2015 recipient: Johnny Wideman

Johnny Wideman

The Alumni Committee of Conrad Grebel University College is pleased to announce the selection of John Wideman (BA 2009) as the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

Johnny came to Grebel in the fall of 2005 from Markham area with a desire to be immersed in community life. He quickly became a fixture at Grebel with involvements in many aspects of student life including sports, Orientation Week, and the “Shady Js,” a band including other Grebelites. Waterloo and Grebel provided an academic focus on Drama and History along with discussions of faith and peace and justice issues.

After graduation, Johnny was involved in Willowgrove Day Camp near Markham and developed a Peace curriculum for campers that incorporated drama.

Johnny’s passion for theatre continued to grow and in 2011, Johnny drove the vision to establish Theatre of the Beat. TOTB included other Grebel alumni Rebecca Steiner (BA 2012 Liberal Studies), Kim Walker (BA 2012 PACS and Drama) Leah Harder (BA 2009 Liberal Studies), Katie Cowie Redekopp (BA 2011 PACS and Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies) and colleague Ben Wert from Toronto.

His troupe-mates describe him as “one of those rare and exceptional people who makes things happen. Johnny dreams big and then transforms those ideas into dynamic, innovative art that builds community.” As Artistic Director for the troupe, Johnny's clever creativity and passion for peace provides vision and leadership to the collective.

Theatre of the Beat defines itself as a “traveling theatre troupe that aims to create thought-provoking theatre to educate, entertain, challenge, and inspire diverse audiences through socially-relevant topics.” TOTB has performed its several original plays across Canada and the United States in theatres, community centres, high schools, universities, churches, and prisons.

One of Johnny’s early productions was “This Prison Or: He Came through the Floor,” and is still being performed in their repertoire. In 2012 he played Grebel’s former Librarian/Archivist Sam Steiner in “Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft.” He also wrote “Selah's Song,” a social justice folk musical that involved community members to discuss non-violent responses to war and how art can be used to create dialogue.

As an artist and activist, Johnny sees theatre and drama as a venue to create dialogue and social change. After the final curtain call, Theatre of the Beat productions include a time for audiences to discuss the issues presented. Recently, Shalom Counselling Services commissioned “A Bicycle Built for Two,” a play about healthy relationships. Mennonite Central Committee has also commissioned a play on issues of restorative justice (“Forgiven/Forgotten”). Conrad Grebel has used Theatre of the Beat to resource “Peace Day” for high school students. Johnny is currently writing a script on the topic of sexuality entitled “This Will Lead to Dancing.”

Johnny’s writing is witty and brilliant, offering wisdom that has been described as 'prophetic’ and TOTB has received critical acclaim across North America for its plays.

“Initially I chose Grebel because a friend told me they had cookies as big as your face. I'm not kidding, unfortunately,” remarked Johnny. “Little did I know there would be much more to sink my teeth into. I can honestly say that, without my time at Grebel - the people I met, the courses, the philosophies I was exposed to - I might be the antithesis of who I am today. It was that definitive.” 

The Distinguished Alumni Service Award recognizes alumni who have made a significant and unique contribution to the church, community, nation, or world. Johnny is an outstanding example of a visionary alumnus who reflects Grebel's mission through demonstrated creativity, active peace-making, Anabaptist values, generosity, and community building. Johnny continues to create art that serves as a meaningful resource to both church and society.