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Shakespeare for Kenya
February 13, 2008

Two student organizations at Calvin College are teaming up with The Bard to raise funds for Kenya relief.

Rita Feikema photoStudent Playwright Productions (SPP) and the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) will present “Shakespeare for Kenya” at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 29 and Saturday, March 1 in Calvin’s Lab Theatre. Tickets are free, and all donated proceeds will target relief efforts in Kenya in the wake of the ethnic and political upheaval there.

The production will feature 10 of Shakespeare’s most famous scenes—the witches scene from Macbeth, Hamlet’s soliloquy and the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet among them—performed by student actors. The scenes were chosen not only because of their familiarity, but because of their contemporary relevance, said Rita Feikema, a Student Playwright Productions co-chair.

“The reason we picked these scenes is because they have something to say about issues that are important today,” Feikema said. “We have scenes from Richard III and Henry V, and they’re about empires and wars and whether those should have taken place or not. There are definite political and social overtones to these plays. Shakespeare wrote for the political and social climate of his time.”

The Shakespeare will be presented sans frills to allow the audience to focus on the importance of the text and how it resonates with the crisis in Kenya, Feikema said. “Most of us here weren’t very familiar with what was going on in Kenya until we heard about it on the news—and it really caught our attention when the Calvin Interim trip to Kenya was cancelled because of political unrest.”

The student playwrights are relying on the Social Justice Coalition to lend their more comprehensive knowledge of the Kenya crisis to the performance, Feikema said. The two organizations will collaborate on a lobby display about the situation in Kenya, and an SJC member who has lived in Kenya will give a pre-performance talk.

“Rita approached us about this opportunity for collaboration with Student Playwrights, and we were happy to oblige,” said SJC co-chair Amy Jonason. “I am thrilled that students from other organizations are taking an interest in current events and social justice issues and exploring ways that their work can speak to those things.”

The playwrights, who count 24-Hour Theatre and SUSHI Theatre among their perennial events, hope to draw a crowd from well beyond the Calvin perimeter, said Feikema. “The past several leaders of Student Playwright Productions have felt that we have to get more involved our community,” she said. “Part of that is getting outside the immediate community, the Calvin bubble. To hold a benefit for our extended community was one of our goals.

The students were inspired to marry their art with political conviction by the example of another playwright who did just that: Vaclav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. “He used his position as a playwright, which isn’t normally thought of as a position of great political influence, to have a great influence in the formation of a more liberated society,” Feikema said.

The choice of material just came naturally. “What actor doesn’t like to do Shakespeare—especially the well-known parts of his play,” she said. “It’s like the center of the cinnamon roll or something.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson


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