Western Carolina University’s original radio broadcast adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” will be staged at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 24.
What makes the evening’s program so unique is the approach that director Steve Carlisle, music director Bruce Frazier, research director Brian Gastle and producer Don Connelly call “academic-based entertainment.” “Dracula” is the group’s fourth project.
“Our entertainment projects are different because of the research that goes into the evening’s performance and the academic work done by students and faculty to support the show,” said Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College. “We are very likely the only people in the country doing this sort of thing. There are four departments and three colleges participating in this project that unites students and faculty from a variety of disciplines in every aspect of the show. It’s a thrill to see students from different disciplines collaborating with one another and everyone learning new things.”
The “Dracula” cast features students, faculty, staff and professional actors from across the university and the region. The orchestra for the production is composed of WCU music faculty and students and strings from the Asheville Symphony Orchestra with Concertmaster Jason Posnock as violin soloist.
Designing the music to “Dracula” was a fun task for composer and conductor Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music. The setting of the radio drama conjures music from the realm of darkness. Orchestral masterworks such as “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky, and Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” will be performed in the opening portion of the program. Other highlights include performances by vocalist Dan Cherry, who will sing “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera,” and a dance troupe lead by Karyn Tomczak, choreographer and director of WCU’s dance program.
Frazier’s music for the radio play is inspired by the works of composer Bernard Herrmann, creator of such chilling films scores as “Psycho” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” “The music underscores the dramatic performances in the radio play with haunting melodies, strange harmonies, eerie instrumental colors and textures scintillating the senses,” said Frazier. “It evokes the majesty of ancient castles on Romanian peaks, cries of beasts in the night, the smell of damp earth in wooden coffins, the taste of… well, you get the picture.”
Meanwhile, students in an English literature course taught by Brent Kinser, associate professor and director of the literature program, received an early draft of the script and began poring over it comparing it to the original work. The students are preparing a number of papers on Stoker, and some will be published in the program for the show and presented in a poster session in the lobby of the Bardo Arts Center before the performance.
“This is a great opportunity to highlight the work of English students,” said Gastle, head of the Department of English. “The poster session before the show and the program are a showcase for their outstanding work.”
This is the second show in four years for which Connelly, head of the Department of Communication, has written the script. His first show won two national broadcasting awards for the group. “‘Dracula’ was a challenge from the standpoint that there are 27 chapters in the book to cook down into a 60-minute radio program,” said Connelly. “Stoker’s original work is so vivid, and I wanted to stay as true to the original work as possible. Unlike a play that can run as long or short as the author wishes, a radio broadcast is timed to the second. Every word, every second of musical underscore and every sound effect is timed and accounted for. It’s like trying to juggle a bowling ball, a grapefruit and an egg; that’s what makes it enjoyably challenging.”
Carlisle said there is a lot of professional respect and trust among the show’s participants. “Each element of the show is created and worked on as a unit,” he said. “It is not until three days before the live performance that all of the components come together on stage for the first of three rehearsals. We are taking a bit of a liberty here since during the golden age of radio there were usually only two rehearsals, one in the morning and one in the afternoon on the day of the show. We get one chance to get it right the night of the show.”
Attendees are encouraged to arrive early to see the lobby display that features some of the artifacts often associated with “Dracula.” Luther Jones, assistant professor of theater, created the display of items referred to in the broadcast, including one of the 50 coffins used to transport sacred earth from Dracula’s castle to England. Just like the show, the lobby display was researched to make sure the items on display are an accurate representation of what Stoker referred to in his book.
The show starts promptly at 7:30 p.m. and no one will be admitted after it has started.
All proceeds from the event benefit student scholarship funds in the participating departments.
Advance tickets are suggested and can be purchased at the box office of the Bardo Arts Center, online at bardoartscenter.wcu.edu, or by calling 828-227-2479. All seats are $10. The show is not appropriate for small children.