"Mother Tongue” is first devised theater production at UNCSA by a student

“Mother Tongue,” the first devised theater production at UNCSA conceived and directed by a student, will premiere 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31. Directed by fourth-year Drama student Marina Zurita, "Mother Tongue" explores themes of overconsumption and waste, asking us to look at our trash and listen to the essential workers who make their living from it.

Inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” and the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, a waste picker living in São Paulo, Brazil, in the mid-1900s, “Mother Tongue” will be filled with music ... and things we throw away.

Presented by the schools of Drama and Design and Production, performances take place at Freedman Theatre in Alex Ewing Performance Place, 1533 S. Main St. Subsequent productions will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2; Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 3. Tickets are $20 regular and $15 for students with valid ID online or 336-721-1945.

Marina Zurita

Fourth-year directing student Marina Zurita.

Devised theater starts with a concept but no script and is developed collaboratively. Zurita is creating the script with cast members, musicians, and text from interviews with Brazilian waste pickers who salvage materials thrown away by others to sell or use.

“Everybody is writing,” Zurita said. “I am more like an editor than a playwright.”

Devised theater has been an area of focus during Drama Dean Scott Zigler’s tenure with faculty member Andy Paris hired to teach it. Other recent devised productions include “Still Life with Rocket” (2019), “Inheritance” (2020) and “Love & Depositions” (2021).

Zurita developed “Mother Tongue” in part during work in the Studio for Creative Practice at UNCSA, a laboratory for the making of original, transdisciplinary work. She met some of her current collaborators there.

“When I started studying theater – and Brecht in particular – I kept coming back to ‘Mother Courage,’” Zurita said. “I was intrigued by her character and the opinions that people had about her. They see her either as a product of war, or a mother who is responsible for the death of her children. I was fascinated by the paradox and our unwillingness to give space for that.”

Tyler Felix

Fourth-year drama student Tyler Felix will play Rogerio in "Mother Tongue."

“Mother Courage” tells the story of a trash collector who sets out to profit from the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and ends up losing all her children to the war instead. Zurita, who is from São Paulo, was granted a two-month trip to Brazil to conduct interviews with waste pickers there by the Semans Art Fund, a private foundation that provides funding to current UNCSA students for summer study, special projects, research and performances.

“In the middle of the pandemic, I rushed back from Brazil just before the borders closed,” Zurita said. “I reread ‘Mother Courage,’ read Carolina Maria de Jesus’ diary for the first time, and became intrigued with the fiction and the real. They seem so distant in time and space and culture – one in 17th-century Europe; the other, an Afro-Brazilian woman in the 1950s.”

De Jesus was a waste picker who lived in the slums of São Paulo from 1914 to 1977. When it was published in 1960, her diary, “Quarto de Despejo” (literally, “Junk Room”), became a bestseller and won international acclaim.

The two women are connected by their occupations and by the troubled times they live in – one in war and the other in a culture of overconsumption and climate degradation.

Ishmael Gonzalez

Fourth-year drama student Ishmael Gonzalez will play Tia in "Mother Tongue."

“It was interesting for me on a personal level to come across the diary during COVID,” Zurita said. “My sensibility to the circumstances of those two women was heightened: not being able to the define the near future according to the near present. The unpredictability is so true in ‘Mother Courage’ and in the lives of waste pickers.”

The instrumentalists for the show are students from the School of Drama and the School of Music, with a band called Pennies for Breakfast as the core. They include Isabelle Bushue, Marta Dorović, Chris Forbes, Luca Kevorkian, Jackson Pelz and Elizabeth Saller, playing saxophone, flute, violins, guitars – acoustic and electric – and singing.

“They are so gifted – it defies description,” Zurita said. “There is a lot of free improvisation and a couple of songs that they have written. They come to rehearsal two times a week, and we show them moments in the play. The script is constantly changing, so the score is constantly changing.

“Collaboration is hard, but it’s so beautiful to watch when it comes together. Everybody is in the same room trying to figure out what to do. It’s rewarding, because everybody is truly part of the process.”

From the School of Drama, the cast includes fourth-year actors Tyler Felix as Rogerio and Ishmael Gonzales as Tia; third-year actors Caroline Farley as Vani/Vanessa, Logan Gould as José Carlos, Alyssa James as Alessandra, Jason Sanchez as Pedro; and second-year actor Daniella Macre as Melina. From the School of Design and Production, students include Joelle Gonzales, scenic designer; Scott Beckwith, technical director; Anah Galinski, scene charge; Amy Laliberty, props director; Logan Benson, costume designer; Kenzie Biundo, wig and makeup designer; Taylor Gordon, lighting designer; Elizabeth Copenhaver, sound designer; Joel Magill, director of production; Natasha Ramos, production manager; Ashley Pennington, production stage manager; and Kat Denning, stage manager.

Director’s note: “Mother Tongue” is recommended for mature audiences.

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March 07, 2022