Riverland Theatre Unpacks Local History with 'Wilson's Girl'

Release Date: September 25, 2019

Categories: Riverland News Area Media Stories Media Release

Riverland Community College Theatre kicks off their 2019-2020 season with the play Wilson’s Girl: Unpacking the Beef in a Minnesota Town.

In this world premiere, local Minnesota playwright Eva Barr adapts Cheri Register’s 2001 memoir about coming of age in Albert Lea during the 1959 Wilson’s meatpacking plant strike. The play spans the inciting moments of the strike to the violence and divisiveness that resulted, but it is Register’s personal awakening to the meaning of class in her life as the daughter of a blue-collar worker that provides the universal hook. As Register’s grandfather might have put it, class is one of those “disquieting” subjects that applies to us all.  In a first for Riverland Theatre, this play will be performed in nontraditional spaces on both the Austin and Albert Lea campuses. Some material may be inappropriate for children.

Wilson’s Girl is adapted for the stage by Eva Barr, based on the memoir Packinghouse Daughter by Cheri Register, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Susan V. Hansen directs. The set and sound design is by John Deyo. Costumes are by Emma Waters. Brianna Ahlbrecht is the stage manager.

Wilson’s Girl stars Brianna Ahlbrecht, Sarah Brinza, Jon Cochran, Ed Dreyer, Emily Funke, Krista Johnson, and Faith Rautenkranz.

Director Susan Hansen says, “This story is uniquely relevant to our area, our communities and yet has a wider appeal to workers, families, and other communities who do the work in their towns. Businesses like Wilson’s and Hormel have shaped other communities. I grew up in Austin as a Packing House daughter, my father having worked for Hormel for over 30 years. I returned to Austin 15 years ago, and have witnessed the major changes in our community that have shaped who we are today.”

Playwright Eva Barr will be in residence at Riverland Theatre during the production, offering her insights and artistic collaboration during rehearsals as Wilson’s Girl is staged for the first time. She will also be giving a lecture on her artistic process adapting Packinghouse Daughter into a theatrical work on Tuesday, October 1 at 12 p.m. in the Riverland Community College Library (Austin East Campus). Barr says, “I chose to adapt Packinghouse Daughter for the stage for a number of reasons: because Cheri Register’s voice is so clear and compelling that it’s a treat to work with her words; because she grew up in my hometown where incredible things happen every day; because it documents a sadly bygone era in Albert Lea’s history; because some people won’t pick up a book, but they might sit in an audience; because the subject-matter, meatpacking and growing up, will be relevant as long as we eat meat and grow up; because the book takes on essential questions of being ‘American,’ of being human, and takes us to places we might not go on our own.”

Barr will also be teaching a playwrighting workshop for Riverland students on Tuesday, October 8 at 2:30 p.m. on the Austin East Campus. The workshop is free to attend.

In a first for Riverland Theatre, Wilson’s Girl will be performed in two different locations, both in non-traditional venues. The show will be performed on the Austin Campus (1900 8th Ave NW, Austin, MN 55912), in the West Building Cafeteria, on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., and Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. The following weekend it will be performed on the Albert Lea Campus (2200 Riverland Dr., Albert Lea, MN 56007) in the Commons, on Oct. 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. All performances will be followed by a post-show discussion with the playwright, Eva Barr, and local history experts.

Individual tickets to Wilson’s Girl are $13 and currently on sale at www.riverland.edu/tickets 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Seating for Wilson’s Girl is general admission. The online ticketing system allows customers to pay by Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover. Tickets may also be purchased at the Riverland Box Office, located in room E107 in the East Building of the Austin campus. Box office hours are Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and one hour before performances. Riverland students receive two free tickets to each performance with a valid student ID. Contact the box office at 507-433-0595 or by emailing boxoffice@riverland.edu.

Riverland Theatre strives to provide quality productions that are entertaining and challenging to both the audience and the artists.  Because we reach such a diverse audience, some audience members may find some subject matter, language, or situations objectionable. If you have concerns about a specific production, we encourage you to become familiar with the material before attending the performance.

Riverland’s Theatre Department is a high-energy performance-oriented program. Plays produced vary from classical tragedy to modern comedy and from full-scale large cast musicals in intimate small cast plays. Students are encouraged to get involved in all areas of theatre production including, but not limited to, acting, stage managing, set building and painting. Strong academic offerings provide challenges in and out of the classroom.