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For decades, the opulent Shea's theater has been filled with people coming to see movies, musicals, dance performances, big band, orchestras, even rock groups.

But now, something different: The "audience" takes center stage at "Party on the Stage at Shea's" from 5 to 9:30 p.m. next Thursday. sept. 9 With hosts Rising Stars and Buffalo Trax, this event marks the first time the public can get onto the newly expanded stage, which takes up 7,000 square feet.

Partyers -- the space will accommodate 600 -- will eat vegetable quesadillas with fresh salsa; marinated, grilled beef and Thai chicken dumplings from Daffodil's Restaurant. They'll drink beer, wine and martinis.

And everyone will listen to these local bands: 53 Days, Michael Oliver and Go, Dog. Go!, Bread Gone Wry, and Alison Pipitone and the Cash Cows.

The Rising Stars, a group of young professionals, is raising money for Shea's as it has for the past few years. Tickets to this party are $9.99 in advance, in honor of the date, 9/9 /99.

"We refuse to believe there will be any computer catastrophe on that date," said Karen Phillips, Rising Stars chair person. (Buy tickets at Sheas's Ticketing Services Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 pm. Saturday or charge by phone at 847-1410, Ext. 124. Procrastinators pay $15 at the door, if it's not sold out.)

Karen Phillips, a teacher at Riverside Institute of Technology, (the old Riverside High School), joined Rising Stars in 1996, served as secretary for 18 months and was elected chair person in July. We caught up with her to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on the party:

How did the party come about?

We thought it would be exciting to do something to let people see what the experience was like to be on stage.

It's amazing to be on stage because you can look at where the old stage ended and see just how vast the perimeters are now. It's exciting to look out, even with no one sitting there.

And we thought Thursday would be good because people are used to being downtown from Thursday in the Square. It's always disappointing when that's over and people are not out of the summer mode yet. So we thought we would have one more downtown Thursday party.

What will the atmosphere be like?

There will be bistro tables, along with smaller sit-down tables along the edge of the stage. But people won't be allowed to sit in the house because that's too hard to monitor.

How will you accommodate the bands?

We'll have a mini-stage on the big stage. The bands will have an acoustic set, not as many amplifiers as they usually do. No one will get blared off the stage. I saw Bread Gone Wry at Thursday in the Square and I know they'll have to tone it down.

Does the idea of being on stage stir any acting dreams?

Actually, I'm interested in drama therapy. I'm about to pursue acting classes. I'm looking into Studio Arena's program right now.

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