Fifty years have passed since Corrie Ten Boom’s story, The Hiding Place, captivated audiences with her heroic testimony of a family offering resistance and refuge at great personal cost. In August, Rabbit Room Theatre, along with strategic partners, are excited to share the story anew with this global cinematic event following a four-week sold-out stage run in Nashville. From Tennessee to Tasmania, A.S. “Pete” Peterson’s adaptation will be hitting movie theaters next month, so we sat down to talk in-depth about Corrie as a true hero of the faith, the complexity of ideas involved, and finding such a reach beyond the Rabbit Room’s headquarters.
[Ed note: In theaters on August 3 & 5 ONLY. Find a theater near you at TheHidingPlaceFilm.com.]
Let’s start with the actual story here of Corrie Ten Boom and The Hiding Place. I’m interested to hear from you what made this a story you and others wanted to tell?
I think Corrie’s story is so compelling because she’s such a fascinating person. There are things that happen in her story and ways that she talks about the world that are really difficult to make peace with or to justify—the idea of gratitude in the middle of a concentration camp is not an easy idea. It’s beautiful and wonderful and also complicated. So I think that intersection of complicated ideas is part of why people so revere here. She’s really a remarkable person and the conclusions that she came to are incredibly counter-cultural.
In the 50 years since she told her story, there’s not been another retelling of it. In a sense, the generation that fell in love with Corrie Ten Boom as she traveled the world and as people watched the movie and read her book, that generation is in their sixties and seventies and eighties now. They love her desperately but there’s another generation that would say, “Corrie, who?”
So I think it’s a privilege for me to take the impact of that story and hopefully deliver it to a new generation because it’s not a story I think should be forgotten. I think Corrie is one of the heroes of the faith in a capital letter kind of way. We’re on the verge of maybe forgetting that.
We had to figure out a way to tell her story in a way that would open up the ears of those who don’t believe what I believe.A.S. Peterson
A lot has changed since the first presentation of Corrie’s story and the culture in which the story is being told. What are the resonant points that you hear from people who’ve watched the play or the new film screening?
One of the key things to remember is that when Corrie wrote the book and when the original film came out was in the ‘70s. Our culture was in a very different place as it relates to religion and especially Christianity. I mean, Christianity was the water that everyone swam in all of the time. People spoke the language whether they went to church or not, so that story was told in a way that was very Christian, very church-like, very Christian-ese. For better or worse, that language is much harder to hear by the culture at large because there’s so much freight attached to that way of talking about what we believe.
One of our challenges going into it, because I wanted Corrie’s story to continue for another generation, was that we had to figure out a way to tell her story in a way that would open up the ears of those who don’t believe what I believe. One of my challenges to the folks we were making it with was that if we can’t present this show to a general audience in a way that they can enjoy and get the message out of it in the same way that I, as a Christian, can, then I don’t know if we will have achieved our goal to create something that can perpetuate for another generation.
So it was interesting. We tested it and invited people who weren’t Christians or who were even antagonistic to Christianity and asked them what they thought of the show. I was surprised, really, to hear that people connected with it. They did not trip up over the way it presents faith and religion.
At one point, we invited an actress to read the part of Corrie Ten Boom who was not only not Christian but who was antagonistic toward it. We wanted to see, first, if she could perform the part in a way that was believable and, second, what she would make of all of this. Well, she did an amazing job, of course, because that’s what actors do and that’s a testament to her as a professional. [Note that this was not Nan Gurley who eventually played the part on stage and in the film.] But someone asked her, ‘Hey, what did you make of the religion of the show?’ She thought about it a minute and then said, “You know, I don’t know that I noticed any religion in the show, but I did notice a lot of talk about Jesus and I love Jesus. It’s Christianity that I don’t like. So I really loved it.”
That was interesting to me. That told me that we were on the right track, because we’re finding ways to tell the same story in a way that’s able to sneak past the watchful dragons of those who are on guard against all of the Christian-ese and instead they’re able to hear the truth about the person of Christ and how he changes your experience in the midst of the Holocaust. That, to me, is a powerful testament that we were on the right track.
You had this great theatrical run where you sold out the last few weeks of shows and then suddenly it was done. Did you know there could be something like this theatrical release happening then or was it tough to think that all that momentum was suddenly over?
It’s actually something that’s been evolving for years. We did a production of Frankenstein back in 2017 or 2018 that also sold out its entire run and then won some awards. We decided to go into the studio with the full cast and record an audio version of it.
