Theatre of the Beat founder Johnny Wideman says most people think social justice theatre is like Buckley’s cough medicine – it tastes bad, but
it’s good for you.
“What we want to do is entertain as
well as educate,” says Wideman about
the Stouffville, Ont.-based troupe. “We’re
using theatre to hopefully make the world
a better place.”
Wideman started Theatre of the Beat
( www.theatreofthebeat.com) in 2011 after
graduating university with a theatre degree
specifically geared toward socially con-
scious theatre and history. He was encour-
aged by a professor who said if he couldn’t
find meaningful work that inspired or con-
nected with him, he should create his own.
The troupe of five came together in “a
weird way,” says Wideman. He met Rebecca Steiner and Kimberlee Walker on a
mission trip to Guatemala, his partner
Leah Harder Wideman at a Habitat for Humanity build, and other partner Ben Wert
through connections at a Toronto church.
The name was inspired by a “lot of different
ideas” including the Beatitudes, the idea of
beaten-down people who are often forgotten and the Beatniks of the 1960s.
The Beatniks “were a bunch of young
people struggling with where the
world was going, the direction it
was going, and this feeling of help-
lessness,” says Wideman.
He also sees theatre as the “beat”
in people’s lives where they can take
time out to sit, think and engage in
conversation about how an issue
affects them and how they can respond.
Since being founded the troupe
has developed a repertoire of
seven plays. Its first, Gadfly: Sam
Steiner Dodges the Draft, was commissioned by Conrad Grebel University College. It tells the story of
the college’s archivist who came
to Canada as a Vietnam War draft
dodger and explores the issues of
peace and peacemaking.
This past January, Theatre of the
Beat teamed up with Stouffville’s
Community Mennonite Church to
produce Selah’s Song, the troupe’s
first musical. The story of a young peasant
girl whose courage inspired a village, it fea-
tures music by Bryan Moyer Suderman.
Theatre of the Beat’s newest produc-
tion, set to premiere at Kitchener, Ont.’s
Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts in
May, is A Bicycle Built for Two.
“We’ll be looking at some of the issues
that come up in marriage which people
aren’t necessarily talking about,” says
Wideman. Commissioned by Shalom
Counselling and Mennonite Church
Eastern Canada, the play will likely tour
through Ontario after the premiere. “We
want to get congregations talking about
what healthy marriages look like.” FT
KingdomMatters n GOOD NEWS
Johnny Wideman as “the Inmate” in This Prison or: He Came through the
Floor, produced recently at the Bank Theatre in Leamington, Ont.
Plays to Make