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One-Act Festival will become a tradition at Dordt College

By Andrew De Young

Megan Tousley and Grace Venhuizen from Central Wisconsin Christian High School performed in the Anne Coulter Martens play <i>The Right Kind of House</i> at the One-Act Festival held on campus.

Megan Tousley and Grace Venhuizen from Central Wisconsin Christian High School performed in the Anne Coulter Martens play The Right Kind of House at the One-Act Festival held on campus.

Recruiting for Dordt College is usually done by staff members, but this year, theater professor Jeri Schelhaas had a novel idea: why not let the students do it? She invited students from high school theater programs around the country to come to campus and rub elbows with Dordt actors and actresses in what she hopes will be the first of many High School One-Act Festivals.

In all, six schools were able to come and put on a one-act play, watch other schools perform, and participate in four acting workshops.

Kim (de Groot, ‘01) Darling, who teaches in Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was excited about the chance to bring her students to her alma mater. They had the choice of going to this or another theater festival, but her students ultimately chose to come to Dordt because they wanted a chance to perform, which they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“Because they’re almost all Catholic, I’m not sure if they knew how different this would be,” says Darling. “But by the end, they walked out of it feeling really excited about Dordt.”

Darling’s students, who performed Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number, especially seemed to enjoy a swordfighting workshop that they participated in, and, on the ride home, were already begging their teacher to let them perform a play with swordfighting. But most helpful, says Darling, was the leadership of the Dordt students.

“[My students] didn’t really know that they were going to be getting feedback from a college audience,” she says. “It was so valuable to them.” Also valuable, she says, was the exposure to college life and the Saturday morning discussion panel in which the Dordt students discussed their experiences in the Dordt College theater department.

But the student leadership went beyond the confines of the festival, Darling says. “They hosted my students in their dorm rooms, which they loved,” she says. “My students commented on how religious the school was. A lot of them aren’t used to that level of religion pervading life.”

Ila (Vande Kerk,‘72) Klemm, a teacher at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, Missouri, valued the festival for a different reason. Although she too appreciated the leadership of the Dordt students and her students’ exposure to the vision of Dordt College, she and her students played an instrumental role in putting the festival on and benefited from the unique role they played in the weekend.

“Ila taught our improv workshop,” explains Schelhaas, who adds that Klemm is one of the best teachers of improv that they could have hoped to get.

“When Jeri suggested that I do improv, it was easy to decide which kids I was going to take,” says Klemm, who brought along students who were experienced enough that they could help in teaching the workshop.

“They just loved it,” she says. “I think that was a big deal for them, being able to share improv and teach others how to do it.” She adds that teaching is a good way for students to learn themselves, and that some of her less experienced students learned a lot by having to help others.

Klemm was also hoping that Dordt might come off well in the process, and she wasn’t disappointed.

“Our kids were extremely impressed by the Dordt students’ helpfulness and friendliness. It was very, very nice, and very smart on Jeri’s part.”

But if you ask Schelhaas, the public relations aspect of the festival is least in her mind. The most important part, she says, is the exposure that these high school students were able to receive.

“Some of these students don’t get a chance to see a lot of good theater,” she says. “If they can see the skill and enthusiasm of the Dordt students, that’s a real encouragement. It all goes to show–with a little bit more commitment and hard work, you see how much better you can be!”