Putting Zambia on the map in the international theater scene is Zambia born-and-bred actress Maria Mukuka. After completing her IB Diploma at the International School of Lusaka, Mukuka moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. Even before graduating with her undergraduate degree in theater, Mukuka made her Off-Broadway debut at the world’s largest solo theater festival, with her one-woman show, “Race Free”. The self-authored hour-long solo performance is a selection of stories about Mukuka’s childhood in Zambia, and her experiences as a bi-racial/bi-cultural artist in New York. The show, which sold out, was named a bestseller by the festival, was granted an additional performance and subsequently staged at the Pulitzer Prize winning theater New York Theater Workshop.
Maria has since earned her Master of Fine Arts in Theater and performed both Off and Off-Off-Broadway in shows at The Tank and La MaMa Experimental Theater Club.
Mukuka is passionate about contributing to the theater scene in Zambia and has collaborated with local organization and Zambia’s leading multi-disciplinary art space, Modzi Arts, which is ran by Artistic Director Taonga Julia Kaseka and has produced two of her plays: “Chief Jones” (2018) an adaptation of “The Emperor Jones” By Eugene O’Neill and “Swaggering Braggadocio” (2017) which Mukuka wrote, directed and played principal roles in. Her play “Chief Jones” was sponsored by the prestigious USA Tow Foundation and was an exploration of identity in contemporary Zambia by exploring the conflicting realities of tradition and modernization. The play also examined an individual’s responsibility to local society.
Earlier this June, Maria Mukuka was cast in Richard II by William Shakespeare in the prestigious Shakespeare in the Park series, a beloved New York City tradition for more than 60 years. This is the second summer in a row that Maria Mukuka has been cast in Shakespeare in the Park. The annual production, which takes place at the Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park, has so far provided free performances of world class theater to more than five million people. Due to the pandemic, this year’s production of Richard II was staged as a radio play and hosted on WNYC, the New York Public Radio. The production, featuring a cast of predominantly actors of colour, was dedicated to the Black Lives Matter Movement. New York-based, Kenyan director Saheem Ali said “it’s my hope that listening to Shakespeare’s words, broadcast in the midst of a pandemic and an uprising, will have powerful resonance in our world.” The New York Times wrote that “the mostly black cast, led by a suave Andre Holland in the title role, delivered electric performances, spotlighting the aural delights of Shakespeare’s language.” Academy Award winning Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong’o narrated the four-part audio play and was accompanied by award winning castmates including Phylicia Rashad, John Douglas Thompson, Estelle Parsons and several others. The production is available to listen to at wnycstudios.org, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other streaming services.
In addition to her burgeoning acting career, Maria Mukuka is a Lecturer of Acting at Brooklyn College, The City University of New York and a Dialect Coach specializing in African dialects for Off-Broadway productions. Mukuka considers herself a theater artist; in addition to acting, she is currently writing a new play which she describes as “boundary-pushing and filled with humor”. Maria Mukuka is eager to continue sharing Zambian culture with the world and bringing home all she’s learned.