art frA cold wind howls through the campus of Western Carolina University as the screams of a young woman echo from a nearby building.

The voice is Stefani Cronley and her attackers are a gang of apes.

A sophomore theater major, Cronley is rehearing her characters for the upcoming radio recreation of “Tarzan of the Apes.” The show will be performed in front of a live audience at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.

“It’s a great experience, something totally different from any type of training I’ve done before,” she said. “It’s all for the ear, so it’s more about working with your voice and trying to channel every emotion into it.”

The WCU reenactments of classic radio shows — now in its fifth year — conjure the “golden age of radio,” where the power of imagination and adventure come together through a collaboration of words and sounds.

“It can be challenging to create an antagonist who isn’t a character, and create it from sound effects,” said Steve Carlisle, director and associate dean of the Honors College at WCU. “It’s about establishing that in the minds of the people in the audience and those listening to it on the radio.”

The projects involve four departments and three colleges at the school. Each show features a live orchestra and sound effects, which are only performed once in front of an audience. All of those participating in the broadcasts receive support from artist-in-residence funds from the College of Fine and Performing Arts in partnership with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and Carol Grotnes Belk Endowment.

“We’re bringing together all of these different departments, which can be very tough to do,” Carlisle said. “It’s all about putting students, faculty and members of the community together and be involved in a project.”

With this year being the centennial year for “Tarzan of the Apes,” writer/producer Don Connelly contacted Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. about his plans for a hour-long radio show based on the 1932 radio serials written by Burroughs. Head of the communication department at WCU, Connelly was thrilled when those in charge of Burroughs legacy allowed the project to come to fruition.

“One thing lead to another, and I cannot tell you how excited I was when we got the call that the board of directors of the company had approved the project,” Connelly said.

Not to be confused with the cozy Disney versions of the jungle character, this program will focus on the back-story of Tarzan and his love interest, Jane.

“Our story spans from when Lord and Lady Greystoke are put ashore in Africa by a mutinous crew until the time when Tarzan and Jane meet,” Carlisle said.

Brian Gastle, the literary researcher for the project, points to Burroughs as a pioneering author who was the first writer to transition his works into comic strips, radio, film and television.

“‘Tarzan of the Apes’ was first published in 1912 and over the last 100 years there is not one element of popular culture that Tarzan has not been a part of worldwide. Everyone knows about Tarzan,” he said.

Sitting in the recent rehearsal, one is immediately transported into the dense and dangerous jungle. The eerie sounds of wild animals only add to the tense story of the Greystoke’s harsh existence in the unforgiving landscape. Soon, they birth a son, Tarzan, only to fall victim to a gang of apes, ultimately leaving the toddler to become part of the animal kingdom. Cronley, who plays Lady Greystoke and Jane, was attracted to the parts because they were derived from the original version of “Tarzan.” For her, the experience ties together her current studies and future aspirations of working in the film industry.

“The emotional things behind doing the parts is a big challenge and it supplements what I’m learning in the classroom right now,” she said. “It’s so great to be able to use all of our skills to get in touch with the emotions.”

Showcasing the roles of Tarzan and William Clayton, Dave Evanoff, assistant professor of analytical chemistry at WCU, enjoys the challenge of performing for an audience by focusing on provoking their imagination with spoken word.

“You have to put everything into your voice, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an animated person,” he said. “You have to think about the emotion of the scene and put all of that into your voice so that somebody else can picture it.”

Music director Bruce Frazier composed an entirely fresh score for the production. The Carol Grotnes Belk Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music at WCU, Frazier wanted his music creations to focus on the tone of fantasy and adventure that resided in Burroughs’ stories.

“My inspiration for the music is the awe and wonderment of the jungle,” he said. “It is a setting that is both majestic and sinister, and the music reflects this dichotomy. It is into these surroundings that Jane enters and the story is transformed into one of love and passion.”


Want to go?

The radio reenactment of “Tarzan of the Apes” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 per person and can purchased at the box office. Proceeds will be used to fund scholarships in participating academic departments.

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