The space between the 1692 Salem Witch Trials and 2017 seems wide, but there are still lessons to be learned from the stories in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
Theater students at Kilgore College are bringing those lessons to the Van Cliburn Auditorium stage in October, presenting “The Crucible” as the department’s first play of the year.
The story follows a farmer who, along with his wife, is falsely accused by a girl with whom he is having an affair of practicing witchcraft.
The accusations lead to mass hysteria as the list of people accused of witchcraft and ordered to be hanged grows.
“It’s a true story; it’s based on actual people and events,” KC theater instructor Micah Goodding said.
Through the telling of the story set in 17th century Massachusetts, Miller’s 1953 play serves as a metaphor for the McCarthyism era of America when Sen. Joseph McCarthy was calling artists and professors communists, Goodding said.
The claims can be seen as parallel with those in Massachusetts who were accused of being witches and practicing witchcraft, he added.
Within the story, the lesson comes in the form of showing what can happen when people make blind accusations, “what can happen as a result,” he said.
Although many students have read “The Crucible” in class, Goodding said, Miller wrote the play to be performed and consumed in a theater, not read.
“We’re hoping that for our story people will see an important piece of American literature come to life,” he said.
With morning performances scheduled in addition to the regular matinee and evening performances, Goodding said, he hopes to give audiences a range of opportunities to see the story acted out instead of just read.
Parallels can still be drawn from the story about some aspects of the current political climate, he said.
“That’s a part of why we chose to do this particular piece is because the level of dialogue between people on both sides of the aisle has become so heated and has basically, we think, devolved into name calling,” Goodding said. “I hope it reminds people of what can happen whenever we let ourselves be whipped into mass hysteria and suspicion.”
Although these lessons can be interpreted through the play, Goodding said, he did not want that to become the focus of the play. Instead it was just important for them to be aware of that aspect and for them to understand the ways the story is still relevant.
“I wanted them to focus on telling the story of their character in the community and act basically… It’s one thing to do a play that is well respected. It’s another to do the play now,” he said. “I asked the students to think about the reasons why this play is important to perform now, for them personally, and to tap into that and their characters.”
Beyond the underlying lessons, the play brought with it challenges of how to bring the Massachusetts Bay Colony to life without letting it be overshadowed by a stereotypical presentation.
Goodding said he believes the clichéd look of bibs, bonnets and buckle shoes would be a distraction to the story.
Instead, he said, the college production is focused on bringing to life the feeling of a highly religious, devout community that lives relatively simple lives as working class members of the society.
“That’s a demographic we can all relate to,” he said. “Instead of being historical figures, which they are – every character that’s named is taken from record – we want them to be real people to our audiences; not just stained glass historical figures, but real breathing people in the room with them.”
Although the theater department generally asks that people not bring children seven years old or younger, Goodding said, the play is appropriate for all audiences.
“I hope that the choices we made with our costuming and the way that we’ve staged the play will make it really accessible, especially to our young audiences,” he said.
Goodding wants to make the play relevant, tangible and tactical to younger audience members to give them a better understanding of the world, he said, “So when they leave the theater, they have more of a consciousness how name calling and suspicion can affect people around them in their immediate community.”
The show will open Thursday, Oct. 12 with performances scheduled through Sunday, Oct. 15 with evening shows set for Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Oct. 12-14) at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m.
The two morning performances scheduled for schools and community organizations on Oct. 12 and 13 at 10:30 a.m. have already sold out, Goodding said. Those two shows will also feature an educational presentation and discussion with the cast and crew.
Tickets are available online and at the box office for the remaining evening and matinee shows Oct. 12-15. For tickets, go to the KC Theatre website at Kilgore.edu/drama or contact the box office at 903-986-8126.