The lights are dim, the theater is full, and there’s a buzz of anticipation in the air. We’re standing in a prayer circle backstage on opening night of Wheaton College Arena Theater’s fall 2014 production, Till We Have Faces, and I’m struck by the amount of time that has gone into this show before it even had an audience.
It’s taken hundreds of hours. Memorizing lines, focusing lights, perfecting sound cues, blocking fight scenes, splattering paint, gold-leafing crowns, selling tickets, constructing risers, sewing hems, sawing plywood, applying makeup, crawling around on catwalks, sweeping up dirt, smearing fake blood, pulling curtains.
And it’s taken more than just the volunteer time put in by the crews and actors. Each Arena Theater production is made possible not just by hours in the scene shop or hunched over a sewing machine, but by a rich tapestry of relationship that our ensemble lives and breathes.
We represent every major from physics and ancient languages to studio art and communication, and we come from geographic locations just as diverse. Many of us would never have met one another in the rest of our Wheaton lives, but here in Arena Theater, we come together to form an unlikely but tight-knit tribe.
We play acting games together. We eat together. We take classes together. We fight. We study the Bible. We dance. We give each other gifts. We celebrate traditions instituted by people we’ve never met. We cry. We goof off. Our little theater family has built a life together in this building that provides the soil from which all of our plays spring.
Though the value of our shared way of life is obvious to me, I have to remind myself that the thing that brought me into this community in the first place was a passion for the theater. And in some ways this colossal game of adult dress-up and storytelling seems an exercise in excess. Those who call Arena Theater their home sacrifice massive amounts of our mental, emotional and temporal resources in each play, only to bury it all in one night of deconstruction after the last show. Pieces of the broken-down set will languish in the dumpster out back, costumes will retreat to quiet corners of the costume closet, lights will be reset and the stage manager’s binder closed for good. Why do we exert so much effort for something as ephemeral as a play?
In a culture that prizes efficiency and demands quantifiable results, the work we do in Arena Theater may seem superfluous. And yet I’m reminded of the God who made the brilliant iridescence of a peacock feather when a flat gray one would’ve sufficed; the God who puts on an over-the-top lightshow twice a day to transition between day and night when the simple flip of a switch would do. If we’re to take our cues from the Creator God, it would seem that this life is meant to be much more than utilitarian.
In Arena Theater, this is a truth we’re trying to work out daily.
Whitney Bauck '15 is a senior studying studio art with an emphasis in photography. Photo credits from top: A scene from Arena Theater's production of Till We Have Faces by Whitney Bauck '15; Arena Theater friends celebrating a birthday together with Martinelli's sparkling cider and snacks (Credit: Amy Kuhlman '15); one last scene from Till We Have Faces.
After three hours of discussion, we had gotten nowhere picking a name for our group. We argued through dinner, fought through dessert, and ended up in a dejected silence in the living room of Aunt Sharon’s Wheaton home. We had rejected puns, cheesy tag lines and anything having to do with Thor the mastodon. Our creative resources seemed to be exhausted. If we couldn’t find the perfect name, how would we create the co-ed, contemporary a cappella group that Wheaton so desperately needed?
Like many things, finding the name turned out to be a collaborative effort. As the fire dwindled, our minds rushed toward the same idea simultaneously: We needed a verb, meaning sound and power, calling to mind microphones, speakers, and opportunities to give the unheard a chance to speak and to sing.
We wanted to send a message to an audience: Amplify.
For the past three years, amplifying the voices of the voiceless is the mission we’ve stuck to. While we rehearse and aim for musical excellence, Amplify means more to its founders and members than a place to get the right notes or present the “right” appearance. Too often at Wheaton, and in Christian society in general, we manage our images, individualize our achievements, and place our value in perfection while performing. Amplify seeks to change that by giving people who might not otherwise sing the chance to love and be loved through music.
And because of that type of performance community, we have become more than a musical ensemble. We have become a family, the kind you both like and love.
The way we do this is summed up in Amplify’s most important rule: Don’t be afraid to sing loud enough for others to hear your mistakes. If you sing the wrong note, sing in the freedom of acceptance and with the humility to take constructive criticism. Being free to make a mistake changes what love means; because this love is unconditional, it’s safe.
So when you come to an Amplify concert, don’t expect perfection. Expect to see broken people expressing their brokenness, and finding hope in the truth of that performance.
Sarah Macolino '15 and Corinne Elliot '15 are seniors studying French and vocal performance, respectively. Photo credits: Whitney Bauck '15.
Leading worship at Wheaton has been by far my most challenging and most rewarding experience during all of college. Challenging, because there is nothing that forces you to grow more than being in leadership of other leaders. And rewarding, because I have the privilege of seeing lives radically transformed—though, most often, it tends to be my own.
Since my high school days in Tokyo, Japan, my identity had always been wrapped up in being “the worship leader guy.” My reputation more or less consisted of being an “extra-spiritual,” serious, rule-following musician, and I tried to live up to those expectations for quite some time. Coming off of that intense period of ministry, I did everything in my ability to flee from this unhealthy identity. I entered Wheaton determined to avoid that label. The strategy of escape from leadership worked—well, for a total of three days!
Upon arriving at HoneyRock for the Wheaton Passage program, I was asked to sing for the retreat’s multi-lingual, international worship service that occurred one of the first days, and since that day God has persistently reeled me in to be a part of his work on Wheaton’s campus.
Our Freshman Class Council selected Whitney Hall '15 and I to co-lead the freshman class worship team in September 2011. Since then, our heart for authentic worship on our campus has exponentially grown with each passing year. Freshman class leader turned to sophomore class leader, and sophomore class leader turned to junior class leader. Much of our original band stuck together through the years, developing a fun and loving camaraderie that now gets me up in the mornings.
