Jeanne Leep’s journey
Monday, August 11, 2008
By Jeanne Leep
My time at Calvin came at the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. I was in the last group to work with Professor Ervina Boeve. I was in the last show that she directed. I learned from some of her former students, by then full professors in their own right. And I was just a dorky kid from Indiana, always doing characters, always interested in theatre—actually kind of weird to the people on my floor in Boer-Bennik, I think. Being involved in Thespians, now known as CTC (a name change I fully support, for the record) helped define me. All the plays on which I worked at Calvin helped push me on the path I am currently traveling. While I was at Calvin, the new lab theatre was built under the chapel. I was a freshman for the final production in the old lab theatre in the FAC. Not long after that, the faculty changed, Ervina officially retired, and I went to grad school to study theatre in more depth. Now I am a Ph.D. in theatre, and I teach at Edgewood College, a small liberal arts college in Madison Wisconsin.
And in my office at Edgewood, amid lots of memorabilia and other souvenirs from years of shows and theatrical undertakings, I have only two production posters hanging. They are from two shows that changed my life. One is of A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, directed at Calvin by Dr. Patricia Blom, now Vandenberg. The other is a poster of Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, which I was fortunate enough to direct.
I never thought for one second that I would play a leading lady-but lordy, did I want it. I’m not sure to this day that, if I saw a video of A Streetcar Named Desire at Calvin, I wouldn’t cringe in horror at my acting choices-or lack thereof—but getting a chance to play Blanche Dubois gave me the confidence to consider a life in the theatre for real. But what exactly would that life be? I didn’t know. I went to the University of Michigan and got an MA in theatre, and promptly after finishing my thesis was hired to direct a play at Calvin, which I would get to choose. I picked Dancing at Lughnasa, then a new play by Brian Friel about faith and family, tradition and memory. Getting to direct that play in the Gezon opened doors for me that I hadn’t expected when I accepted the job. Mainly, it taught me a great deal, mostly though my own error, about collaboration, casting, colleagues and everything else that theatre is. I hung around GR for a while, directing plays and co-founding an improv group. Eventually, my journey led me back to grad school where I completed my Ph.D. And now it seems that everything in my professional life now somehow ties back to my time at Calvin.
Dancing at Lughnasa made me a director-that’s how I define myself now in the art: as a director and a teacher. A Streetcar Named Desire gave me a passion to believe in myself and to perform. Improvisation at Calvin, at first done just for fun as both a student and an alumni blossomed into the topic of my dissertation. To that, in January of 2005, I went Florida to perform with River City Improv at Palm Beach for an alumni event. And just as I was considering playing Ervina Boeve in an improvisational spoof of Jepordy, who should walk in the door but Ervina and Edgar-both in suede and looking awesome. I got to talk to them both afterwards. I’m so grateful that I had an opportunity to thank Ervina for what she taught me. I still have the books from her classes. I still use them. She was wearing a charm bracelet with a little wooden shoe on it. She hugged me and I felt welcomed back to her theatre family. She remembered me—all kinds of details about me. It still blows me away. How many students did she have? Yet she called me by name and asked about my family in Indiana.
But the most significant productions? Well to me, there’s the two I mentioned above, and probably two others: Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot, the last play that. Ervina Boeve directed and which I was fortunate enough to be in. In that play I also got to say the awesome line: “my bowls dissolve in the light of dawn.” I was just in the chorus of women and spent a lot of time watching the Boeve’s dog, Martina, sleep on the floor of the new chapel during rehearsal. Was it a fantastic production? Maybe not. But DOING a PLAY in the NEW CHAPEL at CALVIN COLLEGE. Right there, that’s significant. Theatre was finally completely and undeniably legitimate on campus. And who better to direct that show than Ervina Boeve. And, finally I would also include Professor James Korf’s production of The Glass Menagerie as one of the most significant. We always called Professor Korf just “Korf,” and I am grateful to him for many educational gifts, including the life changing experience of a trip to London which he led during interim. But in 1968, Korf directed his first production at Calvin,The Glass Menagerie. That was also a time of transition, from a one woman theatre “club” to an actual department. For me, though, The Glass Menagerie is also the play I picked for my design project in Korf’s design class. Then, at the University of Michigan, I wrote my master’s thesis on that play. And I finally directed it myself in Wisconsin a few years back. And Korf directed it in 1968, the year I was born.
So what are the standouts on that list? They are the deeply personal ones. The one’s which, like any great piece of art, move you, change you, and make you who you are today. And today, I’m Dr. Jeanne Leep; Ph.D; tenured associate professor of the Communication Arts Theatre Program at Edgewood College.