One of the reasons behind that thinking is that it felt so unfair that we put so much work and creativity into making this beautiful experience for people, and then on closing night, it vanishes and evaporates into thin air and it’s gone. So we thought, “What if we created an artifact so that people can continue to experience this in some way?”
The first version of that was this [Frankenstein] audiobook. Then when we got into COVID and we couldn’t produce theater, we worked on a short film of one of Wendell Berry’s stories which he’d written for the stage called Sonata at Payne Hollow. We turned that into a short film and that was our first opportunity to ask, “What if we could capture theater on film in a way that’s really interesting?”
We’ve all seen Masterpiece Theater or something like it, and it’s shot with a movie camera but it’s just filming a play. Even if it’s the greatest play in the world, it’s just not very engaging. We’ve all seen that, right? Well, we weren’t interested in that at all. Thankfully, we have some really creative filmmakers here in Nashville to work with.
We continued developing those ideas through COVID, so when we got ready to put The Hiding Place on stage, we immediately thought, “You know what? Let’s try to do this at feature length.” We’d done it at the short film level and felt like it was well-executed, so we planned from the beginning to capture The Hiding Place because we felt like it was an important story that would have wide appeal and we were so proud of the cast members who were putting on these amazing performances.
For me, I also wanted to give the cast the gift of seeing what they’d created. I’ve been working in theater for ten years now and it’s always broken my heart that we’ve put so much work into this and the cast that makes it happen never gets to see what they’ve created. They’re on stage the whole time. There are scenes, especially in The Hiding Place, where it’s got a non-linear structure. You’ll have a cast member ask me, “Why am I doing this right now?” I have to say, “Trust me, it makes sense to the audience.” So having the opportunity to show them what they’ve created was just so satisfying. And we also get to preserve it for the world at large—not just Nashville.
It’s a movie that will instigate discussion. I guarantee you. There are difficult things that happen in this film that will trouble folks and inspire folks. It’s really ripe for that type of engagement.A.S. Peterson
Glad you mention being outside of Nashville because this release has a global reach. What exactly is the reach and what are your hopes there?
It’s in 800 theaters across the world. I was just on a call today where they were talking about the theaters they’re showing it in Tasmania, which just seems crazy to me. [Laughs] We also just heard that it’s selling out theaters in Australia, which is fascinating. So, yeah, it has a global reach right now which is exciting.
From the Rabbit Room’s perspective, we do a lot here in Nashville. We put on the Local Show, we put on Hutchmoot, we do lectures, and we have open hours here at North Wind Manor. We’re constantly bombarded with people saying, “Hey, I don’t live in Nashville so how can I participate in all of this great stuff that’s going on?” So internally, we have a lot of discussion about how we can serve those people. We have a lot of things in development that I’m really excited about.
But the truth is this film is one really big answer to that question. On a global scale, we’re saying, “Hey, you heard about this film when it was on stage in Nashville and now everybody across the world has the opportunity to participate in it themselves.” Because the Rabbit Room believes that art is a gathering point that creates community, it’s our hope that people will not go alone, that they’ll see it as an opportunity to do Rabbit Room-like stuff, get some friends together or a small group together, go see the movie, then go out to the pub and sit down with a drink to discuss it afterward.
It’s a movie that will instigate discussion. I guarantee you. There are difficult things that happen in this film that will trouble folks and inspire folks. It’s really ripe for that type of engagement.
What happens with this story after this theatrical release?
Great question. We’ve been reaching out to various producers and touring companies to see if there’s a life for the stage show on a bigger scale. That could be off-Broadway or touring… we just don’t know the answer to that question yet. Theater is a very complicated and very expensive business and it has to make sense for everybody involved. So we’re not sure.
We are holding onto the rights for performances by other theater companies until we know what the answer is. But at some point, certainly, it will be available for colleges and community theaters and regional theaters to do their own productions. So ultimately there will be a life for the material beyond this production.
Beyond that, we’re not sure. We’re hoping for streaming opportunities but that all looms in a foggy future we’ve not yet defined. But what we are hoping is that this will do well and people will enjoy it because we want to do this again with a different show and the following year with a different show. I love to envision a future where the Rabbit Room has really created this sort of experience in which people can participate. I would love to be on stage with a show in Nashville and know that, at the same time, people could be in North Carolina watching it in the theater.
Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.