Students, faculty, staff take on roles for ‘Sci-Fi Double Feature’ radio production

Members of the cast and production team for “A Sci-Fi Double Feature” look over a set of blueprints for the Nautilus submarine from “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” prior to a recent rehearsal. The radio show will be presented Tuesday, Oct. 31, at WCU’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Colin Wasmund, theatre instructor in Western Carolina University’s School of Stage and Screen, has announced the cast for the upcoming radio production “A Sci-Fi Double Feature” that will feature H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” and Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

This is the ninth in a series of annual academic-based entertainment productions mounted in collaboration with three departments and two colleges at WCU. Wasmund is directing the show while Bruce Frazier, the university’s Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, is serving as musical director and Don Connelly, head of the Department of Communication, is writer and producer.

The radio production will be staged before a live audience at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for faculty and staff, and $5 for students. Proceeds from the event are used to fund scholarships in the participating academic departments.

Each of the shows in the series hearkens back to the “Golden Age of Radio,” featuring a live orchestra and sound effects and produced only once before a live audience. The production group has won eight national broadcasting awards for its unique projects. The Oct. 31 show will be recorded for future radio broadcast.

Actors will include WCU students, staff and faculty, and members of the community. “We were met with an incredible turnout at our auditions,” Wasmund said. “With that amount of talent, our casting decisions were extremely difficult, but we were incredibly fortunate to have such a turnout.”

David Evanoff, a nanomaterials chemist and head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, will portray the Actor in “The Time Machine” and Captain Nemo in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Evanoff has worked with the group several times before, taking on roles in productions of “Dracula,” “Tarzan of the Apes,” “Robin Hood” and “Blackbeard’s Ghost.”

Eric Eichenlaub, theatre instructor in the School of Stage and Screen, will portray the Time Traveler in “The Time Machine.” Eichenlaub, whose specialty is dialects, will be coaching the actors in both shows to ensure correct period and regional dialects.

Howard Allman of Sylva, a WCU alumnus, plays the role of Professor Arronax, a French professor of marine biology who is captured by Captain Nemo in “20,000 Leagues.” Allman was previously in the group’s production of “Tarzan of the Apes” and “Blackbeard’s Ghost.” WCU freshman Alaina Newell was cast in the role of The Editor in the “Time Machine.” The Editor is a nonbeliever in time travel and challenges the Time Traveler with her logic and arguments.

WCU student cast members in “The Time Machine” include freshman Mica Pratt as Weena and sophomore Kaitlin Rose Jencks as the voice of the Eloi. Student cast members in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” include sophomore Caleb Gerber as Captain Farragut and junior Matt Howie as Ned Land.

Several of the cast members also play smaller secondary roles, which was quite common in the early days of radio, Connelly said.

“The performance will be the first time in more than 70 years that the two shows have been produced for radio, let alone done back-to-back in a double feature,” he said. The original scripts were written by Robert Lee and Jerome Lawrence as a part of their “My Favorite Story” radio series. Lee and Lawrence went on to write Broadway plays such as “Inherit the Wind,” “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” “Auntie Mame” and 30 other major theatrical productions.

Connelly said he worked with the two authors’ families to secure permission to produce the shows. “What surprised me when I received the scripts is that they were copies of Lee and Lawrence’s personal scripts with their handwritten notes and comments from the original broadcasts,” Connelly said.

As the show’s composer and music director, Frazier created an all-original musical score for the production. The tones and colors of the music will highlight the shifting emotions of the drama ranging from action and adventure to an eerie late-night encounter with the Morlocks in “The “Time Machine,” Frazier said. For “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” he composed a special theme for Captain Nemo’s pipe organ aboard the submarine Nautilus.

The WCU Artist-In-Residence Orchestra, conducted by Frazier, will provide musical accompaniment for the show. The ensemble represents a partnership between the university and the Asheville Symphony Orchestra in which WCU students play alongside professionals in a collaborative orchestral experience.

The orchestra will open the evening with symphonic masterworks including two Halloween orchestral favorites – Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Danse Macabre,” Camile Saint-Saens’ masterpiece for solo violin and orchestra. Violin soloist for “Danse Macabre” will be concertmaster Mariya Potapova. Frazier said the music “will showcase the virtuosity of the ASO string players and the excellent artistic abilities of the university’s music students.”

Funding for “A Sci-Fi Double Feature” is provided by WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Department of Communication, School of Music, School of Stage and Screen, and the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowment.

Tickets for the performance are available at the Bardo Arts Center box office, online at this website, or by calling the box office at 828-227-2479. The show starts promptly at 7:30 p.m. and no one will be admitted after it has started. The production group has raised nearly $40,000 in student scholarship funds through its radio shows through the years.

For more information, contact Connelly at 227-3851.