June 7, 2016

Breakthrough Moment: Mirirai Sithole ’12

by Bonnie Eissner
Mirirai Sithole ’12

Mirirai Sithole ’12 received a rave review in The New York Times for her portrayal of Kattrin in a January 2016 production of Mother Courage and her Children.

It is said that an actor’s instrument is her body. That was true in spades for Mirirai Sithole ’12 last January when, for two hours, she held the rapt attention of theatergoers in Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway production of the Bertolt Brecht classic Mother Courage and her Children— without uttering a single line of dialogue.

Sithole’s part, as Mother Courage’s mute daughter Kattrin, was the second biggest in the play, and in a rave review, The New York Times described her performance as “simply extraordinary,” noting that she gave the production “a moving emotional center.”

The play depicts the horrors and corruption of war through the epic story of a mother—a shrewd canteen operator—and her three vulnerable children. With her large, expressive eyes, and dancer-like figure, Sithole, as the maturing Kattrin, conveyed fading innocence, terror and, ultimately, defiance.

In a brief conversation after one of the evening shows, Sithole said that she had not read the full review in The Times. But it was hard for her to escape the accolades. Friends had reached out to her on social media, and the audience members who filed out of the packed theater stopped to congratulate her on her performance. One even introduced himself as Sebastian Brecht, Bertolt’s grandson.

Sithole reluctantly admitted that the attention has led to more auditions. She modestly called herself “lucky” to be making a profession out of her passion. Yet, it is evident that she has been deliberate in shaping her acting career—pursuing internships while a student at Adelphi and, a year after graduating from Adelphi, spending nine months as an acting apprentice at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Upon returning to New York, she signed with an agent that had seen her perform in a showcase in Louisville. She has since had costarring roles—nonrecurring, speaking parts— in television shows, including Aziz Ansari’s Master of None on Netflix and Broad City on Comedy Central. Her New York theater credits include the lead in Autumn Harvest at Lincoln Center Education’s Teacher’s Summer Forum and a role in C.O.A.L. (Confessions of a Liar) at 59E59 Theaters.

She has earned membership in the two primary actors unions—the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA).

As dedicated as she is to her profession, Sithole acknowledges its challenges. “It’s not as glamorous as a lot of people would think, especially at this stage in my career,” she said. “There’s still a lot of hustle and making sure that you go to people’s readings and you meet people…and find a way to pay your bills that doesn’t make you want to cry.” One of her steady side jobs has been selling merchandise at Broadway shows.

She also works hard to keep herself grounded. At Adelphi, she immersed herself in extracurricular activities—class president for two years, a member of the Student Activities Board and a Peer Assistant Leader. She said that she is “happy” that she had so many experiences outside the theater, which, in her words, “shaped me for a fuller life.”

When she takes on a role, she draws on these experiences. “You take whatever you’ve experienced and whatever you know and remember that and bring that to every performance,” she said.

“Mirirai has a tremendous amount of integrity,” said Maggie Lally ’82, associate professor, who worked with Sithole during her undergraduate days and has remained close to her. “She leads with her integrity. … The person she is informs the artist she is, and I’m just thrilled her work has been acknowledged.”

This piece was published in AU VU, Spring 2016 issue.

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