A motion blur photograph of guests of the Jane Austen Regency Ball dance and twirl in a time captured image showing movement.

Your Inner Austen

Ball gowns and waistcoats and quadrilles and reels were the order of the night at a Jane Austen Regency Ball, hosted by the Department of English in partnership with a local production company with ties to the university.

On a February night, Hoskins Library with its Gothic architecture was transformed into a ballroom complete with musicians and costumed actors from First Take Co., an experiential entertainment company founded by UT theatre alumnus Ethan Graham Roeder (’16).

Actors mingled and danced with attendees, teaching them English country dances—led by the Lark in the Morn English Country Dancers and Consort—as well as Regency-era games.

Associate Professor of English Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud and English Lecturer John Han say the idea for the ball came about in 2017, when the department hosted the first Regency Ball as part of its Austen Fest. Last year, the department decided to resurrect the event to bring together fans of Austen to an interactive space filled with characters from her novels.

“Many of our faculty also teach Austen courses,” says Han. “The ball helps us bring joy and whimsy to the study of Austen’s literary works and demonstrates the importance of studying literature as a way to enrich our lives.”

At UT, Roeder was a student of English department head Misty Anderson’s, and the two often spoke of the possibilities of presenting a theatrical experience like a Regency ball.

Since its founding, First Take Co. has become a collection of transient artists, working across the country. And many of those artists are UT alumni.

Production of the ball involved seven alumni and one current theatre student.

Roeder says the company has its roots in the undergraduate theatre program. A group of students would put on cabaret performances and student-produced musicals that weren’t associated with the Clarence Brown Theatre.

“As the pandemic began, Laura Clift (’17) and I drew on our own shared experiences in writing and seeing immersive theatre to create a narrative and script for the event,” Roeder says.

In 2022 the Department of English also put on an Austen-inspired event, Miss A’s Garden Party, to workshop the script.

“This utilized UT alumni and actors from across the country in a four-day whirlwind of development and presentation,” says Roeder. They mixed it up to include the audience, and with positive responses from people at the event they decided to include more participation for future events such as a Regency ball.

While First Take Co. works on a project-by-project basis, every production to date has included a UT alumnus.

“We’ve had UT alumni as playwrights, actors, directors, designers, stage managers, technicians, dramaturgs, social media marketers. Essentially, if there’s a job in the theatre, a UT student has done it with us,” Roeder says.

The event’s success has inspired plans for a subsequent Jane Austen Regency Ball in spring 2025. Details will be announced on the Department of English and First Take Co.’s Instagram accounts.

Photos by Breven Walker

You may also like