YAT ALUMNI CONNECT: Q&a With LITTLE WOMEN AUTHOR Jessica Cavanagh By SAMANTHA WIENER
The following is a conversation between two YAT alumni, Samantha Wiener (Class of 2017) and Jessica Cavanagh (Class of 1993). Samantha works at Village Well Books and Coffee in Los Angeles. Little Women at Young Actors Theatre opened last weekend, February 25th. As a huge fan of Little Women(especially Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film adaptation) and, of course, all things YAT, it was a privilege to catch up with Jessica Cavanagh, director and former YAT alum, regarding her adaptation of Little Women, returning to YAT, Jo March, and what it’s like to be a woman in this world.
Sam: Something that I think is so powerful about Little Women is that it is such an old story but it still resonates with people so much.
Jessica: Really, the world hasn’t changed that much. Technologically, it has obviously changed but human beings are still the same as we ever were. Women are still fighting for equality, People of Color are still fighting for equality. This is the setting of the book. I was pretty blown away when I first started to adapt it. You have to make choices about what you're going to focus on. For me, it just came back to finding your place in a world that is really scary. It was a lot of what I personally needed when I started first working on it. It was the second year of the pandemic and working on this brought me so much joy. Louisa May Alcott’s life was not rosy and when she chose to immortalize her family’s story, she chose the things that brought them joy and heartaches.
Sam: You said that when you first read the book, you saw so much of yourself in Jo. How do you identify with her?
Jessica: In so many different ways, in the ways that most people do. That’s what I've realized as I've gotten older. When I was young I thought I was exactly like Jo. All the things she cared about I cared about. Rereading it this time as an adult it became really clear that there's elements of Jo that everyone can connect with because her character is all about finding your place in the world and figuring out whether you're going to live with passion and joy or be pissed off at your lot in life. She captures what it's like to be a woman in this world.
Sam: What do you think stands out about your adaptation?
Jessica: We really went deep into Jo’s anger. To me, Jo’s anger and her constant frustration are very prevalent, along with being at war with her very soft heart. Some of the stage adaptations I'd seen hadn’t focused as much on other characters, for example, why Amy and Laurie end up together. I was inspired by some of the adaptations I'd seen and read and tried to blend those together.
Sam: My last question: what was it like coming back to YAT?
Jessica: It was so great. I didn't know how it would feel, if it would be weird to be back and not be one of the kids on stage acting but I’ve loved every second of it. Everyone has been so accommodating and welcoming and supportive. They've supported everything I've wanted to do since the beginning. The kids have been amazing to work with. It's amazing to be in a place that meant so much to me as a kid and to see it continuing to grow and thrive. It’s been dreamy.