Category Archives: Theatre

Career change, gumbo and Cordon Bleu

Choices. Choosing Tim Scholten for my first Lunch with Marjorie (first published in 2002) was simple. He is the most naturally funny guy I know. My husband agreed. He’s funny.

But when talking with Tim about his decision to switch from a dream career in broadcasting to selling radio advertising, Tim turned serious.

We paused to tackle the Rockton Inn lunch menu, a clear dilemma for Tim.   Unknown

“It’s a dead heat between navy bean and seafood gumbo in my world today,” Tim’s blue eyes sough help from me.

“Gumbo? Good? Bad?”

“The gumbo’s great, very New Orleans,” I assured.

“I’m on it. Sold!” he proclaimed.

“Sandwich?” I asked.

“Man oh man, a lot of good things to eat. The chicken Cordon bleu special, and yet the barbecue sandwich is also tempting.”

He opted for the Cordon Bleu; I had the Oriental chicken salad.

Growing up in Beloit, Wis,, Tim’s teens were filled with sports, cello and plays. He loved performing. “Unknown-1

I was at Startlight (Theatre) in the mid-‘7os. I did Music Man with Jodi Benson, who went on to be The Little Mermaid.

Unknown-2   Jodi Benson! I was impressed.

Tim wasn’t.

“She was in the chorus. She was nothing, and I was nothing. We were nothing together, and it was fun.”

The year Elvis died, 1977, Tim went off to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, to major in radio and television.

“I had a fantastic advisor there,” he remembered.

“A guy named Jim Duncan, and he sold it for me. All those years, he was the voice of the Drake Relays, America’s athletic classic.” Unknown-3

Des Moines broadcasting began for Tim with weekly co-hosting stints at KRNT, reporting campus news. Then he became head statistician for The Drake Sports Network.

“That was wonderful, he said. “I would copy down all the statistics during all home Drake men’s basketball and football games. And both sports were Division 1. And he would look at my stats, and he would check with me, and I wouldn’t really say anything at all, but we became a linked unit, and a guy named Larry Morgan, who is now the voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes on television.”

Tim had the sports bug, the news bug.

Post college, his career began at Beloit’s radio station, 1380 WBEL, on air as The Jock. He left to co-anchor the now defunct Beloit Cable News.

“Then my friend, Jerry Huffman, made it possible for me to work for WREX-TV,” Tim explained. Tim became the first Rock County reporter in 1983.

“I was kind of an experimental guinea pig there,” he said.

“They sent me out with my inferior equipment, but I did have my own station vehicle. And, I would take it back to my apartment every night, wake up early in the morning and they’d say: ‘OK, you need to go out, cover it, take pictures.’

images    We worked till 6:30pm most nights, editing what I had shot, writing what I had shot, and producing the stories. That’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in the media.”

A few bumps and station changes moved Tim to news reporter for WIFR-TV.

Spring 1987, Tim married Lisa Johnson, and made a dramatic career change. I realized his gumbo-navy bean struggle was somewhat thornier than the decision to leave broadcasting.

“Was it an emotional decision?” I asked.

“Yes, but Marjorie, I can tell you that reason in five words: Fourteen thousand dollars a year.”

He couldn’t support his family on that salary. Lisa was a dental assistant. She was the breadwinner in the soon-to-be-family.

“She was out-earning me,” he said.

“A little bruising to the ego? Hard to give up celebrity status?”

“A little bit. But that doesn’t put food on the table. I doubled my income with the stroke of a pen.”

“Regrets?”

Cordon Bleu. He liked it.   Unknown-5

“Gumbo?” “It’s a spicy, hard-hitting gumbo. I’ll make it through,” he said.

“It’s all part of the culinary experience.”

“Career choice? Are you satisfied with your accomplishments?”

“So many people answer that question the wrong way: It’s my Beamer, my Lexus, my yacht, my getaway place,” Tim explained.

“Wro-o-ng! It’s your kids!” He added, “I’ve seen it backfiring for others. The guys on the second, third, fourth marriages, scrambling to find out what it is when all the while, it’s right in front of them.”

