Remembering Thespians Susan Bernbaum Rhea

Friday, August 15, 2008
By Susan M. Rhea (Bernbaum, ‘92)

When my mother alerted me to the article in the Spark calling for submissions about Professors Korf and Boevé, my mind was instantly and utterly flooded with memories of my time as a member of Thespians and as a student of theater at Calvin. As images of people and places (and rehearsals and classes and auditions and costumes and sets…) rushed by, I thought to myself: How will I even begin?

I had Professor Boevé for Theater History – the dreaded Theater History! – and my keenest memory of that class is how Ervina made it work, made it matter, made it interesting.  Her infectious energy and enthusiasm for all things theater just pervaded the classroom; she made Noh drama both fascinating and relevant, as she did with commedia dell’arte, with the morality plays of the middle ages, with all of it.  She was a great teacher and an inspiration; as the driving force behind the theater program, Ervina was a true visionary. She and her wonderful husband, Edgar, shaped much of my love for the arts through their teaching, their personal encouragement of each student in their care, and the great wisdom they freely and generously shared with us.

And Professor Korf!  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!  I really don’t know where to begin, or how to rightly honor this lovely man, this teacher and mentor who so gently and firmly guided his insane students in our theatrical pursuits.  Korf was our great defender, our biggest fan, our surrogate father during our time in the theater program.  His office was a safe haven, and he never turned anyone away when they came looking for him – whether for insight into an assignment or a play, for advice on a theatrical project, or simply for a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.  As a theatre director and designer, his work was clean, inspired, and smart; I learned more than I can possibly define here just watching him work. As a man and teacher, his quiet kindness was infectious, and he nurtured us and gave us opportunities. Korf believed in you.

I learned and grew so much as an actor and as a person during my time at Calvin, basically all of which was spent at the theatre.  I slept little, read a lot, and learned how to listen to grow.  Korf directed me in Candida – my greatest gift from him – and as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.  Korf, do you remember that voice we came up with for her? I still conjure her up now and then, just for fun. The theater company for which I now work – alongside my husband, Mark, its founder and artistic director – just completed a run of Earnest, and as I watched the final dress rehearsal, the memories of our Calvin production came rushing back.  What a blast we had, and Korf’s direction struck the perfect balance, the perfect pitch, for Wilde’s greatest comedy.
So. I cannot say enough about the legacy of Professors Boevé and Korf (and I could have written novels, too, about the inimitable Professor Blom! And Deb Freeberg! Dave Leugs!!!!!), and I think it’s impossible to overstate their contributions to the theater department, the communications program in a broader sense, and the lives of those of us who had the honor of being taught and guided by them.  What they have given to Calvin College can’t be quantified.

With greatest love and respect,
Susan M. Rhea (Bernbaum, ‘92)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008
By Debra L, Freeberg

Welcome to the Calvin Theatre Company Weblog! 

We have begun documenting memories, our plans, and tributes to theatre program founder, the late Ervina Boeve, and her talented colleague James D. Korf who recently retired from the theatre program. Moreover, we will post your memories which you can submit either through the Calvin Theatre web page form, or through the comments section of this weblog. You may also email me at with photos to add to this site as well!

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John Vreeke email

Monday, August 11, 2008
By John Vreeke

I’m a Calvin Grad…last summer (2007) I was out to visit my friend Bernice Houseward in Grand Rapids, Bernice also a former Thespian, where we were able to visit Edgar and Ervina Boeve…she was in hospice care, but lucid and happy to see me.  It had been perhaps 30 years.  She died a few days later and I’ll always remember that visit, very glad to have made the effort.

She kept up with my career. She talked about how proud she was of me and how she always knew I was gay…she understood how difficult it was for a young gay man, in theater, at Calvin…she was intensely supportive and loving in that bedside meeting…I was always terrified that she would find out while I was a student.  It’s unfortunate that the CRC still practices bigoted beliefs when it comes to part of God’s creation. She had great influence on how I approach theater productions as at that time (1968-1972) she directed and taught the classics…I was involved in every production that Thespians did for the four years I was at Calvin.  I was also the president of the then Thespian organization.

Jim Korf was in his first year the year I began my studies at Calvin…he directed the Glass Menagerie and I was his assistant director. Ervina directed me in numerous plays, but the one I remember the most was Waiting for Godot… One of my first directing experiences was Pinter’s The Caretaker that I did in the lab theater when I was a senior…never will forget that as well.

I’ve been with my partner, Rick Lambert for 30 years.

Here’s my web site. Check it out and you can see what I’ve done since I graduated from Calvin:


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Shyrl Cone quick memory

By Shyrl Cone

Hi there,

I saw your blurb in the Spark about Ervina. Wow, what a lady!  I was not a theatre major, but was raised to love and value culture, history and art.  I not only took a speech class from her, but I went to New York and England with her and Edgar.  Those two trips taught me more about culture and the arts than I could have ever learned in a classroom.  My England trip was my college graduation trip from my parents (I’d loved the NY trip so much that I wanted to go on another trip with them).  I frequently, 20 years later, pull out my pictures from those trips and relive the fabulous experiences - I could never thank them enough for what they did to make those trips possible.

