Redeemer University’s Theatre Arts Mainstage offers students and audiences an artistic avenue for engaging the complexities of human experience and behaviour including traumatic circumstances, difficult relationships and harsh language. When challenging material arises, audiences are invited to enter the same process of reflection and discernment from a Christian perspective that students have explored in class and rehearsal, understanding that the university does not endorse all that is portrayed or expressed in each production.
Written and directed by Redeemer’s own Professor Ray Louter, Stranger in the Land is the story of Anne Vander Berg, a woman coming to terms with generational trauma and her connection to the people who immigrated to Canada after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. What are the stories and secrets that seem to disturb this woman born long after the war has ended?
First performed at Redeemer in 1995, this play is being re-mounted to celebrate the 75-year liberation of the Netherlands by Canada and the United States. The performance will premiere digitally via the link above on December 12. While you’re waiting, check out the post-show Zoom discussion below between Director Professor Raymond Louter, lead actress Severine Salvador and former lead actress Pastor Karen Sheil.
Because Stranger in the Land is being released digitally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tickets will not be sold for live performances. By supporting this project with a financial gift, you’ll help offset performance costs and allow Redeemer and the wider community to experience this impactful story that commemorates an important time in history while celebrating the tenacity of survivors who clung to their faith in a world forever changed by war and immigration. Learn more and make a donation here.
Twenty-five years ago, I gathered together a handful of stories that I hoped captured the experience of my Dutch immigrant ancestors. I grew up on stories of the war, the occupation, and especially the immigrant experience, and I knew there was a play in there.
Collecting stories for Stranger in the Land in 1995 was a moving experience for me. The process connected me to my family, and to some of my colleagues, in ways I had never experienced before. When my partner, Julian, suggested the title, I felt it all came together.
One of the stories included in the play comes from the late former President of Redeemer University, Henry DeBolster. He spoke with me about his relationship with his brother, which appears in the play as story of Harm and his sister Hilde. Talking with Rev. DeBolster taught me so much more about who these people really were. I especially remember the sadness in his face as he talked about a church that split during the “hunger winter” of 1944-1945. “What were they thinking?” he said to me.
That first version of Stranger only hinted at what I sensed I’d have to return to one day—war trauma. What was—what is—the inter-generational story of the Dutch after WW II? How have the events of that time affected all those connected to them? What is the emotional and spiritual aftermath of occupation and war?
The character of Anne in Stranger in the Land (2020) begins the play not as a lecturer (as in 1995) but as a broken person in a psychiatric hospital, journeying into her inner world where she suspects her grandfather lingers. She observes, interrogates, and finally separates herself from the people who have brought her into this world. There is less triumph at the end of this version but much, much more humanity.
Stranger 2020 has also given me the space to crack open what was a taboo subject to me as a child, the story of the moffenmeid Corrie. Dutch women who had romantic relationships with German soldiers were always spoken of in the most derogatory ways when I was younger, and I didn’t understand why. Originally, I had just wanted to create a compassionate space for Corrie, but this time I wanted her to be integral to the play—and to Anne. In the earliest version, Corrie’s voice almost disappears, but in this version Corrie is right there at the end, and she asks harder questions of us as an audience. Her presence and her voice are welcomed this time around, and I am glad of it.
Rehearsing and designing a show during the current COVID-19 pandemic imposed an unprecedented set of constraints on us all. Design money went to videography, and actors rehearsed in masks the entire time. Sanitizing stations and semi-private actor stations dotted the backstage area. Our connections with one another were challenged by the rules of social distancing. In a strange way, we felt the constraints of COVID-19 as like unto the constraints of occupation. It was difficult to reach each other, touch each other. There were times when we thought we’d have to say goodbye to ensemble members because of exposure to the virus, and times when administrators had to think creatively about our needs to create this community. I am grateful for the creativity, flexibility and thoroughness of everyone’s work.
I also want to acknowledge the beautiful efforts of friend and mentor (and former student) David Van Belle, who is now writing and creating in the Alberta theatre community. David asked all the right questions to help me explore the hard issues of this play. What is Anne doing in this space? What does she want? Why does this scene matter? There were times when I didn’t want to answer the questions because I knew it meant I’d have to let some things go. I went through a stack of Post-It notes in pursuit of a deeper truth, and I’m really glad that I did. Thanks, David.
Stranger in the Land tells a universal story about trauma and reconciliation. We need stories—and plays—to help us to understand ourselves in this present cultural moment. Without them, we are doomed to repeat the worst of our own histories. Whether or not we like this process is of less consequence than our need to deal with the lived experience of our history in this place. My parents immigrated to Canada, the traditional land of indigenous peoples, and without realizing it, they became occupiers. Now we, as Canadians, old and new, are being called to stop and rethink where we are and what we are doing here. Sound familiar?
