There are a lot of Barbara Danas these days.
There’s the award-winning children’s book author, the Emily Dickinson scholar, the actress, the soprano who sings with the Scarborough-based Choral Arts Society, the mother of the acting Arkin men, the South Salem resident.
Over the course of the next month, each of those Barbara Danas will take a turn in the spotlight, some of them simultaneously.
On Friday at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Dana will perform William Luce’s “The Belle of Amherst,” a one-woman show about Dickinson, the great American poet who has been a central figure in Dana’s life for the last dozen years.
On Saturday, she’ll be back close to her South Salem home for a staged reading of “Fighting Over Beverley” by Israel Horovitz.
Presented by Hudson Stage Company, it is part of the “Horovitz 70/70 Project,” a year-long presentation of the works of the American playwright, to mark his 70th birthday. Horovitz is expected to attend the performance, at Woodward Hall Theater in Briarcliff, and take part in a post-reading Q&A.
The reading’s director is Dana’s son, Matthew, who lives in Scarsdale.
(Dana was onced married to the Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, with whom she had three sons, all actors: Adam, Matthew and Anthony.)
At month’s end, Dana will don the white cotton dress and inhabit Dickinson again, in a benefit for the Choral Arts Society at the Chappaqua Library Theater on March 27.
Her director for “The Belle,” as she calls it, is Austin Pendleton.
“Austin is notoriously busy,” Dana says. “He teaches at HB Studios, several classes each week. He’s a director. He’s a writer. He’s an actor. And he’s busy in all of them. He does so much, no one can figure out how he does it.
“I asked him, ‘How do you do it? And why?’ and he said, ‘One thing about it is that I’m so busy that I don’t have time to get nervous about any one thing.’”
Dana might be wise to take a page from Pendleton, as her schedule doesn’t seem to be letting up on any front. (Here she is, in a video by Mark Vergari.)
<object id=”flashObj” width=”486″ height=”412″ classid=”clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000″ codebase=”http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=9,0,47,0″><param name=”movie” value=”http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/48345545001?isVid=1&publisherID=37861007001″ /><param name=”bgcolor” value=”#FFFFFF” /><param name=”flashVars” value=”omnitureAccountID=gpaper183,gntbcstglobal&pageContentCategory=Life&Leisure&pageContentSubcategory=entertainment080201&marketName=Westchester, Rockland, Putnam:LoHud&revSciSeg=&revSciZip=07675&revSciAge=1963&revSciGender=male&division=newspaper&SSTSCode=lifestyle/index.htm&videoId=70892022001&playerID=48345545001&domain=embed&” /><param name=”base” value=”http://admin.brightcove.com” /><param name=”seamlesstabbing” value=”false” /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”swLiveConnect” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always” /><embed src=”http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/48345545001?isVid=1&publisherID=37861007001″ bgcolor=”#FFFFFF” flashVars=”omnitureAccountID=gpaper183,gntbcstglobal&pageContentCategory=Life&Leisure&pageContentSubcategory=entertainment080201&marketName=Westchester, Rockland, Putnam:LoHud&revSciSeg=&revSciZip=07675&revSciAge=1963&revSciGender=male&division=newspaper&SSTSCode=lifestyle/index.htm&videoId=70892022001&playerID=48345545001&domain=embed&” base=”http://admin.brightcove.com” name=”flashObj” width=”486″ height=”412″ seamlesstabbing=”false” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowFullScreen=”true” swLiveConnect=”true” allowScriptAccess=”always” pluginspage=”http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash”></embed></object>She has just published a teen biographical novel of Dickinson, “A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson” (HarperTeen, 2009). It joins the 2007 book of essays she co-edited about the poet, “Wider Than the Sky: Essays and Meditations on the Healing Power of Emily Dickinson,” (Kent State University Press, 2007).
Despite extensive study of Dickinson, when a colleague approached her to perform “The Belle” at Emily Dickinson International Society conference in Canada last summer, Dana demurred.
“I said ‘No,’” she recalls, “because Julie Harris, my idol, had done it perfectly, and I wouldn’t presume.”
Harris won the Tony in the role in 1977.
Over time, though, Dana warmed to the idea of taking someone she knew intimately on the page and bringing her to the stage.
“I’d studied this character for 12 years, inside her. I know her,” she says. “I thought ‘I’m the right age to do her right now. What better time?’”
There was another consideration, one borne of the fact that Dana is also a writer.
“As a playwright, what do I think about someone saying that once a role is done magnificently, the play should not be done anymore? That didn’t sit right with me. So I said yes.”
