My favorite part of working in the theatre is the opportunity to delve deep into specific subjects and historical moments. For the last six months I have gone on an epic journey into witches and the Salem witch trials of 1692 as well as the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) trials of the 1950s McCarthy era. As a woman, I have always been drawn to witches and wicca—which for me represents the divine feminine and the true expression of female freedom and connection to one’s body, the earth, and the elements. I have always wondered, how something as beautiful as a woman fully expressing herself in commune with nature could be deemed “sinful” or “evil” and yet, as history has shown over and over again, women deemed “witches” have been persecuted, burned at the stake, stoned, and hung. The Salem witch trials of 1692 was one such historical moment—a moment where fear and hysteria consumed a small town to a point beyond no return. Prior to technology, it was a moment in which fear spread virally like a forest fire—leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. The only way to save yourself was to point a finger at someone else. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, many artists and creatives were put on the famous “black list” and Arthur Miller was one of those artists. You could be removed from the “list” if you gave up names of others. In response to this persecution, Miller wrote The Crucible—a Brechtian distancing harnessing history to critique the contemporary. This brings us to right now. Why The Crucible (again)? Parallels can be drawn to the recent hysteria around the Coronavirus (COVID-19)—fear and panic spreading like wildfire as well as the current media, where references to the Salem witch trials and “witch hunts” occur on a regular basis, in a country where each side is blind to the other’s views. This motif emerged early on in the design process: blind-folded images recurred as a metaphor for the villagers’ inability to see the truth, their inability to truly see each other, or perhaps even their willingness to consciously shut the “other” out, deliberately not seeing them.
The word “crucible” is defined as, “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures; a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.” The circularity of a crucible inspired the stage design and staging—modeled after an ancient operating theatre or courtroom—an immersive environment that allows the action to surround the audience in a cauldron where the dramatic action reaches a boiling point. The Miller estate has strict rules regarding the play. For instance, it must take place in Salem in 1692—it cannot be set in a different historical period or place. The play also cannot be edited or rearranged in anyway—in essence, it is a perfectly well-made play with a five-act structure. Leaving the play intact, as a director, I took artistic liberty to fill the spaces in between—the preshow and transitions—with movement scores and choreography that visually explore the stories told but not seen. We also took generous artistic liberties, in particular with sound and media design, to mix and layer time, reality, and history into new configurations. The circular 360 staging creates a visually poetic collage of a world spiraling out of control, caught in a viral frenzy that echoes our current moment.
The Crucible (1953) by Arthur Miller, is a fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. A 360 immersive environment will surround the audience. Movement scores and mediated sequences will intersect the dialogue creating a visually poetic collage of a world spiraling out of control and caught in a viral frenzy echoing our current political moment.
Article and Video in ASU News (December 31, 20 :
"What the Audience Didn't See: Lessons Learned from a Cancelled Play,"
COVID-19 may have disrupted their plans, but ASU theater students still learned something along the way.