‘Mother Mary’ celebrates 90 years in theater

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Mary Majesta Thomas has been acting for eight years. But she’s no ordinary actress — she is 90 years young.

Mother Mary, as she is affectionately called, has graced the stage of Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts, starring in numerous productions and at least twenty national and international tours to add to her résumé called life.

Given the name Majesta by her grandmother, Mother Mary was born on March 21, 1916 in Pittsburgh, PA. She attended the 5th Ave High School and married a postal worker named Frank Thomas. They moved to Chicago, where she worked as a beauty operator. She lived there for 47 years, until her husband died of kidney failure and a stroke. Soon after, her only child, local musician, Carei Thomas became ill and was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune neurological disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Thomas happened to be Interact’s first musical director.

Mother Mary began volunteering at the Interact Theater after moving to Minneapolis. The idea came up after conversing with a Hennepin County social worker about her interests. “She was a star from the beginning,” said Interact Artistic Director Jeanne Calvit. “She always has major roles.” Calvit and others later found out that this talent has some history in the life of Mother Mary. She was part of the Rhythm Queen’s Group, an all-girl band in Pittsburgh back in the 1930s. As was the case with many women in those days, marriage changed her dreams of pursuing a show business career. “Imagine. Show business turned beauty operator and now, some sixty-five years later, she’s acting again!” said Calvit. Mother Mary was a natural at Interact. “I watched the young people,” she said about her acting training.

Interact reserves February 22nd as the Annual Mother Mary Majesta Day. It is a day of honor and celebration of the life of a woman who has brought so much to the theater company. Mother Mary was donned in African clothing and a head wrap in her favorite color blue along with blue flowers and banners. “I [even] had a blue rug at my feet,” she said. Mother Mary knew and still remembers such names as Sophie Tucker and May West. She kept flash cards with the names and faces of famous Black Women. As a special gift, one was made especially for her and inserted in the deck. When she returned home the night of the celebration, she looked through her cards amongst legends like Marian Anderson and Ella Fitzgerald and came across ‘Mary Majesta Thomas’. “I felt like a queen,” she said.

Mother Mary’s first tour with Interact was to Vancouver, Canada. Calvit talked about Mother Mary’s sassy reaction when she first heard about the tour without having received an invitation to participate. Calvit assumed that Mother Mary would be unable to go. “She came into my office, looked me in the eye, pointed her finger at me and said, ‘I guess I’m not good enough to go on tour.’ From then on, she was invited on every tour,” said Calvit. Mother Mary has been on two tours to Europe. She has been to Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. “She’s a trooper . . . she never complains,” said Calvit.

Mother Mary has performed in major productions such as A Mind in Flames (1998), Madame Josette’s Nothing Sacred Cabaret (1999), Madame Josettes Take No Prisoners Cabaret (2001), Mother Mary’s Gumbo Ya-Ya (2002), Cloud Cuckooland! (2002-03), Live at the Funky Butt Jazz Club! (2005), and recently, The Boys Next Door (2005) at Mixed Blood Theater. Mother Mary has many fans. “There’s a crowd that follows me,” she said. She is dedicated to her craft and to her second home. Mother Mary maintains a regular volunteer schedule at Interact, Tuesday – Thursday, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30pm. “Mother Mary is the queen of the company,” said Calvit. She is also an active church member at Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and was a former member at the historic Pilgrim Baptist church in Chicago where she played the violin and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Pittsburgh.

When asked about her secret to longevity, Mother Mary said, “I stopped smoking, I don’t drink much, and I’ve walked the hills,” she said. “She also has a silver lining. She always has a positive attitude and even though she hasn’t had an easy life, she has blocked out all the bad stuff,” said Calvit. A song was written based on her life story for Madame Josette’s Nothing Sacred Cabaret (1999), entitled: I’ve Got Your Mama.

Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts is located at 212 Third Ave. N., Suite 140, Minneapolis, MN 55401. For more information, visit the website at www.interactcenter.com or call (612) 339-5145.

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