Last spring, Whitney and I were selected by the Chaplain’s Office to be the Chapel Band Leaders for the whole student body, responsible for working with Student Chaplains in planning All-School Communion and the musical program to many Chapel worship services throughout the year.
You are likely to find worship at Wheaton to be profoundly different than most other Christian environments you might find yourself. This school is a hub and launching pad for young believers across a wide array of denominations, theological backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures populated predominantly by 18 – 23 year olds.
Wheaton, like any real community of people, is messy. We make mistakes, we compete, we argue, and we drift from God’s call to be the Church. The main thing that changes from season to season in our community is not how impressed we are by our accomplishments, but how aware we are of our messiness. This conviction, brought about by the good news of Jesus Christ, propels us to worship God with a sincerity that shatters strongholds and heals diseases. That brokenness is made beautiful.
Leading worship at Wheaton has taught me how essential it is for any leader to become profoundly aware of their own brokenness and need for grace; and from there we invite our community into that messy place to experience the wonders of God’s love and power poured out for His desperate yet hopeful people.
Andrew Sedlacek '15 is a senior studying interpersonal communication. Photos (above): Andrew and the 2014-15 chapel band leading worship at All-School Communion in Edman Chapel, October 2014. Photo credits: Whitney Bauck '15.
For Kendall Eitreim ’15, it’s hard to imagine what her undergrad life would have looked like without the Wheaton women varsity soccer team. “Being on the team has 100 percent completely shaped my Wheaton experience,” Eitreim says.
While she has been playing soccer since she was two, she senses a real difference playing on a team made up of Christian peers.
“God has been so faithful in using people on the team, using the coaches… to be instrumental and encouraging. And it’s fun to do life alongside the girls.”
Eitreim believes that living together and offering friendship and support off the field allows the team to work better together once their cleats hit the turf.
Though she knew from day one that she wanted to be a communication major, Eitreim enjoys taking classes from both inside and outside the department that she believes will prepare her for life beyond Wheaton.
“I just take those classes because I enjoy them and because the professors are wonderful.”
The unifying thread that connects Eitreim’s life as a student and an athlete is the way people at Wheaton—whether in classes or in the locker room—seek to emulate Christ in their daily lives.
“There are people I’ve been surprised by again and again who have really shown the love of Christ ... There’s something about that that I think is very unique to Wheaton.”
Kendall Eitreim ’16 is a communication major. Learn more about Wheaton soccer on the Wheaton Thunder website, Twitter @Wheaton_Thunder, and Instagram @Wheaton_Thunder.
In September 2012, a group of Wheaton professors, administrators, and students began thinking about ways to conjoin a number of seemingly disparate topics: history, leadership, ethics, and Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, to name a few.
What resulted was “Authority, Action, Ethics: Ethiopia,” (A.A.E), an annual program for 20 students, featuring: (1) a semester-long, interdisciplinary course consisting of a whirlwind tour of Ethiopian history, with sizeable chunks of ethics and theology thrown in, and (2) an intensive seventeen-day visit to four Ethiopian cities, where we engaged everyone and everything from African Union delegates to orphaned street children; from underground monolithic Orthodox churches to chic Ethiopian jazz clubs. They let me join the team last year, and this is what I learned:
- Wheaton is a moldable institution. Our team underwent a complex 12-month process of convincing the College to insure student travel to Ethiopia, a country regarded by certain U.S. State Department officials as a “risky” place to be. After thoroughly researching the situation and lobbying for permission, Wheaton’s GEL department removed Ethiopia from the “no-travel” list. This process showed me that determination over an extended period of time can lead to minor (but important) institutional changes.
- Wheaton professors are extremely devoted people. Many of my papers written for the A.A.E course were met with handwritten comments that exceeded the length of my paper itself. I would respond to these comments via email, and my professor would reply at length before the next class period even began. In other words, my once-a-week class quickly morphed into a nonstop educational dialogue between teacher and student, and I had to push myself just to keep up. These conversations were usually perplexing and always involved a moral dimension, just as a liberal arts class should.
- People are multilayered and cannot be fully understood apart from their society’s history. Take Tsedale Lemma, for example. Tsedale is the editor-in-chief of Addis Standard magazine, a respected political publication based in Ethiopia’s capital. In a Q&A with our group, she explained two discouraging events of politicized violence and the wrongful imprisonment of journalists, the former following the 2005 national elections and the latter just days before we arrived in Ethiopia. Having previously studied examples of the aversion to political dissent found among Ethiopian leaders from Zara Yaqob to Haile Selassie, our class had a solid historical framework in which to situate Tsedale’s stories. “Nothing gives you security here,” she confessed, “but there are things that give you hope.”
Analogically, one might say the same of A.A.E itself.
David Robinson ’15 is a senior studying philosophy and French. Pictured at top: Wheaton’s A.A.E class traveling abroad, summer 2014; Middle: A.A.E’s CE 330 Intercultural Seminar class meets, spring 2014; Above (l to r): A.A.E’s leadership team on a scouting trip, summer 2013: Professor Andrew DeCort, course instructor and Ph.D. candidate at University of Chicago; Dr. Steve Ivester, program director and dean for student engagement; David Robinson ’15; Dan Haase, chief curriculum coordinator who designed the course syllabus and led the 3-day debrief at the end of our trip; Hailu, Ethiopian taxi driver; and Roger Sandberg, logistics coordinator, former Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) professor, expert in international disaster response.