Play with multiple stages to tell the legend of Gadsden’s Princess Noccalula

The Noccalula experience

GADSDEN, AL (WBRC) - A play will run next summer at Gadsden’s Noccalula Falls Park, telling the story of the Cherokee princess who is believed to have given the park its name.

Brian Clowdus, a veteran of Broadway and the drama world, plans to produce a play at Noccalula Falls Park retelling the legend.

Legend has it that Princess Noccalula fell in love with a warrior from another tribe. Some accounts say the lover was Creek.

Her father, Cherokee Chief Pathkiller, wanted her to marry someone else, so she supposedly leapt to her death in the waterfall to avoid the arranged marriage.

Clowdus, a Hokes Bluff native, is the play's director and producer. He says the play will move throughout the park, even into the gorge below the falls. He says the audience will travel with the play.

“All of the work that I do, is site-specific, in really cool environments across the country,” Clowdus said. “And you know, the hopeless romantic in me, just like Noccalula, has always enjoyed the idea of coming home to tell a story.”

An Atlanta-based actress has been cast to play Noccalula. Clowdus says the hiring of actors will be Native American preferential, but he’s open to auditions from local theater groups, like the Theater of Gadsden. Clowdus says the playwright, who lives in North Carolina, is herself Native American.

Clowdus says he is open to hearing the differing details of the legend. Parts of it have been disputed, even whether her name was actually Noccalula. Some area historians says her name was Winona.

Whether the incident even happened at all is another disputed part of the legend. In the early 1990s, local historian Danny Crownover announced he had found a Cherokee symbol carved into a rock in the park's gorge. The symbol showed a tree with two branches pointing downward, which he claimed meant a suicide had happened on that spot. He said at the time he believed it marked the spot where Noccalula leapt, or possibly where her body was found.

Clowdus says the writing of the play is currently underway. He says the ending may even be deliberately vague, based on differing versions as to whether she actually leapt, or faked her death to run away from her father and her tribe.

The story has been around at least since the mid-1800s, when a published account was a poem actually depicting an Indian maiden running from a mob and jumping into the waterfall. It was previously acted out in the 1990s era musical, "In This Valley," which details the history of Etowah County. "In This Valley" is itself expected to be revived next summer. Both productions will be part of Alabama's Bicentennial Celebration.

“The Noccalula Experience” will premiere in the park May 31 and will run through July 7.

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