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Meet the Cast of Richard II: Rena Hamstra Dam

Rena Hamstra Dam (Bagot/Salisbury/Duchess of York) is performing with Pigeon Creek for the first time. Rena has been on stage at Calvin College and at Actor's Theater in Grand Rapids in LINES: The Lived Experience of Race and RUST. She also played in Nadia in NADIA at Actor's Theater for which she received the 2012 Grand Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play. Rena has a BA in Theater and English from Calvin College and an MA in Cultural Studies from Athabasca University, where she studied, among other things, post-colonial drama.

1) Where are you from originally? How did you end up here in MI (or why did you stay)?

This question is surprisingly difficult to answer briefly…I was born in Michigan but I grew up in Asia (Bangladesh, Thailand, Hong Kong etc). As an adult, I’ve travelled and lived in many places around the world but I’ve been in Grand Rapids for eight years now. I ended up here when my son was born needing open-heart surgery at U of M and my parents lived in GR - and were gracious enough to house my family in their basement for a year! I stay because…well, it’s a long story, I’ll tell you some other time.

2) Where did you study acting?

I first started studying acting in my A-Level Drama courses in high-school and continued at Calvin College, where Theatre was one of my majors (the other was English). I spent some time at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland. But I continue to learn an awful lot just by working with various directors, and of course, from other actors.

3) What other theaters have you worked with? Describe a favorite role/production:

In Grand Rapids, besides at Calvin College, I’ve done a few shows at Actor’s Theater. My favourite was playing Nadia in NADIA by David Turkel. This was the world premiere of a crazyintense play about a Moldovan artist who had escaped after being sex-trafficked as a girl. She becomes a controversial iconographer, painting her experiences explicitly in lifelike tempura. Dying of TB, Nadia can find rawness in just about anyone. She’s a unilateral force of a character; it was an honour to play her.

4) What do you do in your free time?

Hmm, I don’t really have much time I think of as “free” because I’m a single mother with two kids, a job, relationships and theatre stuff among other things…but I like to read and study. Yup, that’s right. I started a distance MA when I lived in Uganda and was too stubborn to not finish it when I moved to Grand Rapids. It took me seven years (due to previously mentioned otherwise full life) but in the meantime I fell in love with the way new worlds spark and flare into being though reading and writing and thinking. I am unabashedly interdisciplinary so I study a lot of different things but a couple of my favourite areas are post-colonialism, feminist philosophy, and the role of art in society.

5) Share three “fun facts” about yourself:

1. I can do the splits. And a mean handstand. Working on an aerial cartwheel but that might be pushing it, since I have absolutely no vertical (that’s a bonus “fun fact” for free).

2. I love growing organic food and cooking it. Indian cuisine is my favourite but I like just about anything with weird vegetables in it. Rutabaga and celeriac anyone? Kohlrabi?

3. I have never owned a TV.

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