Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 17, 2013

One-woman show helps gardens

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Emily Dickinson, one of America’s earliest poets, died in 1886.

She comes to life this weekend in the acclaimed one-woman play, “Belle of Amherst,” performed by professional actress Sinda Nichols.

Performances are scheduled today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse Studio Theatre. That’s located at the Depot at 620 Railroad Place, near the corner of East Eighth and Woodmere Ave.

Proceeds from the three public performances will benefit Grow the Gardens, a Traverse Area District Library project to develop landscaping and gardens near the main (Woodmere) branch front entrance.

“Belle of Amherst” opened in 1976 on Broadway with actress Julie Harris, who won a Tony Award for Best Actress the following year. It was written by William Luce, who wove Dickinson’s poetry and writings into a two-act play. It covers 40-year span of the poet’s life, from 1845 when she was 15 to her death at 55 in 1886.

Nichols, who grew up in Michigan and now lives in Florida, has performed the play more than 30 times over the last three years since founding Black Cake Productions as a vehicle to support organizations that promote literacy and local libraries. Her goal was also to honor Emily Dickinson’s “extraordinary gift” to the world of literature and poetry.

TADL received a $5,000 planning grant from the Friendly Garden Club of Traverse City for project designed by award-winning local landscape architect Dean Conners.

The benefit is a collaboration between the Friendly Garden Club of Traverse City , TADL and the Old Town Playhouse, which is donating the theater space and all proceeds to the project. Costs are still being calculated, but the garden effort is estimated at $20,000 to $25,000.

“The goal is for the front entrance garden to be a natural extension of the already beautiful and flourishing Children’s Garden that so many members of the community enjoy on a regular basis,” said TADL director Metta T. Lansdale Jr.

The library garden will feature easy-to -care-for native plants as well as a rain garden and sensory garden with an emphasis on textured and scented plants for all to enjoy.

“Teaming up with the Old Town Playhouse to present this fundraising production of ‘The Belle of Amherst’ seemed like a natural fit,” Lansdale said. “After all, some may argue that Dickinson was a gardener first and a poet second.”

The play is set in the parlor of the Dickinson home in Amherst.

“It’s a wonderful glimpse into the life of an extraordinary human being who was not only a genius because of her poetry, but also for all her qualities,” Nichols said. ‘She was incredibly funny and had a great scientific knowledge of nature and geology. She was a prize-winning baker known for her gardening. She also was deeply connected with her spiritual life through nature, writing and literature.”

Dickinson wrote more than 1,800 poems during her lifetime and close to 10,000 letters and is often stereotyped as reclusive and alone, unloved and virginal.

“The fun for me is her sense of humor,” Nichols said. “It’s quick and fun to play with and offer it to the audience, which is in the parlor with me. “

Go to for more information on Nichols and the play.

Tickets are $30, on sale now at Tickets also will be available at door.