Research Analyzes Brecht’s Anti-War Play Mother Courage

Kathleen Turner
Martina Kolb

March 31, 2021

Kolb's Research is Conducted Through SU's March Fellowship

Ethics can be approached in countless ways, and one professor and her student are studying how theatre can act as a conduit for the teaching of ethics—even as theatres have been forced to stage performances virtually.

Martina Kolb, associate professor of German studies and associate director of the Honors Program, and Rebecca Vernachio ’21 are using Brecht’s anti-war play Mother Courage and Her Children (German: Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) to explore how it and other plays can be used as a tool to teach ethics in the world beyond the stage.

Mother Courage follows a mother and her children as they utterly fail to navigate their lives during the Thirty Years’ War,” Kolb explained. “Written during his exile, Brecht conceived the play as a dramatic warning about Nazism.”

Theatre and the arts, Kolb explains, which bring together individuals of varied backgrounds and beliefs, are an ideal stage on which to teach ethics.

“Our research seeks to answer how a diverse theatre, where critical spectators disagree, advance ethics and, among other things, can promote critical spectatorship under virtual circumstances as the result of the pandemic,” Kolb said.

As a part of their research, Vernachio has conducted student and faculty interviews with those involved with Theatre Studies and German Studies, to gain an inside perspective to the experiences these individuals have had and what impacts they have seen on theatre since the start of the pandemic. In late April, Kolb will interview the director of Leipzig University’s Centre of Competence for Theatre.

“During my first semester at SU, I read Mutter Courage in a seminar with Dr. Kolb about theatre and the play's themes and timelessness, which stood out to me in a poignant way,” Vernachio said. “There is so much to unpack from this play, and I feel like our research is just one facet of how this play could be interpreted.”

Kolb and Vernachio have organized two virtual film screenings on Mother Courage. The first included John Walter’s documentary Theater of War followed by a lively discussion after the screening. Another will occur later this semester and will screen a 1961 production of Mutter Courage by German film studio Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft. This screening will be followed by a discussion on ethics and theatre. These online events focus on the intersection of ethics and aesthetics, performing arts and history, and include individuals from various disciplines. Upon completion of their research, Vernachio will present their work at SU's Senior Scholars Day. Kolb and Vernachio are also planning a co-authored publication on the subject.

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