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UMN students present original rock musical ‘The Mother’

The show is a collaborative project between University theatre faculty and students and will run Saturday and Sunday.
Image by Qiuxia Welch (courtesy)
The Mother is running Saturday and Sunday in the Rarig Center’s Nolte Xperimental Theatre.

The University of Minnesota’s theatre department will present “The Mother,” a rock musical fully devised by director Luverne Seifert, other theatre faculty and students, on Saturday and Sunday in the Rarig Center’s Nolte Xperimental Theatre.

“The Mother” is based on two source materials: the 1906 novel “Mother” by Maxim Gorky and the subsequent stage adaptation called “The Mother” by Bertolt Brecht. Seifert and students developed and wrote this play based on the two source materials after a class he led last spring explored stories of U.S. union workers.

The University-produced musical follows a working-class mother during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia who, despite her initial hesitancy, slowly becomes the leader of the workers’ uprising against wealthy factory owners.

Twenty-eight students, 22 of whom are performers, are involved in the production, which features an original script, music and dance.

After Seifert’s spring class did extensive research on the Bolshevik Revolution in particular, they started developing the story for the show, which, to Seifert, is applicable to current society.

“The one thing when, during our research time last spring semester, that we discovered is that there’s a story like this every day in the newspaper and there’s a union striking or a story of workers being placed in horrific conditions,” Seifert said.

The music in the show is composed and performed by Annie Enneking, a stage combat instructor at the University. While there are a few ballads in the show, Enneking said the music has a driven rock feel that leans more punk at times to further reflect the characters’ situations.

Ei Malachite Carlson, a transfer student who is the set designer and props master for the show, said the music and sound element is one of the most critical parts of the production.

“The songs are both a motivation and a comfort for the characters themselves, and they can act as such for the audience as well,” Carlson said. “A lot of musical thought has gone into the show, a lot of sound thought has gone in, so it’s a very unique experience.”

The musical aspect of “The Mother” was, like other elements of the show, a collaborative endeavor.

When composing the score, Enneking said she would come to rehearsals with a fleshed-out idea, but would tailor parts of the songs based on feedback she would receive from the cast. It is this collaborative element of the production that Enneking finds incredibly joyous and rewarding.

“I find everyone’s openness really invigorating. I’m open too, so I just think collaboration is the foundation of my practice,” Enneking said. “I feel like it’s a real luxury and privilege to be able to be in a room with all of them and making something together.”

Dominique Drake, a fourth-year student who plays Pavel, the son of the titular mother, said the level of collaboration needed to pull off this type of show has caused the cast and crew to grow together in their artistry. While Drake finds this collaborative atmosphere fulfilling, he initially auditioned because he wanted to explore the themes surrounding the musical.

“What really drove me to delve deeper into the project was the ideas behind it, the fact that it was Brechtian theater and based around socialism and a workers’ revolution,” Drake said, referring to a type of drama that makes the audience aware they are watching a performance.

Brechtian theater also makes the audience think critically about issues happening both onstage and in society.

Carlson said the Brechtian theater shown in “The Mother” is an opportunity to not only entertain the audience but also educate. This sentiment extends to the sets and props, like their protest signs, books and wooden dowels.

The sets in the musical are not extensive as the show is mostly set in a Russian household. Carlson said the sets, along with the props, are an integral part of the story the cast and crew is trying to tell.

“A lot of our sets, they still will tell some of the story but they’re not meant to be the main subject of the story, it’s supposed to be the actors and such,” Carlson said. “[The sets are] more subtle, but they do still have a little voice of their own.”

The cast hopes the audience leaves the theater with a newfound understanding of workers’ rights and how that affects modern society. Drake, specifically, believes the theater is an optimal place to tackle these types of topics.

“There’s a constant struggle of the working class against the, we call it the ruling class very often, but really the workers against the systems that are in place, here and now and have been [here] since a lot of the start of civilization,” Drake said. “At every level, I think, especially in theater, it’s important to keep an eye on that to track our progress of how far we’ve come.”

“The Mother” runs Saturday and Sunday in the Rarig Center’s Nolte Xperimental Theatre. At the time of writing, all showings are sold out.

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