Nearly two years have slipped away since Cambria’s Emma Duncan overwhelmed theater audiences with her stunning one-woman performance of “The Belle of Amherst” at the Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria. More than 580 theatergoers attended her remarkable presentations which required the then-17-year old young lady to memorize the 80-page monologue.
For those who missed the PPP presentation, and for those who would like to experience the play again, there is good news. Another run for the William Luce play will open on July 9 at the Theatre at the Old Grammar School (TOGS), 1350 Main St.
Here is an update on Emma Duncan for those who are not familiar with her remarkable story: She was born in Glendale, Calif. and moved to Cambria with her parents Jude Johnston and Charles Duncan when she was 2 and a half.
For a high school thesis (she attended Midland School in Los Olivos), Emma created a production of “The Belle of Amherst,” starring herself. She provided a video of her performance to owner Jim Buckley of the Pewter Plough Playhouse. Jim was so impressed he insisted that Nehemiah Persoff meet Emma. With a background of 56 years in theatre, Persoff was reluctant to spend time with the teenager.
“All right, give me the first 10 minutes of the dialogue,” Nehemiah said. Persoff knew Julie Harris (for whom the play was written). When Emma finished her 10 minutes, Nehemiah responded, “I knew Maureen Stapleton, Kim Stanley and Cloris Leachman. Emma is of the same quality. She is on her way to a wonderful career.”
The Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. is a nationally known event that also provides training and necessary skills for those who are interested in serious theater. In 2007, Emma was one of 65 students accepted into the “Junior Program,” designed for high school juniors. In recognition of potential talent, eight attendees are selected to return the following year as assistants to the new group; Emma was one of those selected.
She has been attending Sarah Lawrence College for two years, but that will be put on hold for a year. In March this year, she and her fiancé Corbin Went were interviewed independently for acceptance at the British American Drama Academy in London, England. Amazingly, from hundreds of applicants across America, she and Corbin were among the 45 selected to attend the prestigious academy. Corbin was interviewed in Los Angeles three days before Emma had her meeting in New York City. Cambria will be well represented in London. They leave for jolly ol’ England in September.
Both Emma and Corbin are interested in eventually getting involved with directing. They feel the year at the London academy will contribute greatly toward their careers in the theatre. By the way—the year at BA-DA will run around $50,000. Any donations will be deeply appreciated. (Donations may be mailed c/o Allied Arts Association, P.O. Box 184, Cambria CA 93428.)
“The Belle of Amherst” will run from July 9 to Aug. 1. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Call 927-8190 for advance tickets ($12).