Severine Salvador — Anne
Aidan Plato — Jan/Opa
Kimberly Lobbezoo — Geeske, Joan, Child
Abigail Bergel — Corrie/Gran
Alexandra Weissbach — Truus, Girl
Elizabeth Verwijs — Hilde, Child
May Kilgannon — Johanna, Queen, Child, Doctor
Isaac Schuster — Wim, Minister, Mr. Arthur, Reverend Huizinga
Evan Helmond — Boekel, Gruber, Piet, Clerk, Captain, Frank, Boy
Rory Murphy — Gerhard, Corporal, Father Noorbeek, John
Jeremy Deboer — Kurt, Neiukirk, Klaas, Politician, Donnelly
Seth Schouten — Harm, Appie, German Soldier, Bill
Director and Playwright — Raymond Louter
Producer — Sharon Klassen
Stage Manager — Sierra Spence
Assistant Stage Manager — Julia Bakker
Dramaturg — David VanBelle
Reader — Paige Louter
Ensemble Historian — Harry VanDyke
Women’s Costume Designer — Alexandra Weissbach
Men’s Costume Designer — Evan Helmond
Auditorium Technical Director — Andrew Bergsma
Shop Foreman — Liam Kiers
Set Painting — Sierra Spence and Alexandra Weissbach
Hair and Make Up — Ashley Green
Sound Technician — Amber Demmans
Severine Salvador (Anne) is a first-year Education student from Hamilton, ON. Passionate about the arts and having already completed a degree in Music as well as a degree in Theatre and Film from McMaster, she has acted and played music for a number of community productions including Silent Treatment, Who Let the Dogs Out, Lion in the Streets and Sweeney Todd. She hopes to continue to find meaningful acting work, much like this production.
Abigail Bergel (Corrie/Gran) is in her first year at Redeemer University, pursuing a double major in English Literature and Theatre Arts: Performance. She is from New Hamburg, ON. Her previous roles include: Amy March, Little Women (Dragonfly Productions Waterloo), Bet, Oliver! The Musical, Fannie, Mary Poppins, and Storyteller, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (The Community Players of New Hamburg). She hopes to work as an actor, director and literary critic in the future.
Jeremy DeBoer (Kurt, Neiukirk, Klaas, Politician, Donnelly) is a second-year student working towards a double major in History and Theatre Arts. This is his first appearance on the Redeemer stage although he had the privilege of being in the ensemble for Henry V, which was cancelled last March due to the pandemic. Prior to coming to Redeemer, he appeared in a number of plays throughout highschool, including the role of Mark Lee in I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Walter Hollander in Don’t Drink the Water, Wilson in Harvey, and Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace. He would especially like to thank his highschool director for being his acting mentor over the years.
Evan Helmond (Boekel, Gruber, Piet, Clerk, Captain, Frank, Boy) is a third- year Theatre Arts and Media Studies double major from Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula. He has been appeared in The Drowsy Chaperone and Seeds at Redeemer, as well as being a member of the ensemble for Henry V. Evan has been involved in a number of other productions outside of the school, as well as video shoots on and off campus as both crew and cast. Evan also enjoys spending time outside, making new things, fixing things and spending time with his friends. In the future, he would like to have a career as a voice actor or a film actor.
May Kilgannon (Johanna, Queen, Child, Doctor) is a first-year Theatre Arts: Performance major and Youth Ministry minor from Milton, ON. This is her first time acting in a mainstage at Redeemer, and though COVID-19 has made things interesting it has still been wonderful. She previously acted in various productions in high school, including You Didn’t Say it was Haunted and The Crucible. May hopes to continue growing as a performer in the Redeemer community.
Kimberly Lobbezoo (Geeske, Joan, Child) is a third-year Honours Urban and Intercultural Ministry major and Theatre Arts: Performance minor. Kimberly grew up in Cambodia. Some of her previous acting experience includes Oliver Twist, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hiding Place. This is her first play on the Redeemer stage. In the future, she hopes to go into Intercultural Ministry, using theatre arts as a tool to share the Gospel.
Rory Murphy (Gerhard, Corporal, Father Noorbeek, John) is a first-year English Literature major and Theatre Arts: Performance minor from Caledon, ON. This is his first time acting in a play at Redeemer. He previously appeared in The Pirates of Penzance, and hopes to become an English teacher in the future.
Aidan Plato (Jan/Opa) is a second-year Theatre Arts student who previously appeared in Redeemer’s productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and Seeds.
Isaac Schuster (Wim, Minister, Mr. Arthur, Reverend Huizinga) is a third-year Theatre Arts major originally from Echo Bay, Ontario who grew up overseas in China. He previously appeared in The Drowsy Chaperone and Seeds at Redeemer. He also performed in six different plays when he was in secondary school. Isaac has also directed two plays and spent a year helping to teach middle school drama.
Seth Schouten (Harm, Appie, German Soldier, Bill) is a first-year student from British Columbia. This is his first performance at Redeemer.
Elizabeth Verwijs (Hilde, Child) is a first-year Mathematics major and Theatre Arts: Performance minor from Ottawa, ON. This is her first time acting in a mainstage production at Redeemer. She previously acted in The Old Testament Fast Forward and The Mouse That Roared at Ottawa Christian School and Redeemer Christian High School respectively. She hopes to work towards being a math teacher in the future and/or acting in theatrical productions.
