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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