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Student hopes play will plant seeds of peace that grow in others

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College senior Renee Reimer wants to plant seeds of peace she hopes will take root in others.

On Feb. 1, she will stage the one-woman play My Name is Rachel Corrie at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center.

The performance is free, with donations accepted. The play is rated “R” for language and is not suitable for young children.

Reimer has been preparing the play during this Bethel interterm, working with theater instructor Megan Upton-Tyner as director, along with senior Creigh Bartel, stage manager, and junior Jocelyn Wilkinson, sound and lighting design.

However, it really started two years ago, after another interterm experience in 2011. As a sophomore, Reimer was part of Professor of Bible and Religion Patty Shelly’s Jerusalem Seminar, offered every other January.

Reimer had wanted to go to Africa, she says – but her mother, Rosie Epp, strongly encouraged her to take the Jerusalem Seminar instead. Epp, a pastor, had gone on the trip about a decade earlier.

The Jerusalem Seminar was a pivotal experience for Reimer.

“Being [in Israel/Palestine] for three weeks really opened my eyes to a different view on the world,” she says. “I saw the conflict up close and was able to decide for myself how I felt about it, rather than having the media shape my opinion.”

All the Bethel students returned from that trip determined to take some kind of action in support of Palestinians and nonviolent peace activism in the region. They organized several public events on campus.

Also at about that time, Upton-Tyner gave Reimer a copy of the script for My Name is Rachel Corrie.

It is based on the journals and e-mail messages of an American college student who, as a member of the International Solidarity Movement, traveled to the Gaza Strip in 2003. On March 16 of that year, she was killed after being run over by an armored bulldozer operated by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Corrie was trying to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished. She was less than a month shy of her 24th birthday.

British actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner edited Corrie’s writings into the play. Rickman directed the first production in London in 2005. The play was controversial in the United States for its political content.

“I recognized [Rachel’s] name from hearing some people in Palestine mention her,” Reimer says. “I sat down and read it straight through, like a book. Then I read it again. Then I said to Megan, ‘We have to do this.’

“I thought about it all summer, and came back and told Megan again, ‘We really have to do this.’ With the logistics, and the things we were both involved in, it took until now.”

Staging the play is an independent study for Reimer. To help fulfill some of her requirements, she is keeping a blog during January ( as a way to reflect on the process and share it with others.

“I knew it would have a lot of emotion for me,” she says. “I wanted to share what was happening and what I was thinking with people in my church [Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church, Sioux Falls, S.D.] and other friends who aren’t here.”

One issue that made a big impression on Reimer and which Corrie also mentions frequently is water-use restriction. She was “appalled,” she says, to see how only Palestinian areas were deprived of water in Israel/Palestine.

She decided to try and live on a gallon of water a day for five days. “It was hard, but it was a good experience,” she says. “It really opened my eyes to how much I use and how little I really need.”

Reimer spends mornings with Upton-Tyner rehearsing and blocking and afternoons building the set and working on other technical aspects.

“It’s a movable set, so we can take it with us – it’s not super high-tech, but it works,” she says.

The reason the set needs to be portable is the preview presentations Reimer has given or will give before Feb. 1 – Jan. 13 at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita, Jan. 18 at Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, Kan., and Jan. 30 at Hesston College’s chapel service, 11 a.m. in Hesston Mennonite Church.

At Lorraine Avenue, she presented about 20 minutes of the play, which is 90 minutes long, to an appreciative response, she says, with many questions afterward. Lorraine Avenue pastors Lois and Tom Harder had been part of the same Jerusalem Seminar as Reimer.

One question she was asked was “Do you see yourself as a peace activist?”

Maybe, she says. “I think of myself as trying to live in peace and without violence, but it’s hard. I find myself getting mad at myself for not always seeing both sides.

“I feel it more and more every day as I’m working on this play that I need to go back to Israel/Palestine. I know I’m naïve and there’s a lot I don’t know, and that it takes a long time to learn.”

A music education major, Reimer still has three semesters of study left to complete her degree, but plans to explore service options in Israel/Palestine after graduation in 2014.

As for her production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, she says her “realistic” hope is that “people will learn some things they didn’t know and then talk about that with their families and friends and Sunday school classes.”

Her “high hope, maybe unrealistic,” she says, “is that people will say, after they see the play, ‘We’re going to do something, make a difference – I’m going to contact my senator or the governor, take some kind of action.’”

The Feb. 1 performance will be followed by a discussion period, and Reimer plans to have a few suggestions for what people can do.

“One of the reasons I tried living on a gallon of water a day was to see if it would work,” she says. “Now I can encourage others to try it.”

The audience will have the opportunity to donate to an organization that promotes peace in Israel/Palestine, in regard to home demolitions or water-use restrictions, Reimer says.

“My hope in performing this play,” she says, “is to try and give a firsthand look at what the situation is like [in Israel/Palestine]. You can never really understand what is going on over there unless you’ve been there, and even then you only understand a faction of it.

“I have a lifelong dream of world peace. This is one way I hope to plant seeds of peace in people and get them motivated to talk about peace and to take action. I can’t do this whole peace thing alone.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA.

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