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The nine actors who are in rehearsal for a production of Arlene Hutton’s "As It Is In Heaven" to be presented in May at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts still hold their scripts in hand, but only for emergency reference. Memorizing lines is just a part of the many layered process of bringing a staged work to life.

In this case, the goal is to depict the disrupted utopia of a Shaker community set in 1830s Kentucky, with nothing to extend the fantasy but a few benches and the talent of the cast.  

Director Candice Dickinson bobs and weaves as the women in the cast move from place to place within the theatre space. She is checking their movement, or blocking, from all angles, coaching one to put more emphasis on a thought or emotion, asking another for the intensity to remain but the volume lowered, and each of the performers thoughtfully, actively responding to her direction.

This is where the heart of a show is born, and Dickinson is up to the task.

As It Is In Heaven, presented by agreement with Dramatist Play Service, runs May 10 and 11, May 17 and 18, and May 24 and 25 at 7:30 pm with matinees on May 12, 19 and 26 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20.

“One of the things that makes this show so interesting is that it’s a glimpse into a real-world utopia,” says Dickinson, referring to the Shaker way of life and the idyllic community they strove to build. “This script examines what that utopian goal does to relationships, what it means to believe, what it means to have the ‘flaws’ of the world taken away, and how you measure or judge that, if you can at all.”

The cast is made up of women between the ages of 15 and 70 and includes Joyce Bagley-Menges, Paige Borden, Madison Brightwell, Olivia Brown, Karen Covington-Yow, Mary Ann Heinen, RoseLynn Katz, Amanda Klinikowski and Janice Vertucci Schreiber with Sara Jobes serving as understudy. Both Covington-Yow and Heinen have worked at the Front Porch Theatre on shows in past seasons.

Unique to this show and to such a small theatre (the Front Porch Theatre seats 70 and is in its sixth season) is the use of a dramaturg.

“Marianne Lyon has really helped us achieve a level of historical accuracy,” says Dickinson. “She’s been really helpful informing the cast about Shaker customs, the way they walked and spoke and their significance in history. We want to be true to their world and this unique period in time.”

Soon the scripts will be cast aside and costumes will be added so the actors can feel more appropriate for the characters they portray, long skirts moving as they sing and dance in the specific Shaker style.

The effort of recreation is equal to the resulting creation, a moment in time with a whole lot of drama added for the pleasure of the viewing audience. This play runs for three weekends and may have some bonus events associated with the matinees. For more information or to purchase tickets go to blackmountainarts.org or call 669-0930.

Caption: Candice Dickinson directs a rehearsal of As It Is In Heaven by Arlene Hutton at the Front Porch Theatre at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts. The play, about a Shaker community in 1830s Kentucky, opens May 10 and runs three weekends through  May 26.

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