The Belle of Amherst of the title is Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), a pioneering female American poet, who remains influential to this day. Although only ten of her poems were published during her lifetime, some 1,800 were published after her death,not including two new collections published since 2013 consisting of poems collected from scraps, chocolate wrappers and envelopes. Her concerns regarding her compositions extended beyond themes and the choice of words to the way the word visually appeared on the page.
"I dwell in Possibility"
I had the joy of watching the incomparable Julie Harris perform her extraordinary one woman show based on the life of the poet Emily Dickinson years ago when I was in college in Minneapolis. She captivated that stage and filled it with Emily’s world and her beautiful words. I was transported back to that time of grace, that quiet solitude, that peace, surrounded by all of Nature. Her performance stayed with me all of these years and remains one of the theatrical highlights I have been blessed to witness.
The art of creation is a non-stoppable force, much like Emily’s spirit. It has no rules, no boundaries, no timeline. It lives and thrives despite our joys and our setbacks. Often growing even more from our setbacks.
Author William Luce states, “The Belle of Amherst is a love affair with language, a celebration of all that is beautiful and poignant in life.” Emily’s was a world of words. Arranging them just so to create fleeting images that combine to enter into our soul and transform our lives. Reminding us to take the moment to look, feel and connect. A time of introspection into our own lives and our relationship to the world around us.
When my dear longtime friend, colleague and wonderful actress, Ferrell Marshall, approached me last year to join her on her journey toward The Belle of Amherst, I was thrilled to say yes. To collaborate and discover the piece again with a fellow artist brings the exploration of self and relationship back to experience Emily’s world all over again in a wonderful new light! To discover the simple yet beautiful depth of these poetical words and images has been a delight! As well as the chance to take my own journey of self-discovery through working on this beautiful play.
To quote from Luce’s author’s notes: “The essential Emily of my play is secretly saying to the audience, ‘Pardon my insanity, Pardon my jubilation to Nature, my terror of midnight, my childlike wonder at love, my white renunciation. Nothing more do I ask than to share with you the ecstasy and sacrament of my life.’”
So, welcome to Emily’s house, 1886! Sit back and take in her words and images. Let the words wash over you and resonate in your own lives. You may discover corners that have long been asleep or memories, glimpses of your past that come to light and reignite your heart and soul.
Welcome to Amherst! And thank you for stopping by…..
I was gifted with a speech impediment. As a young girl, I was teased relentlessly because of my mush mouth. However, I was also blessed with two years of speech therapy and would be given assignments to memorize and recite poems. It was there that I was introduced to Emily Dickinson. I felt such a kindred connection with Emily. Like me, she was a girl who loved nature and her dog. Her words painted beautiful pictures which awakened in me a passion to create. The allure of her story made her poems all the more exciting to learn. I remember my teacher asking me, “What is your possibility?” "Acting!” came my quick response. This surprised her for I was ridiculously shy and would burst into tears if too much attention was directed my way. But, the seeds were firmly planted.
I was 16 when I first saw The Belle of Amherst by William Luce and I told my mother that one day I would play my favorite poet. I’ve had it to hope for and now the day has come. My company, Honey B Productions, is named after my mother. Her first name was, indeed, Honey, a good Southern name; and the B is for Blanton, her middle name. She was always known as Honey B, and like Emily, she broke all the rules and was as unique and wonderful.
Co-producing with SMP has been kismet, as they too are fans of this great American poet. Together, we are thrilled to be bringing her to life.
I first became acquainted with Emily Dickinson’s poetry when I was a boy in sophomore English. Years later, a friend gave me a gift of Emily’s collected letters. When I read those letters, I saw more clearly into the heart of the shy woman whose poems I had loved and admired for so long.
When I undertook the writing of The Belle of Amherst, it was my hope to depict the humanity and reasonableness of Emily Dickinson’s life. I say reasonableness because I believe that she consciously elected to be what she was – a voluntary exile from village provincialism, an original New England romantic, concisely witty, heterodox in faith, alone but not lonely, “with Will to choose, or to reject.”
I consider the one-person play to be uniquely suited to the telling of Emily’s story. She was reclusive, an individualist of the highest order. To interpolate other actors and actresses seemed unnecessary to me. I decided the inner drama of the poet’s consciousness in an intimate, one-to-one relationship.
The Belle of Amherst is a love affair with language, a celebration of all that is beautiful and poignant in life. As it turns out, shy Miss Emily was writing for theatre as surely as she breathed. In her every evocative phrase there is theatrical texture. On stage, the strange ways of Emily Dickinson become dramatic qualities in an arena large enough to give them the look of “divinest Sense.” Thus, the theater seems a thoroughly appropriate setting for Emily’s life and art, enabling actress and audience to “climb the Bars of Ecstasy” together.
"I’m Nobody! Who are you?
"If I can stop one heart from breaking I shall not live in vain"
Ferrell recently won the 2016 Stage Raw Award for Featured Actress for her performance in the L.A, premiere of Enron, for which she also received a Scenie Award. She received a Scenie Award and a Broadway World nomination for a Leading Actress performance in a 2012 production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The following year, she received Broadway World nomination for her performance in the L.A. premiere of The End Of It. She has been performing on Los Angeles stages for over three decades. (#ILove99) Ferrell is also a voice-over artist, has appeared in several independent films, and is a painter. An online gallery of her nature-themed paintings can be found at ferrellmarshall.com, This production of The Belle of Amherst marks the fruition of her decades-long ambition to play this role. Her production company, Honey B Productions, is named after her mother, Honey Blanton “Honey B” Scholz, a true original and like Emily, loved breaking the rules.
Ferrell is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Joe Blasco School of Makeup. She sits on the Board of Directors of L.A. Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing volunteers throughout greater Los Angeles.
This production is dedicated to the memory of her husband, George Edward Adeeb. “Sweetheart! We’re doing Belle! Loving you. Missing you.”
"Find ecstasy in life. The mere sense of living is joy enough."
"Hope is the things with feathersThat perches in the soul "
As a seasoned Director of over 100 productions, Todd is excited to be working with longtime friend, Ferrell Marshall on this beautiful gem of a piece and honored to be presenting it at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.
Todd has received a number of awards recognizing his work both as director and actor over the years as well as numerous nominations and “critic’s picks" from Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Backstage, Dramalogue, LA Weekly, LA Stage Scene, Broadway World and LA Stage Alliance. His productions of both On the Twentieth Century and City of Angels won the LA Ovation award for Best Musical (Intimate Theatre). LA Stage Scene honored him as one of the Best Directors of the 2012-2013 season. He had the pleasure and exciting challenge of acting as Resident Director for one of the National Tours of Disney’s The Lion King. Recent productions include Bye, Bye, Birdie, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure both for Glendale Centre Theatre, White Christmas for San Diego Musical Theatre, Mr Scrooge for Nine O’Clock Players and Closer Than Ever for International City Theatre.
As a performer, Todd spent two seasons in St George, Utah at Tuacahn Performing Arts Center in The Wizard of Oz, The Little Mermaid, Joseph…Dreamcoat, Beauty and the Beast, When You Wish and Sister Act. He also appeared in 42nd Street for San Diego Musical Theatre. Other theatres Todd has directed for include The Colony Theatre, Chapman University, AMDA, Cabrillo Music Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions, Musical Theatre West, Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Croswell Opera House, Musical Theatre Guild, West Coast Ensemble, The Welk Resort Theatre and 42nd Street Moon Theatre and Palos Verdes Performing Arts Center where he will be directing their upcoming production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.
"Because I could not stop for deathHe kindly stopped for me"