At first, Danielle Roos (’10) thought theatre might be a fun side-gig—a hobby. “Honestly, I was kind of afraid to commit my life to it,” she says.
When she was a student at Dordt, she learned to see theatre through new eyes.
“From the very beginning, my professors were challenging us to think about what stories are important for us to tell,” she says.
Since then, Roos has committed her life to telling those stories. After graduating from Dordt, Roos started her own theatre company, Yellow Rose Productions, in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 2015, a play she co-wrote and directed was accepted into the prestigious New York City Fringe festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America.
Princess Cut tells the true story of a Knoxville woman who, as a young girl, was a victim of sex trafficking.
“I was introduced to this young woman, and as we became closer, she told me her story,” Roos says. As a five-year-old, the woman was exploited by an older male cousin, her babysitter, who was involved in a sex ring in one of the city’s suburban neighborhoods.
“People often think of sex trafficking as something that happens in far-off places, like Asia, but her story shows it could be happening in the house next door,” she says. The woman wanted to tell her story, so Yellow Rose Productions began working with her to write a play.
“We thought, ‘Knoxville needs to hear this story. We can’t hear this story and not tell it,’” says Roos. She and two co-writers sat down with the woman, often talking late into the night, to piece together a story. Eventually, they were surrounded by Post-it notes with plot points and scene descriptions.
“When we first performed the play, we’d scheduled a one-night show in a little venue downtown,” she says. “We’d set up chairs for about 50, but we had 199 people cram into the space.” Members of the press showed up, and shortly after that, a Knoxville paper ran a large feature about sex trafficking in the area. Interest was so great, they eventually performed the show in cities across the Southeast.
Roos and her team soon began to realize they didn’t really know what trafficking looked like at the local level—and most people in Knoxville probably didn’t either. “We didn’t want people to leave and think, ‘Oh, that’s just a story. It’s fiction.’ We wanted to honor her story by giving people resources to better understand and respond to the issue,” she says. So after each performance, they asked a panel of experts to debrief the audience, including law enforcement officers, an FBI victim specialist, and providers of mental health care and other forms of aftercare for victims.
Roos learned this practice of post-show discussion while a theatre student at Dordt. “It’s a great way to open up a space for dialog about really difficult and challenging subjects. People often leave with more questions than answers, but it starts a conversation,” she says.
“We didn’t intend this to be a Christian play, but the woman we’ve called ‘Sara’ grew up in the church and wanted to address the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of the church in responding to her situation as a victim of sex trafficking,” Roos says. Discussions about sexual purity in her church left her feeling alienated and kept her from seeking help due to feelings of shame. “We wanted to highlight where she was helped by the church and where the church could do better,” Roos says.
As a student, Roos didn’t shy away from difficult subjects. Among other projects, she produced a documentary about domestic violence, and she directed a staged reading of The Laramie Project, about a young gay man, Matthew Shephard, who was murdered in 1998. She has continued to tackle challenging subjects as a playwright and producer, and she says that writing and performing a play like Princess Cut can build empathy among audience members and, ultimately, be a way to seek justice for vulnerable and oppressed people.
“There’s an energy that happens in the theatre—an electricity in the air,” she says. “As an audience member, you’re so close. You’re watching the actors’ faces—you can see every facial tick, the beads of sweat. You become part of the story.”
It’s that opportunity—to make the audience part of the story—that makes the theatre such a powerful place, she says.
“Theatre brings things that are distant near—it helps audience members imagine themselves in another’s shoes. It can move them to care,” she says.
“Since July, I have been employed as a scenic carpentry apprentice at the Walnut Street Theatre here in Philly,” said Jeremy Vreeken.
"In my position as an apprentice, I build scenery and set pieces for all of the plays produced during this season, which will number somewhere around 20 by the time I leave in May.”
Every day, Vreeken works with several apprentices and professional carpenters to hone his skills. “On any given day I might work with fabric, foam, wood, metal, lighting, and sound equipment, or I might drive a truck full of completed pieces from our shop to the main theatre building,” said Vreeken. “In the past six months I have learned a new city, furthered my technical theatre skill set, made new friends, and have begun the adjustment into post-student life.”
Vreeken’s experience working in Dordt’s theatre department helped to prepare him for his position at the Walnut Street Theatre. “During my time at Dordt, I worked in the theatre department's Scene Shop, took several theatre arts classes, and worked on almost every production in some way,” said Vreeken.
“Because Dordt's Theatre Department was small and developing in many ways, I was allowed to play a large role in several productions and learned to self-direct, problem solve, and even lead teams of my fellow students while working in the shop or on the stage. In my current position, I use all of the technical skills I learned at Dordt, as well as the interpersonal skills of leadership, communication, and teamwork necessary to successfully mount a production.”
Vreeken commented that he appreciated the value that his English major added to his life. “I appreciate the encouragement to value my major for what it added to my life and worldview, and not strictly for its marketability,” said Vreeken.
“During my time in college, I was constantly encouraged to ask questions. ‘How and why’ are important questions for students of every major at every college, and I am most grateful for the emphasis my education placed on asking for the ‘why’ behind whatever we were doing.
From design and construction in the theatre, to reading and creative writing in the classroom, to conversations and relationships in coffee shops and around campus, a focus on the big picture and an awareness of perspectives and my own view on things has been very valuable to me.”
Vreeken said he looks forward to continuing to work in technical theatre. He is also considering getting a master’s degree.
“But, my plans are open to revision,” he said.
“Being in the humanities can take a thick skin,” says Jason Kornelis (’11), who regularly performs with some of the top theatre companies in the Twin Cities. “There are times when you think, ‘What am I doing? How am I going to use this degree?’”
Kornelis most recently appeared in the Wayward Theatre’s production of Moliere’s Tartuffe. He’s also the founding member of a company, Conundrum Collective, that stages radio plays. The company recently produced Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, using 1930s-style microphones and an onstage sound table. The company also has plans to start a podcast.
Kornelis says the Twin Cities theatre community is vibrant, multicultural, and “has a social justice bent.” He’s finding his place there, performing alongside well-regarded mainstays of the theatre world.
“Starting out after college definitely felt like jumping into the deep end of the pool. But I felt prepared—the toolkit was there. And I think that gave me an edge,” he says.