A Scene from “Thumbprint” | Photo by Noah Stern Weber

Beth Morrison was inspired the moment she heard Mukhtar Mai’s story, and that inspiration – in musical form – is coming to REDCAT Theatre this week, thanks to LA Opera’s Off Grand series.

In 2009, Beth Morrison Projects commissioned a song cycle called A Stalk of Wheat from composer Kamala Sankaram based on a Pakistani woman’s rights activist named Mukhtar Mai who had been raped by multiple men in retribution for a crime supposedly committed by her brother.


A Scene from “Thumbprint” | Photo by Noah Stern Weber

“Instead of being cast out, instead of being killed, or taking her own life,” Beth Morrison told Arts Alive, “which would be a typical way this would go, her very loving and supportive family encouraged her to take her perpetrators to justice, which she did.”

Mai won a settlement and with that money founded a school for girls.

“I first encountered Mukhtar’s story through a play that Susan Yankowitz had written,” said Morrison. She says she found it deeply moving and filled with hope. “In this moment in time, with what’s happening in the world, it’s such an important story to tell. It’s the story of the most courageous Muslim woman and what she did for the women in her country.”


Beth Morrison | Photo by Susie Goodman

After Sankaram finished Stalk of Wheat, she told Morrison she thought there might be a larger work there… that it might be an opera. Morrison connected Sankaram and Yankowitz and in 2014 Beth Morrison Projects produced Thumbprint, directed by Rachel Dickstein.

“The piece is called Thumbprint,” said Morrison, “because when Mukhtar was dealing with the legal end of things and was at the police station, she couldn’t read or write anything – she was completely illiterate – and she had to sign her name with her thumbprint. She wanted to start the school so no girls would know the shame of having to sign their name with their thumbprint, and she was its first student. After she learned to read, a new world opened up for her.”

Now, Thumbprint is coming to LA. It’s part of LA Opera’s “Off Grand” series and opens Thursday at REDCAT Theater, with additional performances Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Click here for tickets and more information.

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