Waynesboro grad writes play about Amish shootings

July 28, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- The treadmill whirred while Jessica Dickey ran at the gym in New York City on Monday, Oct. 2, 2006.

She was only half watching the television screen in front of her when something snatched her attention, something that would hold her attention for the next two years.

The first mention of the Amish school shooting in Lancaster County, Pa., shocked Dickey so much that she paused in her running and fell off the back of the treadmill.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It just immediately grabbed me, and I was immediately heartbroken," said Dickey, a 1997 graduate of Waynesboro Area Senior High School.


Charles Carl Roberts IV, who spent most days driving a milk truck, that morning went to the West Nickel Mines School. He took hostages in the one-room schoolhouse and fatally injured five girls before committing suicide.

"There was something about this that felt so personal, and I don't think that's unique to me," Dickey said in a recent phone interview. "A lot of people felt that way."

Dickey fictionalized the events in her one-woman show "The Amish Project." Her work debuts during the New York International Fringe Festival in August and will be performed at least seven times during that festival.

"Every year I go to see between 10 and 20 Fringe shows. It's sort of a thing you do in the New York theater scene," said Dickey, who moved to the city in 2001.

Like many, Dickey said she found herself rendered speechless by the immediate gesture of forgiveness demonstrated by the Amish community.

"What if as a culture we could adopt that kind of attitude?" she asked.

Dickey, 29, began to work over those thoughts and turned to them when she wrote the 70-minute show, which is told from the viewpoints of seven characters. Among them are the gunman and his widow, as well as two Amish girls.

"I really think the play is about how forgiveness can reverberate, how a simple act of forgiveness, especially in the wake of such horrific circumstances, can reverberate through a community," Dickey said.

Dickey will spend the next two weeks rehearsing in the bonnet she plans to wear. She'll leave the bonnet on when portraying male characters because she feels it creates questions about innocence within the gunman, she said. Dickey also thinks playing all the characters will intrinsically demonstrate the similarities of people.

Dickey read the script in Waynesboro earlier this summer and was touched by the feedback she received from the hometown audience. Many of those audience members also provided financial sponsorship for the play, but Dickey said funds are still needed.

Writing is a relatively new venture for Dickey, who is an actress by trade. She's found that much of her writing thus far focuses on discoveries about spirituality.

"I really want to write about things that matter," Dickey said.

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