Radio re-creation group to present ‘Blackbeard’s Ghost’ in March

The award-winning creative team from Western Carolina University that already has destroyed the world with its presentation of “War of the Worlds” and paid homage to the early broadcasts of the Cotton Club with its “golden age of radio” re-creations has announced its selection for spring 2016.

“Blackbeard’s Ghost and the Queen Ann’s Revenge” will be the eighth in a series of academic-based entertainment productions mounted in collaboration with three departments and two colleges at WCU and will be under the leadership of director Peter Savage, music director Bruce Frazier and writer and producer Don Connelly.

The show will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 17, in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Tickets will be sold for $10 beginning Monday, Jan. 11.

This image of the pirate Blackbeard comes from a woodblock print created by Outer Banks artist Glenn Eure. The original is kept at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Visitor Center on Ocracoke Island. (Used with permission of the artist)

This image of the pirate Blackbeard comes from a woodblock print created by Outer Banks artist Glenn Eure. The original is kept at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Visitor Center on Ocracoke Island. (Used with permission of the artist)

Each of the shows in the series hearkens back to radio’s heyday, featuring a live orchestra and sound effects and produced only once before an audience in the Bardo Arts Center. The group overseeing the productions has won seven national broadcasting awards for its unique projects. The 2016 presentation will be recorded for future radio broadcast.

Actors in the show will include WCU students, staff and faculty. Auditions are set for Saturday, Dec. 5.

“I am really excited about the opportunity to work on a new piece in a medium with such a rich history,” said Savage, visiting assistant professor of acting in the School of Stage and Screen. “At one time, radio plays were a chance for families to gather together and have a communal experience. While many contemporary podcasts attempt to re-create this unique form of storytelling, the fact we will be staging ‘Blackbeard’ before a live studio audience presents many wonderful opportunities and exciting challenges, not the least of which is giving students the chance to work right alongside their professors and mentors. Don’s original script and exhaustive research brings this time period alive and will allow listener imaginations to dance upon the high seas.”

“Blackbeard’s Ghost and the Queen Ann’s Revenge” is an entirely new story about the most famous pirate of all time, Connelly said. This is the sixth show the professor and head of the Department of Communication has researched and written for the group. “Many of the people and all of the locations used in the script are real,” he said.

“There are some who say Blackbeard and his ship still sail the waters off the Outer Banks,” Connelly said. “The story takes place during the early part of World War II and is based on what occurred just off Nags Head in an area of the ocean known as Torpedo Junction. Nearly 400 ships were sunk and some 5,000 people lost their lives to Nazi U-boats before the attacks suddenly stopped.

“The Coast Guard played a pivotal role in defending the coastline during the war. I was honored to speak with a 94-year-old former member of the Coast Guard who was stationed at Nags Head during World War II to get details for the story,” Connelly said. In addition to eyewitness accounts, the Coast Guard historian’s office in Washington, D.C., provided Connelly with a previously classified Coast Guard document that shed a lot of light on the story. Concerning the issue of why the U-Boat attacks suddenly stopped, “I’m not talking,” he said.

Frazier, WCU’s Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor in Commercial and Electronic Music, created an all-original musical score for the show. “The musical underscore for the production draws upon a broad range of themes and influences,” he said. “The tones and colors highlight the shifting dramatic emotions of the drama ranging from swashbuckling adventure to tender romance, eerie late-night visitations, military flourish and, of course, maritime battle.”

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

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the winds players and percussion students in the School of Music to perform with professional string players in our region,” Frazier said. The opening of the program before the broadcast features symphonic masterworks played by the orchestra including Hector Berlioz’ grand overture to “The Corsairs,” with its “swirling strings and pulsating brass underscoring the escapades of those masters of ships and the sea,” he said. “That work and others that follow showcase the virtuosity of the ASO strings and the excellent artistic abilities of the university’s music students,” Frazier said.

Funding for “Blackbeard’s Ghost and the Queen Ann’s Revenge” is being provided through the 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.

The March 17 show starts promptly at 7:30 p.m., and no one will be admitted after it has started.

All proceeds from the event go into student scholarship funds in the participating departments. The group has raised nearly $40,000 for scholarships through the programs.

For more information contact Connelly at 828-227-3851.