WESTERLY — Westerly High School senior Eric Towne may be a relative newcomer to the world of theater, but he's learned quite a bit about the stage over the last year — about what goes into learning lines, performing, rehearsing and producing plays.

Now, thanks to a new collaboration involving the high school theater department, the Colonial Theatre and the United Theatre — Towne has learned what it takes to write a play too.

On Saturday night, Towne will watch his first play come to life with a cast of professional actors before a live audience when his one-act play, "EM-PATHY," is performed at the United for the first time as a staged reading.

Towne said his play centers around two young women, both named Emma, who learn to walk in one another's shoes.

The Saturday program will mark the first ever collaboration involving the three organizations, said Brian Edward, the managing director of the Colonial Theatre.

"It's a perfect artistic trifecta," Edward said. "We hope it's a stepping stone to a more permanent program."

Edward has been working with high school drama teacher Ryan D. Zemanek, Towne and several other high schoolers during the last several months in what he calls a "theater workshop" setting. 

It's a program designed to enhance the theater program already in place at the high school, Edward said.

"Mr. Zemanek does a great job at what he does," Edward said. "The workshop is another way to get students involved in theater outside the regular school programs."

"For instance," he said, "giving Eric the opportunity to write a play and to see it performed by a professional cast. We are all very proud."

Towne, 18, was first bitten by the theater bug last fall when he played the role of Juror Number Four in the Westerly High Stagedogs' November production of "12 Angry Jurors," an adapted version of Reginald Rose's 1954 Emmy Award-winning courtroom drama, "12 Angry Men."

It was Towne's first foray into theatre and Zemanek, who directed the play, said at the time that Towne "hit it out of the park" during auditions.

In March, Towne went on to play Judge Turpin in the school's version of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," and even discovered he had a singing voice.

When the opportunity arose to learn more about theater, he joined the workshop Edward was organizing and got to try his hand at playwrighting. The result is his one-act play, "EM-PATHY." On Saturday, Edward will join fellow actors Marion Markham, Elizabeth Simmons and former Westerly High School student Hope Urbonas on the United stage for the reading of Towne's play.

"I'm very proud of Eric," Zemanek said. "He is talented young man and he put an enormous amount of work into his script. I'm pleased he'll be able to see it brought to life on the stage."

"I'm so glad he's had the opportunity to further explore theater with Brian," Zemanek added. "And I'm also glad that he and the other students will have the opportunity to work with professional actors."

"I hope it continues," Zemanek added. "I look forward to growing this working relationship."

"Education is such a big part of the Colonial's mission," Edward said. "This has been a great way to get more involved."

The Colonial Theatre has been presenting the Shakespeare in the Park Festival in Wilcox Park since 1991. In addition to the summer Shakespeare plays, the theater is committed to continuing educational programs and training opportunities designed to enhance knowledge and appreciation of theatre arts for both children and adults, according to the mission.

Edward said that Saturday's program — which is free and open to the public — will be rounded out with theatre scenes performed by the other students who have been participating in the workshop; Caitlyn Pucci, Alaina Tripp, Natalie Francese, Hope Spaulding-Tripp, Isabella Thrasher and Felicity Orlando.

One afternoon last week, Towne sat in the audience with Zemanek as Edward worked with Pucci — a junior who served as the stage manager for "Sweeney Todd" — and Natalie Francese, a freshman, as the two rehearsed a scene from Andrew Messer's "Shrinkage" — one of the pieces being presented on Saturday.

The theatre workshop students selected the pieces in which they'll be performing on Saturday, Edward said. 

The event is free, Edward said, stressing how helpful and encouraging it would be for the students to have community support. After all, he said, a Westerly High School student debuting his first play with a cast of professional actors at The United Theatre is a rather notable, exciting event.

Carly Callahan, executive director of the United Theatre, agrees.

"It's truly exciting to see the United providing a platform for Westerly High School's talented students to showcase their work," Callahan said in an email, especially "integrated with the Colonial Theater's established provenance and professionalism under Brian's expert leadership."

"The axiom 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' certainly rings true here," she added. "We look forward to seeing this partnership serve as a catalyst for us to collectively think outside the box, both literally and figuratively, and work toward our shared goal of cultivating a vibrant artistic and cultural community."

Towne has not ruled out a future in theater. Although he plans to attend the University of Rhode Island next year, he said, and major in mathematics and secondary education, he might consider a theater minor.

"EM-PATHY" will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday at the United Theatre on Canal Street.

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