Chickens on the theater-way

Minneapolis will play host to a new musical based on the life of Betty Wolden, a University of Minnesota alum who cracked the shell of the male-dominated journalism industry.

Actors rehearse a scene Tuesday night in preparation for their upcoming musical, Chickens on the Freeway, an original musical based on the life of Betty Wolden, a graduate of the University of Minnesota's journalism school and a female pioneer into the world of broadcast news.

Actors rehearse a scene Tuesday night in preparation for their upcoming musical, Chickens on the Freeway, an original musical based on the life of Betty Wolden, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s journalism school and a female pioneer into the world of broadcast news.

Sarah Harper

 

What: “Chickens on the Freeway: Film at 11 …”

When:  7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sunday (same times and days next weekend)

Where:  Minneapolis Theater Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave.

Cost:  $17-$22. Thursday performances are âÄúpay what you can.âÄù

She didnâÄôt want to be a teacher or a nurse, so Betty Wolden graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1963 with a degree in journalism. Then, with a smile on her face, she destroyed every possible glass ceiling in the broadcast news industry.

WoldenâÄôs former classmate J.B. Eckert has hatched an original musical based on her life and career, which will open this weekend at the Minneapolis Theater Garage.

Wolden became the first female TV news reporter âÄî in spite of University professors who scoffed at her chance of success, newsroom bosses who tried to corner her into covering âÄúwomenâÄôs topicsâÄù and male co-workers who never made things easier.

Andy Stevens, the main character of EckertâÄôs musical, faces similar conundrums. She deals with the often oppressive politics of a male-dominated newsroom, all the while wielding the moxie youâÄôd expect from such a pioneer. In one scene, Stevens whips out her notebook and sprints from the newsroom to jump on a scoop âÄî without stopping to get permission from her producer.

The real-life Wolden wasnâÄôt only a pioneer in the Twin Cities. She went on to rule the roost in our nationâÄôs capital. In 1980, she became Washington, D.C.âÄôs first female TV news director and managed Emmy award-winning news units before becoming the vice president and general manager of TV news station WTTG.

 âÄúAnother woman wouldnâÄôt have the impact Betty did,âÄù Eckert said, citing WoldenâÄôs smarts, creativity and amiability.

EckertâÄôs memories of Wolden âÄî which include her outperforming him on the journalism tests they often studied for together and her joining him on the staff at KSTP-TV âÄî inspired EckertâÄôs new original musical. HeâÄôs been sitting on this theatric egg for about 25 years. Eckert finally had time to write the bulk of the play while on a long cruise with his wife. He has worked with composer Jeremy Roth to create numbers like âÄúShards of My AmbitionsâÄù and âÄúThis is How We Do News.âÄù

EckertâÄôs production will not be too flashy of an affair. Although three large flat screen TVs will hang from the ceiling, the performances will be staged at the modest, unconventional space of the Minneapolis Theater Garage.

And the actors are not full-time pros. Eckert works as âÄúa grunt at MacyâÄôs,âÄù and said that everyone else has a day job too. ThatâÄôs not necessarily a bad thing âÄî at the very least, it has resulted in a company of hard workers.

âÄúOne of the largest joys is the quality of professionalism throughout,âÄù said Jeff Nordin, the productionâÄôs stage manager. âÄúIâÄôve yet to be officially grumpy about anything.âÄù

Eckert doesnâÄôt have any grandiose notions about the impact of the play. He also doesnâÄôt have any expectations. But he is confident that heâÄôs created something telling.

âÄúAudiences will be able to sit there and see that it wasnâÄôt a smooth transition,âÄù Eckert said, referring to the entrance of women into newsrooms.

Thursday performances are âÄúpay-what-you-canâÄù ordeals. Audience members are asked to bring goods to donate to WomenâÄôs Advocate Inc., a St. Paul nonprofit dedicated to providing shelter, education, advocacy and other resources to women and children who escaped domestic violence.