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75th Anniversary: Alumni Profiles

Kiff Vanden Heuvel '92

I have a general communications degree, but I always said I had dual emphasis in film/tv and theatre. I don’t know if this is notated anywhere other than in the margins of my old notes. That however is exactly how I’ve lived my life and made my living since graduating, a health balance between tv/film (and radio) and theatre.

Since graduating, I got started in the film production business in the fall ’93, thanks to Quentin Schultze and Ken Wales, who held a slot open for me on the set of “Christy”, an hour long dramatic series for CBS, based on the beloved Catherine Marshall novel. I worked for two seasons on the show before it wrapped in Tennessee as an office production assistant and utility sound on set. This invaluable experience built on what I had learned at Calvin. It was working on Christy and watching one actor in particular, Randall Batinkoff (who played David Grantland), and getting to know him that re-kindled my love and desire to also perform.

After the show wrapped, I got my first agent, thanks to some recommendations from the local day players on Christy, and booked a commercial for GMC and a couple industrials. I was also cast as Heck Tate in “To Kill A Mockingbird” at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville.

I became a multi-media producer/director and I performed in the theatre productions at BGSU, where I got to play Biff in “Death of a Salesman” and sing/perform the voice of Audry II in “Little Shop of Horrors”. I began my voiceover career in Toledo, OH in 1999 and have been working steadily in that arena since.

My friends and fellow Calvin grads Mark Evan Jackson and Mary Jane Pories were teaching and performing at Second City in Detroit. I started taking classes, was cast, and eventually in 2001, joined the Main Stage cast in Detroit for 3 sketch comedy reviews. During that time, I donated a kidney to my father, I became a member of the Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and Equity, and was cast in Billy Crystal’s HBO film “*61”. I gave up my “straight job” as a multi-media producer, and went freelance. I’ve been a freelance artist ever since.

Since we moved to Chicago in 2006, I continue to pursue writing, acting, directing for theatre, you name it. I am currently directing a Touring Company for the Second City Chicago, teaching at the Second City Training Center, and auditioning frequently for TV, film, video games, industrials, commercials, live events, and theatre. My “dual” emphasis really paid off.

My wife in also an accomplished actress and our daughter is closing in on her 2’s, so she’s acting up.

Theatre has influenced my life most noticeably in the way that it’s never left me. From Calvin to… next week Monday, I still am auditioning and trying to work in front of a live audience. As a further update, I was actually cast in the role I auditioned for at the Goodman Theatre! The show is called "The Crowd You're In With" and rehearsals run from the 21st of April, 2009 until we open on June 21st, 2009. Very exciting!

I performed the role of Mitch in Calvin’s 1990 production “Streetcar” with Jeanne Leep, and there was a moment in that play that heavily affected the trajectory of my life in the theatre. It’s the scene where Mitch and Blanche are having this sweet, awkward date. Mitch says, “My weight isn’t a very interesting subject to talk about. (beat) What’s yours?” It’s such an honest little moment, and I loved playing that scene every night, looking for that fat juicy laugh that lay at the end of that line. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the nature of comic moments in particular, trying to create them through improvisation and then re-create them time and again.

Dr. Patricia (Blom) VandenBerg told us to look for the love, “play the love”, rather than “playing the hate” in our scene work. It’s so much more interesting. That has helped me immensely not only in theatre but also in life. I feel that we are called by Christ to live that way, and I find it interesting that a simple direction for a scene could have such long reaching impact and implication, even now.

Some of my favorite random moments in Calvin College theatre:
- Throwing balls of energy back and forth with Kerry VanderGriend and Dave Groen in the lower Gezon Lobby to warm up before a show.
- Doing improv workshops with Debbie Kirby. I think those workshops may have lead to River City Improv somehow. Ask Jeanne or Tracy, but I’m pretty sure they did. Still love playing Rewind.
- Smoking SO MUCH during Street Car Named Desire. You could never do that now. Felt like Mad Men. It was terrible for us, but I felt so grown up and professional. Horrible. One of my favorite memories.
- Bringing in a TERRIBLE draft of a ridiculous one act to David Leugs, and he worked with me over the course of a semester to make it stage-able and funny. It underwent 20 some odd drafts. That was when I learned to become a writer.
- Screwing up an entire first act of sound cues for Mass Appeal at tech and getting cussed out by Korf, then fixing it completely by the second act run through 15 minutes later. Nothing like stepping up to the plate and hitting a line drive for Jim Korf.
- Getting to know Bill Romanowski. I’m currently the national voice of Advance Auto Parts, and the voice I’m doing is my impression of Bill, with a hint of Lewis Black.
- The BatCave, Smorg, Abstract Man, and…
- Ervina Bouve. I still think often about our intro to theatre class. She showed us Waiting for Godot with Burgess Mededith and Zero Mostel. She gave me the only “A” I got in any Theatre class at Calvin. I’m pretty sure didn’t earn it. I felt like I was in the Theatre mafia. And…
- Lionel Basney. Cast me in Caucasian Chalk Circle my freshman year. Introduced me to Brecht. Amazing man with an amazing voice. Fellow Alum Chris DeJong always said that when he spoke it sounded like the sound was coming from beneath the earth. Miss you, LB. Sorry for the lousy papers. I could have done better.


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Kiff Vanden Heuvel
Graduation year

Calvin major
General CAS, “Dual” Emphasis on TV/Film and Theatre

Further education
Continue to take workshops on my craft to this day, but no degree track education since graduating Calvin.

Favorite roles/crews
The Colonel in Shaffer’s BLACK COMEDY, Mitch in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

Quirky Fact
I used to dress up like Batman and run around campus at night.  I worked at Pine Rest while at Calvin on the Children’s and Pre-Adolescent units and after a whacked out evening shift of working with abused/neglected/messed-up kids and pre-teens, dressing up like Batman and running around at 1am was the only thing that made sense to me at the time.