The Grand Theatre at South City Campus will be performing Arthur Miller’s The Crucible from March 8 through March 24.
Director Mark Fossen is determined to create a feeling of fear in the audience.
“This is often thought of as a political drama,” says Fossen, “but the way we have approached staging, we have some truly terrifying moments. It’s half political drama and half Amityville horror.”
Miller’s The Crucible is a story about the Salem witch trials. The witch trials happened because young girls began acting in a socially aberrant manner. As the abnormal behavior of the young girls is brought to the attention of the Salem community, its origins are attributed to witchcraft.
A parallel for McCarthyism
Miller wrote The Crucible during a time in United States history when communism was considered the gravest threat to national security and was at the forefront of the minds of many Americans.
The reality of this threat was most poignantly expressed through the congressional hearings held by Senator Joseph McCarthy to examine the activities of American citizens.
The citizens under examination in McCarthy’s committee hearings had been accused of socially aberrant behavior that was attributed to sympathizing with communism.
In the 1950’s, the accusations of sympathizing with communists began to tear America apart, much like the accusations of witchcraft did to the 17th century Salem community.
Reverend John Hale is the witchcraft specialist in The Crucible, and is played by Tyson Baker in the Grand’s production.
“[he discovers that] real witchcraft is not really pentacles on the ground and stuff, but it’s the fear among these people of what it’s going to cause them to do to one another,” says Baker.
From communism to terrorism
Most Americans today do not consider communism to be the greatest threat to national security.
Terrorism and the threat of terrorist attacks on American soil have become the most impending threat that most American fear now.
- The first is sound.
- “For the sound we are adding creepy layers,” say stage manager Joe Killian. “Whenever there is talk of witchcraft we hear the creepy whispers of witchcraft.”
- The second element that will be implemented is flying in stage pieces to the stage throughout the play.
- “We are starting out with an open stage, adding set pieces, progressively smothering the community as the play goes along,” says Killian. “As the play continues, it gets smaller and more confined. As it progresses, you can’t escape.”
- The last element will be the use of footlights on stage. Using footlights causes the lighting of the stage to not only come from above but also from below.
- This use of lights seems apropos in a play like The Crucible since there is a constant conflict between the power of God on high and the devil below.
Fossen recognizes that fear. Through his presentation of The Crucible he is asking his audience to consider the question, “What does fear make us do?”
“One of our focuses for the design element is a horror element, making it so witchcraft is as real as Al-Qaeda is to us,” says Joe Killian, stage manager for the production.
The horror element that will be part of The Crucible is not a bundle of cheap tricks to entertain the audience.
Rather, the implementation of stagecraft to create a feeling of terror in the audience is to create a connection between the characters on the stage and the fear every audience member may have experienced at moments of heightened societal anxiety.
“It’s such an easy play if you know that [the actors] are faking all the time, but if the audience actually gets scared maybe they get a sense of what it was like at that time,” Fossen says.
For more information about ticket prices and location for “The Crucible” visit the-grand.org.