And he's overseeing a season of stage productions which includes him as an actor and director – both simultaneously in the opening musical "Horizons of Gold," playing now through Oct. 8 (details below).
"When I came on board (late last year) they were making the final decisions on the coming season," recalled Van Bruggen, 48, from his MAT office on 77th St. SW. But he did have some influence in the resulting schedule.
"I was so excited about this show ("Horizons") that I ended up directing it," he said.
The musical is a re-telling of the biblical book of Ruth, and set in rural Kansas of 1940 in the middle of the devastating "dust bowl" era.
"The plot goes point by point right along with the biblical story," he noted. "Ruth (Rose, in the script) is a daughter of immigrants whose parents get sent back to Mexico and she stays in the U.S. and grows up alone."
Van Bruggen himself portrays the Boaz character (Bo) in the tale of difficult lives and hard choices. "It touches on issues that are applicable to day," the director said of topics such as immigration and adapting to an unfamiliar culture.
The contemporary production (written in 2013) made its Michigan debut on Sept. 15 to a full house in MAT's 100-seat performance space.
Although this play marks Van Bruggen's MAT directorial debut, he previously had the role of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in last spring's "The Beams Are Creaking."
A SEASON FOR ALL
This season's Christmas production is a familiar one. "Christmas at Plum Creek" (Nov. 17 – Dec. 10) is the Laura Ingalls Wilder holiday story from her "Little House" series.
The musical "Cotton Patch Gospel" is set for Feb. 16 – March 11. It's a play Van Bruggen acted in more than 20 years ago at Holland Civic Theatre.
"What makes it interesting for me is that the director who did it back then is going to come here and direct if for us," said the Hope College alum.
"Busman's Honeymoon" (a murder mystery) and "Father Knows Best" (a nostalgic stage version of the old TV show) round out Van Bruggen's first full season at the MAT helm.
Previous MAT executive Pris MacDonald continues as the theater's artistic director.
HIS OWN JOURNEY
Van Bruggen was raised in the Holland area and studied both business and theater at Hope. He met his wife Elena (a Hamilton native) when both were actors in the Holland Civic musical "Fiddler On The Roof."
"But all along I was a tentmaker pastor and was involved in office and administrative work to help support my ministry," he said.
That's when Master Arts entered the picture. He accepted the position and began work last November, finally able to combine vocation and avocation full time in a faith-based, theater arts ministry.
"It's the fulfillment of a dream I had a long time ago," he said. "Doing theater in a way that would honor God, and to disciple young actors, singers and artists to know that you can honor God and be creative."
MASTER ARTS THEATRE 2016-17 SEASON
Where: 75 77th St. SW.
Tickets: Tickets for individual shows go on sale one month before opening date.
Contact: masterarts.org, 616-455-1001.
* "Horizons of Gold" (now through Oct. 8). A musical placing the biblical story of Ruth in the hardscrabble setting of the dust bowl era. Tickets $19 adults, $17 students and seniors.
* "Little House Christmas at Plumb Creek" (Nov. 17 - Dec. 10). Based on the Laura Ingalls Wilder series: Pa is delayed by a blizzard and the family waits for a Christmas miracle.
* "Cotton Patch Gospel" (Feb. 16 – March 11) A musical based on the Cotton Patch versions of the gospels of Matthew and John, with music and lyrics by the late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin.
* "Busman's Honeymoon" (April. 20 – May 13). Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers set in rural England featuring a newly-married couple whose farmhouse honeymoon turns into the scene of a murder investigation.
* "Father Knows Best" (June 8 – 24). The 1950s TV show takes to the stage with all the familiar characters. Original series cast member Lauren Chapin (who portrayed the young Kitten Anderson) will appear on a special occasion during the show's run.
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