Alexandra Weissbach (Truus, Girl) is a final year Theatre Arts and Graphic Arts double major from Portland Maine, USA. She began her performance experience in ballets like The Nutcracker, Flat Stanley, and Alice in Wonderland before appearing in Redeemer’s productions of Top of the World and Seeds. When she graduates, Alex plans to move to Florida and work with her cousin at a theatre in Tampa.
Creative Team Biographies
Raymond Louter (Director and Playwright) graduated from Dordt College with a B.A. in Theatre Arts in 1982 after which he entered the Master of Fine Arts program in performance at York University in Toronto. In 1986 he began the theatre department at Redeemer University College. In 1993 he completed an M.A in Drama at the University of Guelph. He has directed many plays at Redeemer, including: Under Milkwood, Seven Stories, Drama at Inish, Hecuba, Cotton Patch Gospel, The Rivals, As It Is In Heaven and Seeds. In January of 2003, while on sabbatical, he participated in Sue Morrison’s Clown Through Mask workshop. That same season he was fortunate to be able to play a number of supporting roles in the Theatre and Company production of Einstein’s Gift at the King Street Theatre Centre in Kitchener – a script which later won the Governor General’s Award for drama. In 2014, while on sabbatical for the second time, he played Qoheleth in The Arts Engine Production of Ecclesiastes, directed by Tom Carson, which toured through Hamilton and Toronto. Ray is a member of the Canadian Association of Theatre Research where he makes contributions to the Peer Review and Somatic Studies Working Groups.
Sharon Klassen (Producer) completed a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. She teaches in the Theatre Arts and Media and Communications Studies Departments at Redeemer, splitting her time between production work and teaching everything from Theatre History and Dramatic Literature to Oral Communication and Stage and Production Management. She has produced more than 20 mainstage plays at Redeemer, including Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, Drama at Inish, Cotton Patch Gospel and The Drowsy Chaperone. Other recent theatre work includes the set designs for As It Is In Heaven, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Harvey, Hecuba, Front and The Rivals, directing “The Road to Emmaus” from the Chester Cycle for the Festival of Early Drama in June 2015, and producing two student written plays that were broadcast on CTS in June 2012. Her current research interests include the creation of illustrated editions of some of Bernard Shaw’s plays.
Julia Bakker (Assistant Stage Manager) is a second-year Theatre Arts major and Ministry minor from Watford, ON. This is the first time she has been an ASM, as well as the first time she has been involved in a play at Redeemer. She hopes to be a part of stage management for mainstage plays again, but you may also see her as part of the cast of a production.
Andrew Bergsma (Auditorium Technical Director) has been part of the theatre production team at Redeemer since 2006. He first started learning about the technical side of performance spaces as the property committee chairman in high school. Andrew was the co-stage manager for a high school production that won the Sears Ontario Drama Festival stage management award at the local, regional and provincial levels. Since starting at Redeemer, he has acted as production technical director for all of Redeemer’s theatre productions. In addition, he acted as Lighting Designer for Everyman. Andrew has had a particularly busy fall as he is also responsible for all presentation technology and audio systems for the Redeemer campus.
Sierra Spence (Stage Manager) graduated from Redeemer in 2013 with a double major in Theatre Arts and Psychology. She is from Brantford Ontario, just down the road. Sierra last appeared on stage in 2013 in Redeemer’s production of South Pacific. Since graduating, she has been working for Relay Coffee Roasters, owned by Redeemer Alumni, while also assisting with production work for the Theatre Arts Department.
David VanBelle (Dramaturg) – Born in Amsterdam and raised all over Canada, David van Belle is an Alberta-based playwright, director, actor and theatre deviser. He recently finished his term as the 2017 Writer-in-Residence for the Edmonton Public Library system, and is currently co-playwright-in-residence at Edmonton’s Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre, a position he shares with Makambe K. Simamba.
David has been Co-Artistic Director of Ghost River Theatre, an ensemble member of One Yellow Rabbit and playwright-in-residence at Alberta Theatre Projects. His play Liberation Days, which premiered at Theatre Calgary in 2014, has just been published by Scirocco Drama. His works with co-creator Eric Rose include GIANT, The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, The Highest Step in the World, Reverie and Tomorrow’s Child (co-created with Matthew Waddell). He is currently working on a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol for the Citadel Theatre.
Andrew Hibma and New Hope Community Bikes
for loaning us a Dutch bicycle
for suggestions for Dutch children’s songs
Sarah Whetstone at Hamilton District Christian High School
for supplying tunics
Everyone who shared their precious stories
About the Theatre Arts Department
The Redeemer University Theatre Arts Department is unique in the landscape of theatre education in the country. Our small but effective program is nestled into the broad liberal arts setting of this institution, which means that our students develop big picture thinking alongside their artistic visioning and work. We craft theatre for in-class projects, as well as for two mainstage plays for the public every year.
Ours is the only program like it east of Edmonton. It trains artists for working lives in the city and the country, in schools, communities and theatres. Our graduates have earned praise in the artistic and educational community. We are innovators, and we are people of faith.
For more information about studying Theatre Arts at Redeemer go to redeemer.ca or ask an usher to direct you to a Theatre Arts faculty member.