Master Arts Theatre Goes “Off Script”

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Van Bruggen TimothyMAT executive director Timothy Van BruggenLike many other non-profit organizations, Master Arts Theatre (MAT) has been scrambling in the wake of non-essential business closings and shelter-in-place guidelines, thanks to the coronavirus.

One of the casualties: the faith-inspired company's spring production of "Enchanted April" will not take the stage.

"We had a beautiful cast and had just started rehearsals," noted MAT executive director Timothy Van Bruggen. "It's one of the most touching plays I've ever read."

The theatre group, with offices/performance space in Byron Township, had already been forced to cancel its March 20-21 Lenten presentation of the play "The Seven Last Words of Christ."

"This is a difficult time for all of us....circumstances are changing every day," Van Bruggen said. "But right now we're still hoping we can put on our last show of the season in June."

If gathering restrictions ease, officials can schedule full rehearsals in May for the June 4 opening of the comedy "Life Derailed" by local playwright Ruth Hoffman.
Also still on the books is the musical-variety show "Shabby Chic" on Sat. May 16 at Rush Creek Bible Church in Byron Center.


The effects of the loss of performance revenue are significant. The executive estimates that 12 to 15 per cent of Master Arts' annual income comes from each of its mainstage productions.


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"That spring show is particularly important, because a lot of people who winter elsewhere return and see the show and connect with friends," Van Bruggen said.
"We're like a lot of businesses right now – and a lot of theatres especially. We're doing shows for the public where the public can't gather. That makes it hard for us to do what we're called to do."

Trying his best to marshal and care for MAT's small staff and volunteer base, the director is still keeping the creative juices flowing.


For example, there are the "Quarantine Monologues."

Van Bruggen has invited actors to submit video monologues from plays of choice to share with MAT patrons via social media. The solo recitations have already begun surfacing, including a recent one from local actress Sandra Griffin who does a brief soliloquy as M'Lynn (Shelby's mother) from "Steel Magnolias."

Van Bruggen has also teamed with Jon Wilson for a podcast "Playing for the Master." Wilson, a regular MAT actor, is executive director of Unmuted Arts, a division of Homeschool Performing Arts. Taking an encouraging approach, the pair is discussing everything from theatre and storytelling to faith journeys and current culture.

And Van Bruggen has begun an online "readers theatre" of sorts.

"I just cut my teeth using the Zoom platform to do 23 people reading Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing,'" he said. After some editing he's hoping it can go online sometime in early April.

(For links to these, visit MAT's Facebook page at


There is a message for this unknown pandemic period, as Van Bruggen keeps his eye on the calendar as well as virus news reports.

"If you care for the arts, if it's at all possible now is the time to be a donor – whether to Master Arts or whatever organization," he said. "If you're a patron of the arts and want to see theatre, dance and music continue once this is all over, this is the time to donate and send an encouraging word."

Besides donations at various levels, MAT also sells memberships – both individual ($20) and family ($35) - which include Flex Pass tickets and concession coupons. Volunteering is also an option for would-be theatre supporters.

For now the company is still planning on its already-announced fall season, which includes a play based on the classic novel "Jane Eyre." For the holiday season they are re-staging "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

It's all part of Master Arts' goal to "create, inspire, uplift." It's a goal officials hope to continue.

"We're already planning for when we can open again," said the upbeat director. "But the other thing to keep in mind is, be safe and be in prayer for people and families but also for organizations and small businesses right now."
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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