On Thursday, Harper will star in the Contemporary Youth Arts Company's production of William Luce's one-woman play "The Belle of Amherst," which opens at the Capitol Center Theater for a two-weekend run. The play originally opened on Broadway on Feb. 25, 1976, starring actress Julie Harris. It is a portrait of poet Emily Dickinson, based on her work, diary entries and letters.
Harper, who will portray 15 different characters in the show, spoke at length about the play, Dickinson, her connection to the poet and how this production will help shape her as an actress.
"The show is based on Emily Dickinson trying to explain the misunderstandings of her life. Emily wanders back and forth in time as she tries to explain this message. She ranges from a teenager objecting the editing of 'The Tempest' in her Shakespeare club at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary to an old woman journeying through her death as she leaves Amherst for the last time.
"Not many people give as much credit as they should to Emily. They don't realize that she was just like every one of us. She fell in love and was heartbroken. She had to face broken dreams and obstacles that all humans face. Emily was just more full of life than some of us.
"My favorite thing about Emily is how she found beauty in every little thing. She saw the world differently than most people. Everything was full of life.
"I completely relate to Emily. We both find ecstasy in living. Just to be breathing is joy enough for both of us. Emily switches topics very fast in the show, just how I do in real life. So many thoughts running through my mind, I just find the need to express them all! Emily is the same way.
"I've been working on this piece for a year, and the most difficult thing about it is being lonely sometimes. I know that's ironic, with Emily Dickinson being a supposed 'recluse.' But I'm used to being in shows with at least three other people. It's hard to face the pressure sometimes that you know it's all on your shoulders.
"But I wouldn't trade it for the world. Even though I'm getting more nervous as the days creep closer to opening night, I realize that that is part of the deal doing a one-woman show. And I can tell you, I bet Julie Harris felt the same way.
"I love being on stage, being able to disappear and dissolve into the character. I get to portray people whose stories need to be told. And I don't need glamorous roles; I want real roles that show real people in the real world.
"I plan on attending college in New York for theatre and act for the rest of my life. I couldn't imagine it any other way. And Emily will always be one of the building blocks that helped me become a more talented actress."