When Harris learned of Dana’s decision — they had, over the years, become friends — a card arrived at Dana’s South Salem home.
“You will be ‘The Belle of Amherst’ in Canada. Wonderful. Remember: You are Emily.”
Dana carried that card with her for the solid year she prepared for that one Canadian performance. It will likely be with her on Friday, when she performs at Amherst College’s Kirby Theater, where Harris played it before going on to with the Tony.
The writer and actress came to admire William Luce’s script, which weaves thoughts, hopes and dreams culled from Dickinson’s 1,782 poems and more than a thousand letters.
“I think he did a great job and the more time I spent with it, I was knocked out by it,” she says.
Dickinson’s poems are economical but powerful, their simplicity somehow able to tap into powerful ideas about love, life and death.
The opportunity to play Dickinson gave the writer Dana a chance to inform the actor Dana, a relationship that played out in the reverse when she was writing her novel.
“I approached the writing of the book in a way as an actor and a writer,” she says. “I wondered, ‘What would it have felt like to be her growing up?’ which is a very actor way of thinking.”
Her research took her to Amherst.
“I spent time in her bedroom, in her garden, walking her walk to school, walking her walk to church when she went there, going where she went to college, living there in all the different seasons.
“I studied, studied, studied about her and then I just went there,” she says. “I went to Emily. I was trying to get out of the way and let her be there, which is an actor thing, too.”
Pendleton, who had read Dana’s book, knew she knew Dickinson.
“It wasn’t a question of learning about Emily,” she says. “It was more a question of communicating what I knew as an actor rather than as a writer.”
The director gave the actress a fresh perspective on how to handle the two dozen poems that find their way into Luce’s script.
“As she’s talking to the audience, it will remind her of a poem and she’ll go into the poem,” Dana says. “Austin encouraged me to make the poems continue to talk to the people and not make it, ‘Now, I’m going to recite this poem that I wrote.’
“The poems are like conversations,” she says. “It deepened them, it took away the formality of reciting them. And it occurred to me, ‘This is the way she thought. This is the way her mind worked.’”
Keeping Dickinson in her mind between performances — there was the Canadian one-nighter last summer, excerpts in Amherst in December, a full show of “The Belle” on Friday and then at month’s end in Chappaqua — has been a challenge, one Dana tackles with the help of her dog, Riley.
“I walk him an hour in the morning and I can do one act in an hour,” she says.
While Pendleton’s guidance was illuminating, and walks with Riley restorative, Dana says it took talking with Harris to pass one major stumbling block: taking the intensely private Dickinson and transplanting her into the unnatural setting of a theater, where she’s pouring out her thoughts.
“Julie told me what she used and I took that basic idea and elaborated on it,” she says. “I imagine that her dear sister, Vinnie (Lavinia), had asked her if she might meet with three friends of hers, and have some tea. And she trusts Vinnie so much that she agrees. It’s very frightening for her to do this.”
“And that works, because she would never stand up there and tell her story,” Dana says. “At first she’s doing it for Vinnie and then she begins to crave that attention. She’s been alone in her house for 15 years and she gets more and more open with them.”
“It totally made it possible because where’s the sense in this private person talking to 200, 300, 400 people?” she says.
“She found her voice in her writing,” Dana says. “That’s where she could really be herself.”
Fighting Over Beverley
What: A staged reading of Israel Horovitz’s “Fighting Over Beverley,” directed by Matthew Arkin. it will be followed by a Q&A with the cast and the playwright.
Where: Hudson Stage, Woodward Hall Theatre, Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor.
When: 7:30 p.m., March 12.
Tickets: $10 general admission at the door.
The Belle of Amherst
What: Barbara Dana performs William Luce’s one-woman play, “The Belle of Amherst,” directed by Austin Pendleton, a benefit for the Choral Arts Society.
Where: Chappaqua Library, 195 S. Greeley Ave., Chappaqua
When: 7:30 p.m., March 27.
Note: Dana will also play “The Belle” at the New York Botanical Garden May 1 and 2, part of a monthlong retrospective on the poet, in a garden planted with the same flowers that were in Dickinson’s garden.
Barbara Dana’s teen novel, “A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson,” (Harper Teen, 2009), imagines the poet’s early years.
In “Wider Than the Sky: Essays and Meditations on the Healing Power of Emily Dickinson,” edited by Dana and Cindy Mackenzie, scholars examine the impact of the poet’s words. (Kent State University Press, 2007)