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75th Anniversary: Alumni Profiles

Henry Baron '60

Henry Baron '60Regretfully, I spent only my senior year at Calvin. Thankfully, Ervina Boevé accepted me as a Thespian. I still remember fondly “strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage” with such fellow Thespians as Bob Haan, Roger Heerspink, Lois Holkeboer, and Jim Heynen. One day, after a final rehearsal of J.M. Barrie’s The Lady Shows Her Medals, I left the make-up on when going to my junior high class as a student teacher. That was a hit. They wanted  to know all about the play, and after that I could do no wrong.

After graduating from Calvin in 1960, I became an English teacher at South Christian High School in Cutlerville. Soon I was also getting involved in directing the school play (e.g., Cheaper by the Dozen) and co-directing musicals (e.g., The Red Mill by Victor Herbert). After Ervina’s tutelage as both drama director and teacher, it seemed a natural calling. But it also gave me an appreciation of the all-consuming nature of a director’s task. Unless one embraces that task as a calling with the power to bless both cast and audience, one should think twice before assuming such an enormous responsibility.

I came to join the English Department at Calvin College in 1968. Though an English prof’s work is never done, the stage continued to exert its pull. As one who always loved both music and drama, I soon joined The Calvin Alumni Players’ Gilbert & Sullivan productions. These were hugely popular for many years and great fun to do. Later I played Madame Lucy in Calvin’s production of the Broadway musical Irene, directed by John Vreeke. In another Summer Theatre Boulevard production, Marc Klein directed the cast in Tom Stoppard’s Enter a Free Man. When the Calvin Theatre Company decided to stage Purpaleanie under the direction of Vern Meyer, I jumped at the chance to participate. Stanley Wiersma had been a dear colleague and friend whose untimely death hit all of us hard. Along with Henrietta Ten Harmsel, I had done readings from Purpaleanie on a number of occasions; this stage production would be a celebratory way of honoring Sietze Buning’s memory by bringing to life the faith and foibles and fun of the characters he had so vividly and lovingly rendered in Purpaleanie.  For the cast and audience too the performance turned into a moving and deeply satisfying experience. And more recently, now no longer pursued by a continuous avalanche of term papers and tests to grade, I was persuaded to once more rise to the challenge of learning lines, dab on the make-up, and step in front of the lights as part of the cast in Jean Giroudoux’ drama, Tiger At the Gates memorably directed by Debra Freeberg.

When acting is a fire that burns within, as it does with the best, it needs tending. I lay no claim to belong to that category. But there was a time when I felt young Hamlet in my blood, urgent in his insistence to be embodied. Later it was Macbeth. I never played either one. Now King Lear’s mad raging against the dying of the light might be more appropriate to my age, though not my stage in life. One does not always get to play one’s wished-for parts on stage. Still, I was blessed to teach literature in which I could and did try on many parts, not only to dramatize scenes from Shakespeare but also from Hawthorne and Twain and Frost, and many others. My students often joined the “cast” and got a taste of the need to get inside a scene and character in order to render something of their truth. For the Thespian within us finds an ongoing need to transform words on a page into something that comes alive in the imagination and leaves its footprint there.