The “visual era” of Calvin theatre begins
James D. Korf, professor of theatre, 1968–2007
James Korf began his illustrious 39-year teaching career at Calvin College in 1968. A college speech major and teacher in the Zeeland public school system, Korf came to Calvin to teach public speaking, but was soon tapped to work in the theatre program designing and building scenery for the plays. “What they really needed,” Korf said, “was someone to help out Ervina Boeve’,” the one person theatre department. When Calvin College realized that Korf’s contributions could be invaluable in the area of theatrical design and stage directing, what had begun as a sabbatical replacement was quickly converted into a permanent position.
In 1980, Ervina Boeve handed the Thespians over to Korf; he served as director of theatre for 7 years. During this time he directed both Thespian shows each year and designed scenery for everything the department produced—as many as eight annual productions. As a director, he has led many successful and meaningful productions. He points to plays like The Children’s Hour, The Diviners and The Physicists as opportunities “to say good things about important topics.” Certainly one of Korf’s most memorable productions was Godspell in the spring of 1982. “The kids were out there celebrating the goodness of God and the joy of the Lord,” Korf recalls. “Every one of them knew they were beyond themselves. The whole auditorium was filled with the Spirit.”
Jim Korf’s contributions to the design aspect of the theatre program elevated Thespian stage productions to visual art and put Calvin College productions artistically on a par with major universities. Through talent, hard work and high standards, Korf is responsible for founding “the visual era” of Calvin theatre. His scenic designs are breathtaking in their architectural splendor, painstaking detail, and theatrical flair. Audiences have been transported to the white birch forests of Russia, austere New England meeting houses and the majestic palaces of ancient Greece. His graphic designs also promoted Calvin theatre and the communications arts and sciences (CAS) department with stunning visual eloquence.
Intrigued by the possible use of television as a vehicle for renewal in a fallen world, Korf drew on his graduate school television production courses and helped found a fledgling media studies program at Calvin. His single, practical course, “Technical Aspects of Video” led the way in the CAS department to the creation of majors in telecommunication, mass media, film studies and media production, and greatly contributed to the total number of majors in the department—over 360 students.
His standards for excellence on the stage, in the television studio and in his graphic design work gave rise among his colleagues to a new adjective: Korfian. If a work is to be considered to be Korfian, it must, first, be physically large and imposing, second, it must be conceived, designed and executed with a superior sense of style, and third it must be accomplished with complete humility and personal grace.
For twenty-five years, Jim Korf straddled the two worlds of theatre and video, directing and designing plays and producing documentaries and promotional videos for the college and the Christian Reformed Church.
Korf helped the speech department flourish into the department of communication arts and sciences, which is now housed in the state-of-the-art DeVos Communication Center, a place Korf often called, “the promised land.”
Korf’s tenure at Calvin College was marked by his genuine love for teaching and for working with students. Students seemed to gravitate to his office for both academic and personal advice. His genuine affection for them, his fatherly compassion and his philosophical musings were always dispensed freely and received eagerly.