Western Carolina University’s department of communication and theatre arts and Division of Continuing Education and Summer School are ready to raise the curtain on a new summer season of theatre beginning in June.

The newly formed Western Carolina Stage Company, the brainchild of veteran WCU theatre professor and director Stephen Michael Ayers, is planning four popular plays, all with a decidedly Southern flavor, for Summer Theatre 2003 in Cullowhee.

“Greater Tuna,” by Jastin Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, will open the season June 18-22. “Steel Magnolias,” by Robert Harling, is set for July 2-6. Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” will stage July 16-20. Summer Theatre 2003 will conclude July 30-Aug. 3 with the production of “Mother Divine,” a new musical by WCU professor Laurel Vartabedian and Texas composer Bill Evans.

Summer Theatre 2003 is Western’s first step in establishing a residential theatre company as part of the Actor’s Equity Association, the professional union for actors.

“We had two primary goals in establishing the Western Carolina Stage Company, said Betty Farmer, head of WCU’s communication and theatre arts department. “First, this will give future students the opportunity to earn their equity cards, a key credential for employment in theatre. Second, this will provide additional cultural activities during the summer for residents and visitors. In fact, the response already has been tremendous. We’ve had several large group bookings before we’ve even started promoting it.”

The opening of the new summer theatre season will coincide with the second annual CulloWHEE! ArtsFest scheduled for Friday, June 20, and Saturday, June 21. The festival will feature two days of live music with performances by Collective Soul, Delbert McClinton, Nanci Griffith, Edwin McCain and Acoustic Syndicate.

All Summer Theatre 2003 performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Niggli Theatre in the Stillwell Building on the WCU campus, with 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees for all shows.

Season tickets are available for $50 for adults, and $40 for students and senior citizens. Ticket prices for individual productions are $15 for adults, $12.50 for students and senior citizens.

For more information, contact the WCU communication and theatre arts department at (828) 227-7491.