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‘Our Country’s Good’ Brings Theatre Career Full Circle

“Alma students are dedicated, bright and eager to learn. Most of the students I have taught are transformed by their Alma theatre experience.” — Joe Jezewski

Joe Jezewski, center, with alumni Jonathon Musser ?05 on the left and Jacquese Smart ?02 on the r...Joe Jezewski, center, with alumni Jonathon Musser ’05 on the left and Jacquese Smart ’02 on the right.

Alma College Theatre presents “Our Country’s Good,” the true story of the first Australian settlers who discover their humanity through the transforming power of theatre.

The play by Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on the historical novel “The Playmaker” by Thomas Keneally, will take place at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 14, Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16 and 3 p.m. April 17 in Remick Heritage Center, Strosacker Theatre.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors 62 and up, and free for Alma College staff, students and youth 18 and under. Seating is reserved. Call (989) 463-7304 for ticket information.

“It’s the first play I directed when I came to Alma in 1993, and now it’s my last play since I’m retiring,” says Joseph Jezewski, chair of the theatre and dance department and professor and director of theatre. “It’s a nice full circle.”

The Power of Theatre to Transform

The play deals with the colonization of Australia by the British after they lost the American Revolution. Without any exploration of what the British called New South Whales, they began to ship their criminals to Australia, an eight-month journey 15,000 miles across the ocean.

The story follows the first fleet voyage of 11 ships. The convicts put on a production of “The Recruiting Officer” to celebrate the birthday of King George III.

“The play itself speaks very highly to the power theatre has to transform a person,” says Jezewski. “It’s one of my favorite plays. It deals with the way these convicts come together to rehearse and produce the play. They were treated like animals and treated each other like animals in order to survive. But through rehearsing the play and discovering what it really takes to work together, it totally changes these individuals.

“The play is part of the school system in England because of what it teaches us and how it speaks about the arts and what they can do to transform someone,” says Jezewski.

Joe Jezewski: 23 Years, 189 Plays

Five different dialects are present in the play, and most of the actors have to learn the role of both jailer and convict, making the play even more challenging. As it is a play about transformation, all of the changes from convict to guard and vice versa will take place on stage in front of the audience.

“I have always tried to choose challenging plays,” says Jezewski. “To work on something challenging helps you to rise to the level you need to. The students not only have to learn dialects and play two different characters, but the research they have to do is incredible. It’s an incredible challenge, and it really winds up bringing out the best in them.”

This will mark the 189th play that Jezewski has worked on with the Alma College Theatre. He has directed 57 plays and mentored the student directors of 132.

“The primary reason I have been at Alma for 23 years is due to the type of students we have at Alma,” says Jezewski. “Alma students are dedicated, bright and eager to learn. The approach to acting I teach not only gives actors a strong foundation for their work onstage, but requires them to delve deep into themselves to discover who they are and to embrace their own individual uniqueness. Most of the students I have taught are transformed by their Alma theatre experience. I have been fortunate that so many of them have been willing to take that journey with me.”

Student actors include:

  • Raymond Antel IV, Wayland senior
  • Maxwell Flagler, Spring Lake sophomore
  • Antonio Garza, Brownstown junior
  • Amber Lavon Isaacson, Battle Creek junior
  • Alex Lamrock, Oscoda sophomore
  • Chelsea Martin, Delton senior
  • Erin Murphy, Sparta senior
  • Jessica Peters, Harrisburg, Pa., senior
  • Jared Sheldon, Battle Creek senior
  • Haley Valente, Hope Mills, N.C., sophomore
  • Josh Zeitler, Eaton Rapids senior
Story published on March 29, 2016