David Van Dyke '84
After graduation, I worked in Christian publishing in west Michigan for a couple of years, then I worked briefly in the Michigan legislature. I performed in several Alumni Players musicals during those years, too, and even choreographed two junior high school musicals in Jenison. These activities were very enriching, but I really wanted to teach, so after looking at the marketplace and my interests and skills, I started applying to Ph.D. programs.
I landed at the University of Minnesota in a thriving German program. Based on my background from Calvin, I was asked to direct and produce a play by Georg Kaiser my first year (I did EVERYTHING!), and the next year a colleague and I put on Max Frisch's Andorra. For the next several years I studied and taught German in the department while my dissertation took shape. Perhaps the most important thing I did during these years was to lead worship and preach from time to time in several Christian Reformed churches in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I finally defended my dissertation in August 2002 while working in college administration at the University of Minnesota. After short teaching stints at Michigan State and UC Riverside, I'm back in academic administration; I've just finished my second year in Academic Records and Registrar at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
My experience on the stage at Calvin was invaluable to me as a teacher and a preacher; both require a knowledge of and rapport with one's audience, not to mention an ability to improvise when things don't go quite right, despite everyone's careful preparation. To be sure, an effective class and an effective worship service require the same detailed planning as the theater requires, even though there are obvious differences. Also, I would never have completed my dissertation on the most turbulent period in German drama without the practical foundations in theater and Mrs. Boeve's course in theater history I gained while at Calvin.
In graduate school I sensed that Christian faith is not welcome in the academic world; some colleagues and mentors mocked and even pitied confessional Christianity more than once in my hearing. However, I think I got the last laugh in my doctoral research by using a relational psychoanalytic model as the critical approach for my study of German Expressionism, which posits that the human can only exist and thrive in relationship with other humans and with ideals larger than himself. While that statement might not seem very profound, it challenged the dominant conclusion within psychoanalysis of decades ago that the objective of human growth is autonomy. By contrast, the model I chose claims that humans are never truly autonomous but (inter)dependent. Anyone who knows John Calvin's argument in the first book of his Institutes of the Christian Religion—that man cannot know himself except through knowledge of God and that knowledge of God depends on true knowledge of self—will appreciate the important parallels between these two seemingly different schools of thought. While I do not use theological terms like "fallenness" to describe German Expressionist drama, the distortion or even collapse of sustaining relationships with others and with the suprahuman are at the root of the pain that the Expressionists portrayed with such excruciating clarity.
For all my castmates and me, I know our favorite theater experience at Calvin was Godspell. I still relish the simplicity of the production, the sheer joy of each performance and the warmth from every audience. One unforgettable personal experience happened during The Emperor's New Clothes, when I had to walk up and down the Gezon stairs wearing my skimpy royal underwear surrounded by 300 shrieking grade school children. Mrs. Boeve told me that she would be at one performance, and she positioned herself in a seat on one aisle. When I marched past her, I'll never forget seeing her convulsing in laughter with tears streaming down her face. Only a few people know the real reason for her reaction, and it has nothing to do with a wardrobe malfunction. Also, I loved walking upstairs to the finance office with Jeff Nyhoff in between afternoon matinees of children's productions. We would go in full costume and make-up and withdraw $20 from our student savings accounts just to shock old Betty What's-Her-Name who used to work there. By our senior year she finally cracked a little smile when we showed up!