Theatre of the Beat: Yellow Bellies - Touring through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, October 14 - 20

In 1941, with war raging in Europe and conscription looming over Canada, Kitchener's own William Lyon Mackenzie King made a shocking declaration. He vowed to protect the rights of individuals and religious groups whose beliefs prevented their participation in military service. And so, under the Order in Council, another option was created; young men, including Mennonites, would be allowed to work in Alternative Service: building highways, national parks, farming, and fighting forest fires.

Working collaboratively and across provincial barriers, Johnny Wideman and Rebecca Steiner co-wrote and researched a play to bring this history to life. Yellow Bellies, which is titled after the pejorative term used to describe young men who refused to take up arms who were thought to be cowards or traitors. Johnny utilized the many resources of the Conrad Grebel University College Mennonite Archives of Ontario while Rebecca's research stemmed from the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives in Winnipeg. There, the two had access to archival documents, letters, diaries, recordings and newspaper clippings. Told episodically, this story utilizes these pieces of written history to take audiences across Canada, featuring verbatim interviews, fictionalized scenes, and live music from the era. These songs, which act as the bookends to each scene, are provided by Waterloo Region-based musician, Joe McLellan, offering his own renditions of the very camp songs sung by those working in Alternative Service.

The show, co-directed by Rebecca Steiner and University of Waterloo's Drama and Speech Communication Chair Dr. Andy Houston, sets about to ask: "How does someone become a hero? Who does our society reject or revere?" According to Steiner, "These are the questions that Yellow Bellies invites you to think on as you meet the characters in the play." Characters who, at times, speak verbatim the words and writings of World War Two Conscientious Objectors, many of whom resided in Waterloo Region.

"We set out to tell an overlooked story from Canadian history," says Wideman. "But as we began researching and interviewing we realized that this was still a relevant and contentious story. These men actually faced the consequences of living against the status quo. It's easy to say you believe in something, but to actually have it put to the test is rare."

Yellow Bellies is playing across Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Theatre Performance Dates:

October 14th, 2017 at 2:00pm, at the Gas Station Arts Centre, Winnipeg, MB. $18 or $10 for students.

October 14th, 2017 at 7:00pm, at the Gas Station Arts Centre, Winnipeg, MB. $18 or $10 for students.

October 15th, 2017 at 7:00pm, at Buhler Hall, Gretna, MB. $18 or $10 for students.

Church Performance Dates:

October 17th, 2017 at 7:00pm, at North Star Mennonite Church, Drake, SK.

October 18th, 2017 at 7:00pm, at Wildwood Mennonite Church, Saskatoon, SK.

October 20th, 207 at 7:00pm, at Bethel Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, MB.

More information about the show can be found at http://theatreofthebeat.ca/yellow-bellies/. For interviews regarding Yellow Bellies please contact director, Andy Houston at houston@uwaterloo.ca or 519-591-2639, or playwright Johnny Wideman at 416.725.6452 or johnny@theatreofthebeat.com. Media seating is limited for these productions; please contact info@theatreofthebeat.com to RSVP in advance.