Tim’s choices clearly had brought him joy. He gets animated talking about coaching youth baseball in his hometown, and spending time with his sons, who both also have the sports bug.  Unknown-4

Tim still does some creative commercials, voice-overs. But he is primarily a father, a people-person.

“I don’t live to work,” he shared. “I work to live. You reap what you sow. That’s the total philosophy. Life’s a trade-out.”

A heart for Community and Starlight Theatre

Mike Webb was one of only four graduate students to earn an M.F.A. in directing from Michigan State–too tough for most. They had recruited him at Milwaukee Repertory and wanted a stage manager with experience. Mike wanted a graduate degree in directing.

So Frank Rutledge, Chairman of the program at Michigan State, said, “Nobody’s completed it in 14 years, but you’re welcome to try.”

Mike has never avoided a challenge, evident since 1085 when he became head of theatre at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill.

Mike and I lunched at Mary’s Market Bistro on Perryville in Rockford. I was late, so Mike had eaten. Too bad. I love Mary’s. But I grabbed a juice and got right to our chat.  Starlight_1

“There’s been a lot of press about Starlight Theatre,” I began, knowing that back then this landmark in architecture and Rockford theatre was making news in the post-September 11 depression, felt heavily in Rockford.

“There’s always a little jealousy,” he said. “Starlight couldn’t have been done anywhere else int he world, because of the people who came into the project, when they came into it, and how it was going to be done. The community needed a shot in the arm, something to believe in. Basically, what happened, the building was named for Bengt Sjostrom. He had passed away back in 1983. they went to the brothers and said, “we don’t want your money; we just want your expertise. They built the original seating bowl for nothing.”

“It’s about community.” I echoed.”

“It’s a 100 percent about community. The reason everybody got involved. We were ahead of the curve on technology. I called Jeanne Gang, such a cool architect (and) said it would be really nice if we could open the roof. She had friends. She was in New York and went to Tim Macfarlane, the famous London architect.,” he explained.

Starlight_3

“I just wanted a roof over the audience. I didn’t want to have to stress over rain anymore. Time did a pencil sketch, showing how it could work, but told her, ‘You won’t be able to afford me.’ He didn’t take a fee.”

“You evoke heart from people,” I said.

“I gave up so much for this: time, energy. I didn’t get extra money for this. You think $12 million is a lot of money. It’s not a lot of money when you look what we got out of it.”

Mike searched for the right words. When they were shoring up the roof, there was a problem. They sent it to Tim.

“He said, ‘I made a mistake. Don’t worry about it. I’ll make this right. I’ll take care of the whole thing.’”

Sjostrom shored up the roof; Macfarlane paid the bill.

“It was a huge bill, out of his own pocket, and he didn’t take a fee in the first place. That’s the story! That should be celebrated, triumphed!”

One school day, there were people in the building.

“I walk out and it’s Tim, in from London. He said, ‘Are you happy?’ I said, I’m thrilled. He said, ‘It’s beautiful.’”

Tears welled up in Mike’s eyes because of this man who had given so much and on top of it gave even more.

“Is your life about Starlight?”

“Yes, and family. I’ll give casting priority to somebody whose parent wants to be in a show with a child who has a dream of performing. Putting family into a positive thing that’s not watching television. Creating something to give back to the community is really important.

“I bought a rock. It’s right as you walk in the main door. In each tier are the names of the people who poured their heart and soul into Starlight. As people came into the project, key people, their names went in. In the bottom bracket are the workers who gave so much of themselves. For example, Joe Maring (Schoenings), had been working hard on painting, getting the colors right. The weather wasn’t cooperating. I was walking with him and he said, ‘I’m going to be able to tell my grandchildren that I helped with this building.’ I said, Joe, I can do you one better. Come here.

I pointed to the rock, and all the sudden he sees his name, and tears were coming down his face. It was real important to thank these people.”

Mike continued, “In the middle of construction, Sjostrom wanted rocks from the original buildings. Now, ever single one of those guys who never went to live theatre at all are buying season tickets. Not only that, they’ve become donors. These are the coolest people on the entire planet, giving money to a theatre they believe in.

I can die a happy person, because that is exactly what I’m all about–giving people’s lives meaning.”