CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University’s Black Theatre Ensemble is the recipient of a $3,270 grant from the Gannett Foundation to assist in the expansion of the organization’s mission of sharing the African-American experience through performance.
The grant was facilitated by the Asheville Citizen-Times, part of the Gannett family of newspapers, and was announced recently by Laurel Vartabedian, assistant professor of communication and theatre arts at Western and faculty adviser to the Black Theatre Ensemble.
“The communication and theatre arts department and the BTE organization are grateful for the support of the Gannett Foundation,” Vartabedian said. “I believe the grants committee recognized the importance of this program, and they can be assured that students will put the grant to great use.”
The Black Theatre Ensemble was founded in 1986 by Al Wiggins, who retired in 2001 from the Western faculty and was recognized for contributions to human relations in the state with a North Carolina Governor’s Award for Excellence. The ensemble typically performs one production per semester on the WCU campus, and has taken its shows on the road throughout the South and Midwest in past years.
Funded by student fees and ticket sales from its performances, the group has accomplished a great deal with very little financial support over the years, said Vartabedian. “This grant effectively doubles our budget, so we are all pretty excited about it,” she said.
Vartabedian wrote the grant proposal after the ensemble’s biggest endeavor to date – last spring’s production of the musical “Ain’t Misbehaving.”
That show, which featured the music of Fats Waller, played to standing-room-only audiences and spawned a renewed interest in Waller’s music on the campus, she said. It also prompted the group to seek additional outside funding to enhance its programming, expand its outreach to the region and the state through performances in K-12 schools, pay the higher royalty fees necessary to do top-quality shows, and bring in guest artists to share their talents with ensemble members and audiences.
Former Broadway actor Rudy Roberson, who recently moved to Western North Carolina, has joined the theatre arts faculty as a part-time instructor this semester and will serve as faculty director for the Black Theatre Ensemble for the spring.
The Gannett Foundation, a corporate foundation sponsored by Gannett Co. Inc., serves local organizations in those communities in which Gannett has a local daily newspaper or television station. The program makes contributions through grants and a matching gifts program to qualified nonprofit organizations to improve the education, health and advancement of the people who live in those communities.
For more information about the Black Theatre Ensemble at Western, contact the department of communication and theatre arts at (828) 227-7491.