WCU students work hands-on with Broadway performers

Charlotte d’Amboise, a Tony Award-nominated performer, puts students through the paces during a recent campus visit as the inaugural guest artist of Western Carolina University’s Broadway Guest Artists Series.

Charlotte d’Amboise, a Tony Award-nominated performer, puts students through the paces during a recent campus visit as the inaugural guest artist of Western Carolina University’s Broadway Guest Artists Series.

If you can’t go to Broadway, bring Broadway to you. Such is the thinking behind the Western Carolina University musical theater program’s new initiative to bring working theater professionals into the classroom.

“They bring to Cullowhee a New York presence and a New York professionalism,” said Bradley Martin, director of the musical theater program, part of the stage and screen department in WCU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts.

The goal of the Broadway Guest Artist Series, which launched this semester, is to strengthen the musical theater program. The series not only enhances the experience of the program’s approximately 40 students, but will help attract future students, Martin said.

“We’re probably one of only a handful of programs in the United States to offer this sort of opportunity to work with professionals in the field,” he said.

The series’ two components, a guest artist program and a visiting artist program, are a complement to the Carolyn Plemmons Phillips and Ben R. Phillips Distinguished Professorship in Musical Theatre, a title now held by Broadway actor Terrence Mann. The Provost’s Office provides partial funding for the Broadway Guest Artist Series.

Guest artists accept residencies that are spread over weeklong increments throughout the semester and include a series of classes. Charlotte d’Amboise, a Tony Award-nominated dancer and actress who starred in the revival of “A Chorus Line” on Broadway, is the guest artist for both the fall and spring semesters.

Visiting artists stay for a single duration and hold workshops on their respective specializations, such as acting, dancing, singing or auditioning. The first round of visiting artists include Dave Clemmons, a casting director and voice instructor who visited in September; Christopher d’Amboise, a dancer and choreographer scheduled for November; voice therapist and teacher Joan Lader, also scheduled for November; and, in the spring semester, actress and singer Victoria Clark. A tentative visit is planned by Jason Robert Brown, a young composer and lyricist who wrote the score for the current Broadway musical “13.”

As important as introducing the students to a larger theater world, the new programs introduce the visiting and guest artists to WCU students, a fact not lost on Patrick Detloff, a WCU junior and musical theater major. Detloff has a lead role in “Of Thee I Sing,” the musical theater program’s upcoming production, directed by another visiting artist, Paige Posey, associate artistic director of the Flat Rock Playhouse. For Detloff, who knew Posey from a previous stint at the playhouse, working with a potential employer is a strong motivator. “I consider it a long job audition,” he said.

For more information about WCU’s musical theater program, call Martin at 227-2479.