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.
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.
More information about the show can be found at http://theatreofthebeat.ca/yellow-bellies/.