In the garden with Mr. Darcy

Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"Inspires This Fundraiser


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:33 p.m.

Love is in bloom inthe gardens behind the President's House on the University of Florida campus this spring. In scenes straight from the pages of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," there's romance afoot and splendor in the grass.

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Samantha Walsh serves up sweet treats in style as one of the event's Strolling Tablers.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun

Stroll past the azaleas blossoming along the garden walls and you may catch a glimpse of endearing protagonist Elizabeth Bennet and her proud suitor, Mr. Darcy, stealing a kiss. Meander along the brick walkway toward the house and you're likely to find Elizabeth's headstrong younger sister, Lydia, giving chase to a strapping soldier.

Step onto the patio and you'll delight in the joy of having one of the "Strolling Tablers" pour you a glass of wine or offer you a sumptuous petit four.

You might even find yourself in the middle of a rousing game of Blind Man's Bluff.

The event, "Splendor in the Park with Jane Austen," ties in with the University of Florida School of Theater and Dance's last mainstage performance of the season: Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." It is the first annual fund-raiser hosted by the University of Florida Friends of Theater and Dance, which formed in 2008 to raise money for the school.

"We thought this would be a great opportunity to have a wonderful garden party," says Kevin Marshall, professor and director of the School of Theater and Dance.

The event will feature up to 40 characters in period costume strolling the grounds, reading from Austen's works, performing jigs and country dances, and engaging the guests in games and frivolity. Piano and violin performances will help set the mood. There will even be a maypole. The party begins with a "Living Cocktail Party" followed by a sit-down dinner with the cast.

"We're going to create a captivating environment that brings us back in history to a gracious, romantic time," Marshall says.

Guests can make a day of Jane Austen — first, by seeing the final matinée performance of the play on Sunday afternoon, and then attending the garden party at the President's House immediately afterward.

Monies raised from the event will help fund need- and merit-based scholarships for students enrolled in the theater and dance programs, Marshall says. The funds will also help bring working professionals to the school for teaching and mentoring.

"Sometimes it takes an outsider to say the same thing that the professors have been trying to get across to the students before the light bulb goes on in the student's head," Marshall says.

Last fall, the school brought in famed character actor Stephen Root, a UF alumnus, for a question and answer session with the students about his career.

"He was giving them a reality check," says Marshall."Having that outside voice is essential. We want more of that and we want the professionals to come for a longer length of time. But that takes special funding."

Tallulah Brown, president of the Friends of Theater and Dance, says the event provides a great opportunity for people to discover — or even re-discover — the Constans Theater and its superb productions.

The Friends of Theater and Dance plans to host similar events that tie in with the year's final mainstage production every spring — that is, Brown quips, "as long as the director doesn't decide to stage a production of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!'"

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