CULLOWHEE – A musical comedy penned by Laurel Vartabedian, assistant professor of communication and theatre arts at Western Carolina University, has been accepted for FringeNYC, the seventh annual New York International Fringe Festival.
Often called the largest multi-arts festival in North America, Fringe NYC attracted some 48,000 people last year.
Vartabedian’s play, “Mother Divine,” will be staged as part of the Aug. 8-24 festival, with Western theatre arts faculty and students as director, cast and crew.
The play is based loosely on the real-life exploits of an African-American Harlem evangelist named Father Divine. In the show, death, taxes and required vows of celibacy create mayhem in Father Divine’s mission in 1930s-era New York. The first Mother Divine seeks revenge from the grave when her 60-year-old evangelist husband (who claims he’s God) marries a 20ish blonde.
“The facts surrounding his remarriage are true,” Vartabedian said. “Father Divine called his new wife ‘Mother in the Second Body,’ and the return from the grave of the first Mother Divine is the plot twist that propels the tale.”
The play will be directed by Stephen Michael Ayers, associate professor of communication and theatre arts at Western, who will cast and rehearse the show locally this summer before taking the production to New York in August. Rudy Roberson, visiting professor of theatre arts, will serve as choreographer for the play, assistant professor Jim Manning will serve as technical director, and Bradley Martin, visiting instructor of music, will be musical director. Other on- and off-stage roles will be determined later.
“This represents a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talents of Western students, alums and faculty members,” said Betty Farmer, head of the department of communication and theatre arts. “The show will be labeled ‘a Western Carolina University production,’ which will put our university’s name up in the marquee lights of New York City. Obviously, lots of producers and investors attend this festival, which means some of our students and recent graduates could be discovered.”
The musical “Urinetown” premiered at the festival in 1999 before it went on to Broadway, where it won several Tony Awards, Farmer said. “In fact, the writer of ‘Urinetown’ credits the FringeNYC festival for its successful development,” she said.
This marks the second time that an original work by Vartabedian has been chosen for production at a New York City festival. Her musical “American Story,” which chronicles a stand-off between immigrant coal miners and the Rockefeller Empire during a major strike in Colorado in 1914, enjoyed its East Coast debut in August 2000 during the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Pantheon Theatre in New York, where it won “best of festival” honors.
For more information about Western’s upcoming New York City production of “Mother Divine,” including details on how to audition for the show, call the department of communication and theatre arts at (828) 227-7491.