Burnsville High School students are bringing to life the hysteria of the 1692 Salem witch trials later this month in “The Crucible.”
The 1953 play by Arthur Miller explores the volatile state of a Massachusetts community when the forces of fear, attraction, hypocrisy, reputation and intolerance interact.
“Every day we are more comfortable in ourselves and able to ramp up the craziness,” said Madeline Moher, a sophomore student playing Betty Parris.
The story unfolds when accusations of witchcraft engulf the restrictive Puritan town.
Senior Henry Smalstig plays Reverend Parris, the town minister who works to drive confessions of witchcraft out of townspeople with thoughts of protecting his own reputation in mind. Smalstig said the cast is finding a deeper sense of their characters with every rehearsal.
Director Marie Hansen, a language arts teacher at Burnsville High School, said she wanted to give the actors a sense of ownership over the artistic work by making the rehearsal process a collaborative one, letting students discover how their characters move and interact.
“The character isn’t set in stone based on how it’s written or how (Hansen) thinks it should be portrayed,” Smalstig said. “(Hansen is) open to input and we can discuss how we think the character feels and it’s something that changes and evolves the character so it becomes this multidimensional person.”
Collaboration can also be seen within the production’s technical work and design. The woods are a significant location and symbol throughout the show and the school’s fab lab printer and equipment were used to create trees for the set. The production’s poster was inspired by the art of Burnsville High School student Sammy Kutz. Throughout the show, lightening within the woods will change to reflect the shifts in the story’s emotional pulse. Without giving anything away, the production also worked to re-imagine audience interaction.
“I really think the audiences are going to be surprised by how emotional and intense the scenes are,” Smalstig said. “You see a build up and it kind of explodes out and it feels really dramatic and weighted.”
Breaking down the scenes with plot maps and spending time closely examining the language are some of the ways the cast has discovered the heightened emotion and motivations behind the action. Some actors create simple mantras for their characters that they speak to themselves before going onstage.
The play was originally written to comment on the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy-era, in which Miller was writing. Hansen said the play continues to be relevant for its thought-provoking questions about the pursuit of facts.
“We accuse people but it’s based on emotions or fake news, not real facts or reality,” Hansen said. “People, from whatever side they are on, judge and go after people on the other side.”
Senior Kenzie Carrane is stage managing the show and is excited for fellow students to see a piece of their reading curriculum come to life.
“It’s something that we need to see — going out, about to graduate — so we can decipher what we believe to be fact,” Carrane said.
“Things can get so out of hand when you jump to conclusions, and it’s just a snowball effect,” said Meghan Bormann, a junior student playing Mercy Lewis. Sofia Kemeny, a freshman student playing Ann Putnam, said the show is a reminder to her of the importance of stepping out on your own and doing what is right.