bad day. I was therefore ecstatic to jump into a world that I had so long admired, and to jump into such an entertaining character.

(Josh Odsess-Rubin* as Arthur de Bourgh & Courtney McLaren as Lydia Wickham)

Lydia is the youngest Bennet sister and is a character whom upon first glance is painted in a harsh light. An audience’s first impression of Lydia is that of a vain, silly, selfish, and thoughtless girl. However, after analyzing the novel and spending so much time with her in the rehearsal room, I’ve grown to become her biggest fan. Lydia is a character ruled by her iron will, by her wants and desires in a world that does not allow women to be so. She is a force of nature to contend with, and goes into everything she does with high spirits and confidence. She at times can be silly and foolish, but is in many ways a modern woman.

In general, Pemberley’s themes have been resonating strongly within me as I work on the show. With such incredible women as Lydia and the Bennet sisters to look up to, I can’t help but feel the effervescent sense of womanhood that is inherent in this play. This play, in everything from the sister’s conversations with each other to the way in which the men discuss the women, portrays the strength females hold. MISS BENNET is a reminder of the societal limits placed on women then, where the place of women stands now and how much further we still have to go in that regard. Getting to portray this lovely tale of sisters every night makes me proud that I get to walk through this world as a woman. Not only that, but the sense of sisterhood, connection and family have made me think about the importance of these values in my own life.

 (Courtney McLaren, Sadie Lockhart, Jenny Lester*, Brooke Tyler Benson as the Bennet sisters)

Family is so essential to the human experience  and is certainly essential to me as well. One of the most rewarding parts of doing Pemberley was when my grandmother came to see it. My grandmother has been a supportive influence throughout my time with American Stage. She was visiting when I had my first skype interview with Stephanie Gularte, she provided a generous Christmas gift last year to assist with making my ends meet during my apprentice year, and now a year later, she got to see me on the Mainstage stepping into the world of Austen.

It was additionally fitting because CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY is a continuation of a tale that is largely about the lives of five sisters. My grandmother was one of five sisters, and she came to see it with one of her elder sisters, my great aunt, whom I got to meet for the first time. So the fact that my grandmother, who has been tied to my American Stage journey came to see a show that peaks the culmination of my time here, in a way that connects so deeply with her human experience, is just one of the most special gifts from fate that I can imagine.

(The cast of MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY)

Overall in my life post-apprenticeship, I feel so lucky to have gotten the chance to stay and continue to be embraced by a family who has been nothing but supportive of me.

The past few months, and my time with Pemberley, have really honed in the lesson of family. I have learned the importance of building your own artistic family.  A network of family and fellow artists who genuinely believe in you, are in your corner, and will continue to support you no matter where life takes you.

“I hardly ever know what will happen next. But I continue to move forward regardless,” Mr. Bingley says in Act 2 of our show. I shall do the same, but with the knowledge that members of my personal artistic family live here at American Stage, and should I ever need them, they will help me if they can.

MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY runs through December 30. americanstage.org/CHRISTMAS