Southern Utah University’s theatre department is set to open the anti-war play “Mother Courage and Her Children” on Thursday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m. and will run through March 18, 19 and 21 with a matinee performance March 19 at 2 p.m.
Written by Bertoldt Brecht, the play follows the titular Mother Courage, whose real name is Anna Fierling, and the trek she and her children take during the real-life Thirty Years’ War. The play is directed by Scott Knowles.
SUU theatre also invites audience members to pre and post-show discussions. Friday, March 18, there will be a talk titled “A German Hero? Brecht Before, During & After Exile,” given by Dr. Corey Twitchell. Immediately following Monday, March 21’s evening performance, Knowles and Twitchell will hold a discussion titled “Brechtian Aesthetics: A conversation.”
“Audience members that are there will obviously be invited to stay for the talkback,” said Knowles. “But if you attend on any other night, you are welcome to come back around 10 p.m. [on either discussion night].”
Though “Mother Courage” follows the Thirty Years’ War, it is much more than simply a story about a woman and her children.
“‘Mother Courage’ is a show about the struggles between the capitalist and war-torn society versus the individualist ideas and personal identity,” said Stage Manager Susannah Pilkington, a statement that was affirmed by other members of the cast and crew.
This production also utilized Brechtian acting techniques that are not typical of SUU’s shows. Knowles broke the rehearsal process into three parts. First, the cast examined their roles for contradictions. Second, the show went through a typical blocking process. Finally, Knowles had the cast translate their lines into third-person past tense in order to create the correct attitude towards their characters which is due to Brecht’s idea that both the character and the actor should be present in an audience member’s mind when they see the show.
“It takes a lot of patience and finagling with concepts the actors are already familiar with to bring them to concepts they’re not familiar with yet,” said Assistant Director Rhys Kaiser of the process.
The rehearsal process was also a large collaboration between Knowles, Kaiser and the cast.
“It was exhausting in the best way,” said Mother Courage actress Whitney Black, “I spent every rehearsal dishing out every idea I had that we could use for the show.”
Black will be taking a step back from the production during the matinee performance Saturday, March 19, and her understudy, Finley Caciola will be playing the role. Swiss Cheese, the character Caciola is cast as, will be played by their understudy Zina Johnstun.
“This is the show that convinced me to major in theatre,” said Caciola. “It really feels like something has come full circle for me.”
The show has also been a great experience for members of the cast outside of the titular family.
“Getting to work with such talented people and be in this space has been an amazing experience,” said freshman Emma Turpin who plays Yvette. This will be Turpin’s first show at SUU.
Though unintentionally, “Mother Courage” has also become incredibly relevant to the state of the world at the moment.
“It was written right around World War II and all of the themes, ideas and situations are still things happening today,” said Pilkington.
The show was selected to be performed well before Russia invaded Ukraine but, now that it has, the cast and crew feel that the show is the right play for the moment.
“I think people should come see the show so that they can give themselves a place to start discussing the pros and cons of war inside their own heads,” said Black.
The cast have had discussions about the Russia-Ukraine conflict in rehearsals and are treating it very carefully as they prepare to open the show.
“While I do encourage people to acknowledge their emotional needs and boundaries and take their time processing the situation in Ukraine, you can only take so much time,” said Caciola. “It is happening right now. There are people that need our help right now.”
“Mother Courage” will be performed at the Randall L. Jones Theatre and is free to SUU students with a valid student ID.
Article & Photos by: Tessa Cheshire