Photo by Andrea Paulseth, Volume One
Blugold creativity was a driving force behind a new radio drama, “Bend in the River,” to air soon in the Chippewa Valley.
The first of eight episodes of the podcast series can be heard on Blugold Radio 99.9 FM at 7 p.m. Friday, March 23. The story follows 25-year-old David Sundby as he’s transported back to 1958 when traveling by ferry to his grandfather’s funeral in River Bend, Wisconsin — a city that’s interestingly similar to Eau Claire.
Subsequent episodes of “Bend in the River” will be aired each Friday at 7 p.m. and re-aired on Sundays at noon and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Episodes also will be available as podcasts on blugoldradio.org. The series will conclude with a live, dramatic performance of the final two episodes at 7 p.m. May 5 at The Metro in downtown Eau Claire. Tickets will be available at blugoldradio.org.
Of the 25 individuals who contributed as writers, voice actors and producers on the project, 16 are UW-Eau Claire students, faculty, staff and/or alumni.
B.J. Hollars, UW-Eau Claire associate director of English and director of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, was one of four writers of the series.
“Of the many fun projects I've been a part of over the past seven years, this, for me, best exemplifies the power of Blugolds coming together to create something larger than any of us could have ever done on our own,” Hollars says.
Joining Hollars as co-writers were three more Blugolds: Charlotte Kupsh, a current English graduate student at UW-Eau Claire who also received her bachelor’s degree in English from the university in 2014; Jim Rybicki, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy; and Ken Szymanski, who received a master of education in professional development degree in 2004 and a bachelor’s degree in English in 1995, both from UW-Eau Claire.
Writing the script as a team was “an incredible gift,” Hollars says. “Many writers, including myself, are so used to writing alone in a solitary room that the chance to do otherwise — the chance to bring a story to life with your friends — is a rare treat.”
For Katie Hennen, a UW-Eau Claire senior English teaching major, a previous stint as a theater major at another university was key to landing a role in “Bend in the River.” When she was new to UW-Eau Claire as a transfer student two years ago, she put her previous acting experience to use when reading one of her writings aloud during a class taught by Hollars. Hollars was impressed with her reading and some months later invited her to act in an earlier radio project, a live recording of “War of the Worlds.”
“I signed on right away,” Hennen says. “It was an amazing experience, so I was thrilled when I heard from him again about an opportunity to work on ‘Bend in the River.’”
As one of 18 voice actors in “Bend in the River,” Hennen plays Lucy, a radio personality in River Bend who allows callers from around the world to open up to her on the air about their fears, frustrations and anxieties. Through that call-in show, Lucy develops a relationship with the main character, David.
“She is the voice of reason for David and the audience throughout the series,” Hennen says. “She is clever, kind and far ahead of her time. As a young woman in today’s tumultuous political and social climates, she is everything that I could hope to be. She means a lot to me, and I’m very grateful to B.J., Ken, Charlotte, and Jim for allowing me to give her a voice.”
In addition to Hennen and the four writers, the following Blugolds also have participated in “Bend in the River” as voice actors or producers: Nathan Baughman, senior physics major; Jeff DeGrave, lecturer of geography and anthropology; Brett Jensen, 2009 computer science graduate; Eli Klatt, junior communications major; Jake Lindgren, 2015 theatre arts graduate; Brian Moen, graphic designer in Integrated Marketing and Communications; Scott Morfitt, Blugold Radio station manager; Mike Paulus, 1999 English graduate; Rob Reid, senior lecturer of education studies; Jason Splichal, 1999 English teaching graduate; and Paul Thomas, professor of physics and astronomy.
“Bend in the River” took 17 months to create, and the experience was humbling, Hollars says.
“It's a reminder of the power of collaboration, as well as the willingness for artists of all backgrounds to share their gifts with our region. My hope is that everyone thoroughly enjoys the series. And better still if people feel inspired to pick up a pen and write their own.”
"Bend in the River" was created with support from the Eau Claire Community Foundation.
Top photo cutline: The cast of "Bend in the River" and Blugold Radio station director Scott Morfitt record an episode in Blugold Radio's studio in UW-Eau Claire's McIntyre Library. (Volume One photo by Andrea Paulseth)