“The Crucible” will be presented at 8 p.m. Oct 27-28 and Nov. 3-4 and 2 p.m. Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 at the Turner Studio Theatre at the Clark State Performing Arts Center and will be done in the round, giving attendees a unique experience.
The show will feature a cast of Clark State students, alumni, community members and teens of the Springfield Arts Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors (YAA), a first-time collaboration for the two theater groups. It’s also Brown’s first directorial assignment for Clark State, with more than 50 directing credits in the area.
“It just made sense,” said Brown, of the collaboration. “It fits in well with Clark State and with our Arts in the Classroom program.”
When it came to picking a title, Brown and Lauricella were also on script. It has been a while since “The Crucible” was presented at Clark State, when Lauricella was in that cast along with other local performers including Dan Carey and Larry Coressel.
“Reading it is one thing but with a cast and hearing it, ‘The Crucible’ still resonates with strong characters and you really see it’s scary, not because of witches but the accusations,” Lauricella said. “From the get-go it snowballs with people just throwing out names of poor people who are good.”
Inspired by the Salem witch trials of the 1690s in which people were accused of witchcraft, tried and hanged, Miller wrote “The Crucible” as an allegory for the McCarthyism of the 1950s when the U.S. government was involved in trying people accused of being Communists or having ties with them as the Cold War raged.
Brown and the cast had many meetings and conversations about the show and found there is not one main villain, but each character is relatable and she hopes the audience will all walk away with different favorite characters.
Ruth Brown, a former student, offers the show dramaturgy, meaning she adds to the cast’s knowledge and understanding. Brown found the first witch hunts were done in Ireland in the 1400s and several happened to various degrees, most recently in the 1990s.
While traditionally using the Pilgrim-type costumes for the period setting, Brown and Lauricella took a different approach and have their cast wear nondescript clothing, leaving it ambiguous without changing the script.
“It’s not 2023 or 1953, that’s not the point, and we’re proud of doing it this way,” said Brown. “We want people to come in and expect one thing and get another. It’s not about McCarthyism, it’s about humans.”
Other unique touches include using projections of the various witch hunts over the centuries between scenes. It also stands out by doing the play in the round, putting the audience in a circle or on at least three sides.
“The Turner Studio Theatre is already more immersive and when we do this in the round, you are in Salem, Mass. You watch some of the expressions and it’s heartbreaking and makes you want to see it again,” Lauricella said.
The show will also begin nontraditionally with a contemporary dance around a fire, choreographed by Taylor Nelson of the Gary Geis Dance Company. The scene is described in the play, and Lauricella said to be able to add something like this is a huge advantage.
The cast is large with 20 actors. Brown said a lot of them knew each other’s names but hadn’t worked together before and they instantly bonded. Lauricella walked into one rehearsal to find a loud and animated atmosphere.
“‘The Crucible’ gets intense, but we have a lot of jokes and laughing. The way they connect makes it easier to get through,” Brown said. “It’s about the experience of something gone wrong and the conflict out of it. The heart of the show is not witchcraft but how we handle resolution and power. We can all be better.”
Clark State will present “SpongeBob SquarePants: the Musical” in the spring of 2024.
HOW TO GO
What: “The Crucible”
Where: Turner Studio Theatre, Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 South Fountain Ave., Springfield
When: 8 p.m. Oct 27-28 and Nov. 3-4 and 2 p.m. Oct. 29 and Nov. 5
More info: www.facebook.com/clarkstatetheatre/