Summoning ‘Courage’: Dickinson Presents Immersive Take on Classic Play

Art Walks at Dickinson College. Photo by A. Pierce Bounds '71.

Audiences will meet with the performers at Britton Plaza. Photo by A. Pierce Bounds '71.

Art Walks takes audiences through alleyways of Carlisle

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Today marks the start of an immersive theatrical and dance performance at Dickinson that challenges audiences to consider timeless and timely social issues. Art Walks is a bold staging of Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 play Mother Courage and Her Children. The story follows Mother Courage, a homeless mom who travels from village to village with her canteen wagon, eking out a living during a time of war.

During this Department of Theatre & Dance production, audience members literally follow the title character and her wagon across campus. Dance Theatre Group members perform site-specific works at various locations along the play’s route; the dance works may also be viewed independently of the play. 

Audiences will convene at Britton Plaza on Friday, Nov. 4, at 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5 and 6, at 3 p.m. All audience members should be prepared to walk more than a mile. You may reserve free tickets here.

Bertolt Brecht wrote Mother Courage at the start of World War II. But he set his story more than 300 years earlier, during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), because he wanted to create some emotional distance within the wartime audience, writes Professor of Theatre Karen Lordi-Kirkham. “Using theatre to combat the rise of fascism, he wanted his audiences to think rather than feel, to question their current political moment and be moved to make change,” explains Lordi-Kirkham, who directs the Dickinson production, which corrals the talents of nearly 80 student actors, dancers and tech crew members.

Additional techniques—such as using songs to break the fourth wall between audience and actors and revealing behind-the-scenes theatrical mechanics—intensify this “estrangement effect in Brecht’s day, but today, these techniques are commonly used. So, this production shakes things up in more contemporary ways. It's why the audience follows Mother Courage on foot, and why Dance Theatre Group performers “interrupt” the show with site-specific performances, allowing audience members time to enjoy and reflect. (These works are choreographed by Director of Dance Sarah Skaggs and Visiting Professor of Dance Erin Crawley-Woods, with guest choreographers Emie Hughes '13, Olga Ulturgasheva and Sayan Ulturgashev.)

Another jarring element in the Dickinson production: Mother Courage’s canteen wagon is loaded with luggage from different eras across history. This underscores the idea that the production’s basic themes are timeless—and encourages audiences to draw connections to the wartime events of today.

“[Brecht] portrays war as business, and he shows that those who suffer most are those who have the least,” Kirkham writes. “As war continues to rage particularly in the Ukraine, 'Mother Courage' continues to be a story that remains vital to tell.”


Published November 1, 2022