Rachel Otwell

Reporter/ The Scene Blog

217-206-6407

Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces WUIS' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Fridays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

 She's a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

Roller derby is a contact sport on wheels known for its brutality, but also its inclusivity. Anyone willing to strap on a pair of skates and protective gear is invited to join the area teams. Rachel Otwell visited with a men’s team, Springfield’s Capital City Hooligans, as they prepared for their first official bout in May.  This Sunday, the Hooligans play their first official home bout at Skate Land South. 

We thought it was a good time to re-visit our feature story:

http://werticocainandgray.wordpress.com

Combining audio and visual effects, three Illinois musicians have joined up to create an act that defies conventional genres.

The trio plays a host of electronic and acoustic instruments - everything from saxophone, to cello, to the iPad.

The group recently released an album that is 100% improvised, as well as a DVD of those performances. They call their production, "Sound Portraits".

The three will be performing live again on August 31 as part of the Chicago Jazz Festival.

Brent Schwoerer

When it comes to the beer business, craft offerings and microbreweries are becoming more popular.

The Springfield area is starting to catch up with the national trend. 

Rachel Otwell went behind the scenes of local beer-making operations to get "tapped in" to what's happening there: (For more on Springfield's history of brewing, you can find an extended interview at the bottom of this page)

How did the craft beer movement find its way to town?

Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson, the director of the Theatre Department at University of Illinois Springfield, joins WUIS to tell us about the upcoming season: 

CLICK HERE for more information about the upcoming theater season at UIS as well as info on how to audition or become part of the productions.

Most people are probably familiar with the story of 'Little Women', a novel by  Louisa May Alcott about four sisters living during the Civil War and their quests to find meaning in life and true love. What you might not know is that it's been made into a musical. You can see a local production of that this weekend at the Theatre in the Park in New Salem.

We recently spoke with three men who are part of the production; Austin Dambacher who plays Professor Bhear, Rhett Warner who plays Laurie, and Will Barnhart, the director: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Lee Somerstein is a writer and blogger traveling the country and collecting stories about how people have been impacted by the recession. He recently made a stop in Springfield and joined us in studio to talk about his findings here and in the other places he has visited:  

CLICK HERE to see Somerstein's blog, where you can read about his travels and the stories he's collected so far about the recession.

Despite health initiatives and efforts to get kids fit and active, the percentage of obese and overweight students in Springfield's district 186 may surprise you. Locally, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine is studying those rates in certain classrooms, and helping implement a national program meant to curb the trend. We recently spoke with Dr. David Steward about it, he is the associate dean for community health and service at SIU School of Medicine:  

Southern Illinois is home to Civil War artifacts and historical sites that many people don't know about, and archeologists say there's potential for even more exploration and excavation to be done. Mark Wagner heads the Center for Archeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He's speaking tonight at 7pm at the Illinois State Museum about his findings, we recently caught up with him: 

Springfield Park District

It's been a challenging year so far for the Springfield Park District. It faced a backlash earlier this year after it was discovered the former executive director had created his own policy for paying out vacation and sick time without Park Board's consent. And the fiscal situation is on lean times according to park board president, Leslie Sgro. She recently joined WUIS for this interview: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Executive director of The Legacy, Scott Richardson, and Patrick Russell, associate director joined us to talk about the eclectic upcoming season through the rest of the year and into January. Shows include a Marx Brothers inspired musical with local performers, acrobatic cats, a metal Christmas show complete with lasers and other special effects, a returning musical about a transgender rock singer... and more: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

WUIS caught up with Robert Leming on a variety of issues, including how high speed rail could affect schools in the district, his vision for changes with elementary schools, a residency requirement for school administrators, and more: 

What do an aging folk singer, a Michael Jackson impersonator, and an improv comedy group from Chicago have in common? Well, they'll all be making their way to Decatur in coming months. The Kirkland Fine Arts Center recently announced the lineup for its 2013/2014 performing arts series. We recently spoke with director of the center, Jan Traughber, about it: 

CLICK HERE for more information on the coming lineup at the performance venue on the Millikin University campus in Decatur.

The search continues for a new superintendent for district 186. So far eight people have applied for the position to head Springfield public schools. The district is currently planning a two day summit later in the month consisting of meetings among the search firm leading the effort, teachers, parents, and other community members. Board member Scott McFarland is helping plan the meetings. He says the search firm hopes to garner more applicants and then narrow down the options based on feedback from the board and the community:

New Case Of Rare Stomach Illness In Ill.

Aug 5, 2013

Illinois is reporting one new case of a rare stomach illness, bringing the total number in the state to five. The Illinois Department of Public Health says officials are still investigating the source of the illness caused by a parasite, but have been unable to link it to any food source.

Wikimedia Commons/user: Bogdan

Governor Pat Quinn recently signed a measure that makes Illinois the 20th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. But how long until it actually goes into effect? And what sort of restrictions will there be for patients hopeful to gain a prescription to the drug? WUIS's  statehouse reporter Brian Mackey recently discussed the news with us:  

The final resting place of Abraham Lincoln will be getting a make-over starting in October.

