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Emily Dickinson to grace Westfield stage

By Kaitlyn Schroyer

Staff Intern

WESTFIELD One of the area's most prominent literary figures will be gracing the stage at Piccolo's Restaurante next month in order to put to rest certain misconceptions about her life.

On Aug. 6, Ashley Shea will take the stage as Emily Dickinson in the one-woman show, "The Belle of Amherst," the Tony Award-winning play written by William Luce. This will be the inaugural production of Theater Downtown, a joint effort between Westfield State College, the Westfield Business Improvement District and WoW to bring more theater to the area.

"Most people think that Emily Dickinson was a stuffy, Victorian poet. However, in realty, she was feisty and funny and a real modern woman in the Victorian age," Bob Plasse, president of WoW, said.

The production is just one of the many events included in WoW's Good Old Summer Times, a series of seasonal events throughout Westfield.

Jack Shea, director of the production, said he is hoping to expand the number of theater productions downtown.

"This is a new venture so we wanted to start out small. 'The Belle of Amherst' was the right play for the audience, the economics, and the quality of work," Jack said.

He noted that the stage at Piccolo's Ristorante only seats 62, providing an "intimate space." "The space is intimate and it's an intimate play. There is a dialogue with the audience. Not with the audience speaking, but a sense of give and take," Shea explained.

Plasse, Jack and Ashley are part of the Professional Equity Theatre. The Professional Equity Theatre is a union for stage actors in New York City. New York City acting was Plasse's former life before moving to Westfield. "We also wanted to build an audience, so we had to start small. You need a supporting audience and doing a small play like 'The Belle of Amherst' is just right for that," Shea said.

Plasse also noted the importance of bringing theater to communities. "A town is invigorated by bringing people together for community events. To be able to sit in a theatre and have an experience creates community. While deciding the price of tickets, we decided to keep the price as low as possible to attract audiences. Using theatre, music, and the visual arts is a way to renew a town. Such as Branson, Missouri. Until they started performing, nothing was happening there. Now, they are a large tourist attraction with many plays," he said.

Productions of "The Belle of Amherst" will take place on Aug. 6, 7, 8, and 9, and Aug. 13, 14, 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. at Piccolo's Ristorante, 110 Elm St. Tickets will be available at the door and at the Westfield Athenaeum and are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

For reservations call 562-2277. There is no assigned seating so it is first come first serve.