Melancholy and Mother Courage: why Three Billboards …

One might well ponder why we have chosen to open the season with Mother Courage, a challenging play describing less than heart-warming events. We believe that the goal of the theatre is catharsis, release, liberation; that this experience is not always achieved by distracting ourselves from suffering but by going to the heart of the world. As war correspondent Chris Hedges says in his remarkable book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning: “Reconciliation, self-awareness and finally the humility that makes peace possible come only when the culture no longer serves a cause or a myth but the most precious and elusive of all human narratives—truth.”

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What an honor it is to present Mother Courage, arguably the best play by one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, Bertolt Brecht.

Bertolt Brecht Quotes (Author of Mother Courage and …

Mother Courage and Her Children 12,536 ratings Open Preview

In theatre, the needs of a piece are dictated by the time and place in which it is being created. Given this place and time and Brecht’s Mother Courage, I decided to compose for two musicians playing piano, accordion and tuba—the meeting point redux of circus, military and cabaret music.

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Despite Brecht’s efforts to shape audiences’ responses to Mother Courage, the play has continued to emotionally engage as well as intellectually challenge and entertain audiences worldwide.

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In 1949, Brecht produced and directed the play himself with his own company, the Berliner Ensemble, at the Deutsches Theatre in East Berlin. He rewrote the play, making alterations to ensure that Mother Courage would not be interpreted in a sentimental manner. Helene Weigel played the title role in a portrayal that would define all others to come, and the production launched Brecht’s reputation as the most important director of his time.

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Bertolt Brecht wrote Mother Courage in the autumn of 1939 during his Swedish exile on Lidingö Island, finishing the play in just five weeks. Written in response to Germany’s invasion of Poland, he had originally hoped to see the play presented in Scandinavia as a warning not to be drawn into what was to become World War II; but Hitler had designs on Sweden, and it proved too politically inflammatory to produce Mother Courage in Stockholm.

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In 1948, having been refused entry into the American zone of occupied Germany, Brecht and Weigel went to the Soviet sector of Berlin. On January 11, 1949, he directed his own production of Mother Courage at the Deutsches Theatre with Weigel in the title role. With the establishment of his own company, the Berliner Ensemble, in 1949, Brecht’s theatrical future was secured with full support from the Communist regime.

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When Lisa asked me to compose the score for Mother Courage, I asked myself how I could do this when a wonderful score already exists—that of Paul Dessau (who composed the music for Brecht’s 1949 production)—and how I could work with a theatre company to do this work.