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The Bluestem Post
Lauren Friesen wrote Prairie Lands, Private Landscapes: Reframing a Mennonite Childhood that explores his vocational journey into the world of theater.

From farm to stage

To most outside observers, a farm boy from Nebraska landing in a theatre career seems like an unlikely scenario. But for Lauren Friesen, it was a natural fit, and one that was nurtured in his developmental years in his isolated, rural Mennonite community. That’s why Friesen wrote Prairie Lands, Private Landscapes: Reframing a Mennonite Childhood (Archway Publishing, 2023). 

As Friesen writes in the author’s introduction to Prairie Lands, “If I were to enumerate what this book is not, the list would be rather extensive: not history, not a memoir, not anthropology, not biography, not documentary, not autobiography, not a family chronicle and so forth. Yet in many ways the narrative includes information that enlightens each of these areas…. It is an expedition into my life, youth and the memories located there.” 

Primarily, Friesen, who is a resident at Kidron Bethel Village, wanted to have a record of his life for his children and grandchildren. The writing took place over a couple of decades, starting when Friesen would travel to conferences or workshops. He would spend his downtime writing in notebooks, eventually moving to a laptop. 

“Sooner or later, I had 15 or 16 essays, not just about rural life, but the question people always ask – ‘How can somebody from rural Nebraska end up in theatre?’ said Friesen. 

“The world of my youth was filled with oral histories,” Friesen wrote. “The memories of the collective community, experiences of individuals and a common set of beliefs shaped the identities of the people who inhabited that flat corner of earth. The story teller with the ability to deliver a narrative in a compelling manner has been a treasure for people of the land. A well-told story had greater worth than logic.” 

Friesen was exposed to storytelling and theatre from his earliest years by a mother who had an affinity for writing and staging plays for the church. He had involvement in all the areas of theatre through the years, from serving as a curtain-puller as a first grader, to acting to set construction. He then embarked on a 40-year career as a theatre professor at Goshen (Ind.) College and the University of Michigan (Flint and Ann Arbor). 

Prairie Lands lays out a rich life and journey that illustrates how a farm boy from Nebraska can find true vocation in theatre.

“I don’t approach theatre just as an entertainment idea,” said Friesen. “I approach it more seriously. I believe it’s a social bond that is healing in society. It’s catharsis – it provides personal healing and growth.” 

Copies of Prairie Lands, Private Landscapes is available from the Kidron Bethel Village Welcome Center and on Amazon. Friesen will also be teaching a Bluestem U course, “Diversity in American Theater,” beginning in mid-March. Register for the class at bluestemu.org. 

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