That means the tomb could be closed for up to 6 months.

Lincoln's tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery is also the resting place of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln and three of their four children.

The underground part of the monument has water damage and cracks, according to Chris Wills of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency:

The musical Peter Pan is likely one most folks are familiar with. This weekend you can see a live version of it at Springfield's outdoor theater, The Muni. Anna Bussing who plays Peter Pan, co-director Gil Opferman, and Jim Dahlquist who plays Smee recently joined us in studio to talk about the production:

CLICK HERE for more information about Peter Pan, which opens tonight. All performances begin at 8pm and run August 2-4 & 7-11.

'Sacrosanct: A Collaborative Soul Signature'  features the art of Amanda Grieve and Thom Whalen. The area artists say they usually show their work out of town - but they've come together to locally feature artwork based on their relationships with family and religion. Both were raised by artists and in the Catholic faith. Whalen and Grieve recently joined us in the studio to tell us more about their exhibit and their backgrounds:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Michael Mayosky's art is hard to miss if you live in Springfield. If you've ever been to Knight's Action Park - you've seen his aquatic landscapes stretching over the buildings. On Macarthur Boulevard, his more "trippy" murals adorn head-shop Penny Lane. And now, for his 109th Abraham Lincoln painting, he's going larger than life - much larger. But Mayosky's relative fame as a local professional artist has brought its challenges…

Alt-rock band Boon consists of members Aaron Stallone on drums, Matt Natale on bass, and Johnny Draper on vocals and guitar. They joined us recently in the Suggs Performance Studio to share a few tunes and tells us a bit about their music:

CLICK HERE for more tunes and info about boon.

Alissa Groeninger is the editor for The State Journal Register's teen section, 'The Voice'. She joined WUIS to talk about her work with the area's young aspiring journalists: 

CLICK HERE to follow updates from 'The Voice' on Twitter.

An event featuring art, music, and kids activities tomorrow (Saturday 7/26) will highlight the need for support of the arts from the community. The Prairie Art Alliance's Gallery II, located in Springfield's Old State Capitol Plaza, will have art on display and right outside musicians will perform. Rachel Otwell recently spoke with planners of the event, musician Chris Maxey and Prairie Art Alliance interim executive director Jennifer Snopko:

Called "Sharefest" - this weekend over one-thousand volunteers will gather to tear up carpet, paint walls, and generally improve the appearance of Jane Addams and McClernand elementary schools. McClernand is in the Enos park neighborhood, Jane Addams is on Springfield's north-west side.

Both were chosen to make-over based on the income level of students' families. Last year nearly 90% of students at McClernand came from low-income homes. 67% of students at Jane Addams came from low-income families. 

The Central Illinois Foodbank is moving into what once was the Pepsi plant on Cook Street in Springfield. The non-profit hosts an open house tomorrow for the public to tour the new facility. Kaleigh Friend joins us now to tell us more about the move and what it means for the organization: 

The Central Illinois Foodbank's open house is tomorrow (Thursday, July 25th) from 4:30 to 7 at its new location: 1937 East Cook Street. CLICK HERE for more information.

On the 13-hundred block of Adams street in Springfield sits a building that's been used as a Masonic lodge for decades. What's not obvious by looking at it now - is that it was once the first black firehouse in Springfield, back when the city was segregated in the early nineteen-hundreds.

Molly Beck, Education Reporter for the State Journal Register, has been covering the search for a new superintendent for Springfield public schools. Her recent article outlined the costs associated with that search. Beck joined us to talk about that article and her findings: 

The Lincoln family had its share of health problems, as did most living in the eighteen-hundreds. Local historian and author Glenna Schroeder-Lein recently wrote about it in a book called 'Lincoln and Medicine'.

She's also helped curate an exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum about medicine during the civil war era, which runs through November. Schroeder-Lein joins us to tell us more about her book and the exhibit:

Springfield guitarist and vocalist Carrie Jo Stucki also goes by CJ Thunder - and for good reason. The vivacious singer with a booming voice holds nothing back while she performs her original tunes. She's made a name for herself on the downtown Springfield circuit, frequently playing open mics, as well as with various other local musicians and bands. Stucki joined us at the WUIS studios to share some of her original tunes and tell us about her background:

Carrie Jo Stucki is joined by Dustin Strother on guitar, in this original tune by Stucki called ‘Unnamed Hymn’.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Across the world, the drilling process referred to as "fracking" has caused controversy. Some say it brings heavy profits with the oil and natural gas it extracts from far underground. Others say it's caused pollution, contaminated water... and even initiated earthquakes. It's an issue Illinois residents have been largely untouched by - until now, as fracking has recently begun in the southern part of the state.

Illinois Prairie Pastel Society

The Illinois Prairie Pastel Society aims to promote and foster creative use of the medium. It was established a few years ago, and what started with a handful of members has grown since then. The group has artwork on display at the Chatham Area Public Library. President of the group, George King, joins us now to talk about that exhibit and why the pastel society was formed in the first place.  

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