My hat’s off to a talented, generous, influential lady!

Shyrl Cone (class of 1985)

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Dr. Jack R. Van Ens

By Jack Van Ens


My wife Sandy (Broene) and I participated in Thespians during stormy years. The Chimes crowd stirred up a gargantuan protest with its spoof The Bannaner. Some who lived through this era might overlook how Thespians created an even more radical theological revolution in the CRC house. Yes, it’s had more impact, even if it wasn’t as splashy as the riot against conformity the Chimes protesters incited. They acted like Thomas Paine, attacking enemies from the front. Thespians depended on Thomas Jefferson who used indirection to change naysayers. Ervina Boeve mastered this art. Confidant and husband Edgar Boeve, whose artistic flair produced sets for plays, ably aided her. What a team!

In the 1960’s, many in the Christian Reformed Church dismissed drama as an idle pursuit. It often was too silly and even might surreptitiously undercut catechetical preaching. Drama seemed to these critics too enticing. It engaged people at empathetic levels. It embraced more than speech with a theological twist uttered rather soberly from behind a pulpit. As a pre-seminary student, I was expected to major in either Greek, Dutch or classical history. Mrs. “B” drew me aside, making me promise never to divulge what she was about to tell, until after her death. She said preachers were in the communications business. So, major in English literature and Communications. The other majors were too stodgy or—to use a description the 1960’s overworked—far too irrelevant.

My wife Sandy had major roles in plays. I remember especially her as a very feisty Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The first play we did as freshman thespians was “Cyrano de Bergerac,” at the venerable Saint Cecelia Auditorium. Not all our plays displayed a rollicking pace. Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” looked grey on stage. Its sober themes made it so.

What Ervina and Edgar did to ignite a revolution in the CRC house started quite innocently. They formed a traveling troupe to perform Charles Williams’s “House by the Stable” as well as “Grab and Grace.” We played churches, Christian and secular campuses, and alumni/ae gatherings, traveling as far west as Colorado. Seldom did we get permission to lead worship, using these plays. Nor were we allowed to do them in sanctuaries, except in rare circumstances when a pastor was branded a renegade who skipped outside the lines of ecclesiastical protocol.

This troupe traveled during the 1968-1969 school year as well as in the summer of 1969. Sandy played on stage a key role. I was somewhat wooden as an actor, so Mrs. “B” invited me to introduce the plays, lead the discussion afterwards, and be a somewhat erudite convener of differing opinions audiences expressed.

What CRC audiences began to surmise is that Jesus was not a sermonizer as much as an imaginative storyteller who spun verbal dramas. Talk about a revolutionary insight! So convincing was this thespian experience that I now carry on the lively tradition. I engage in a specialized ministry of drama, portraying Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Jefferson.

How did Thespians ignite a rebellion against assuming God’s truth is most effectively communicated through mere spoken words undramatically imparted? Like Jefferson who claimed his revolutionary insights in The Declaration of Independence were old truth cast in new forms, our Thespian troupe uncovered an ancient Hebrew conviction. It is called hochma, the science of the heart. Yes, tap an audience’s intelligence. But don’t stop there, as so much traditional Reformed preaching does. Tap feeling, too. Tap perception, often too deep for mere words. Wrap these godly gifts in story that’s compelling, hearty, funny and full of dramatic intrigue. Lure the audience into a shared story. Let such drama ooze into our psyche and permeate our hearts, even as it enlivens the mind. Let it tap our sympathies, shape our understanding and ripen our affections. This is hocma in action.

How did I express the revolution the “B’s” ignited? My fading notes still flash with their ardor for the dramatic affect Jesus shared. Here’s how I introduced the plays in 1968-1969:

The plays given this evening are two contemporary morality plays, “The House by the Stable” and “Grab and Grace,” written by Charles Williams. As you probably know, morality plays were very popular in the medieval period when the Roman Catholic Church sponsored them.Consequently, they became closely bonded to Roman Catholic liturgy.

The most famous medieval morality play is Everyman (sic), based on Roman Catholic theological emphases. Everyman needs good works. He must remain virtuous in order to enter heaven. Charles Williams, on the other hand, offers a Protestant emphasis. In these plays, Man (sic) has a free choice; he is given alternatives. God sustains Man. God girds Man. God literally pulls Man up through abundant grace when he is about to fall.

What’s very important to realize is that the characters—Grace, Faith, Pride, Hell, Man are not individual persons but personifications of ideas. Lacking this insight, some people mistakenly think Williams is sacrilegious, or—to use a good Dutch-ism- spoutin.

Neither of these plays is complete in itself; they complement each other. The first play, “House by the Stable,” deals with Man’s confrontation with the incarnation event. But we as Christians know Man is still going to be tried. So God sends Grace and Faith to help Man to ward off Hell and Pride. After all, Christ didn’t come to save us from temptation; He came as an example of how to combat temptation.

Yes, dramatic hochma won the crowds. It instigated a revolution. By God’s serendipitous way with us, it might even have converted a few souls. At least it accomplished that to one thespian—me.



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