Astrid Beza, center, as Tituba, Laura Potel, as Abigail Williams, and Dustin Hirthler, as the Rev. Parris, are among the cast in "The Crucible," which will be presented March 16-18 at Watters Theater.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
‘Crucible’ cast members dive into roles
March 7, 2012Tweet
For director Anne Brady, the strengths of “The Crucible” are its questioning of truth, great characters and scenes, and how it lets 21 actors tell an important story that still resonates today.
“You have to allow the actors to really dive into the circumstances so they are telling the story and living the story for the audience,” said Brady, a professor of theatre. “Each one of the characters is important and the relationships within the community are important.”
The student actors of the Theatre Department will tell the story of “The Crucible” on the Watters Theater stage at 8 p.m. March 9, 10, 16 and 17, and at 2 p.m. March 18. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8, students; and are available by calling the Anderson Center Box Office at 607-777-ARTS (2787) or visiting http://anderson.binghamton.edu.
Written in 1952 by Arthur Miller, “The Crucible” dramatizes the Salem witch trials that took place in Massachusetts in 1692-1693 and led to the executions of 20 people. While the play also parallels the anti-Communist era of 1950s McCarthyism, its general message is that hysteria and fear can divide and eventually destroy a community.
“It’s not just the tragedy of one man, but the tragedy of a community when that community is ruled by its fears and doesn’t question authority,” Brady said.
Every character in “The Crucible” has a passion in what they believe in, she said.
“When those passions conflict, it’s scary,” Brady said.
Brady helped the actors discover those passions by asking them to do intensive research into their characters.
“They were cast in December and I asked them to research things that would be of interest to them about their characters and the time period and bring it to the table,” Brady said.
Astrid Beza, who plays Tituba, was one of several cast members who traveled in January to Danvers, Mass. – the former Salem Village. Beza and others visited the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, a historic house whose most famous occupant was hanged for witchcraft in 1692.
“There was something about being there that made it so much more real for me and so much heavier to digest,” Beza said. “It made me feel like this is something important that I’m a part of. It’s important for me to help tell (the story).”
During the first rehearsals, Brady had the cast gather and place their research on boards. The actors then spoke about what they had discovered.
“Anne was really good about encouraging us to research,” said James Michalec, who plays Francis Nurse. “It was a good exercise for everybody. It helped us to understand the characters. At least it begins to give us a sense of what it must have been like back then. It allows us to fashion the truth that we talk about onstage so much better.”
The cast members even extended their research to improvisations about events that could have taken place in their characters’ lives.
“This is a play about a community – one that eventually gets broken,” Brady said. “I thought it was important for the cast to come together as a community as well.”
The research methods enabled the actors to not only become more familiar with the relationships within Salem Village, but to become closer as a cast, said Austin Tooley, who plays Deputy-Governor Danforth.
“It’s really an ensemble piece,” Tooley said. “The narrative is shared very broadly. … Coming in with the research under our belts and working from that common place created a sense of shared responsibility to tell this story together. That’s been an exciting part of this.”
“There are stories within stories going on in ‘The Crucible,’” Michalec added. “There are the stories of discovery that come out of the play itself that may not have been so clear or apparent to us if we hadn’t done the research ahead of time and thought about Salem and how we fit into it.”
While Brady is excited about her cast’s preparedness, she is equally thrilled that 1,000 local high school students will be able to see the Theatre Department’s production of “The Crucible.” Two on-campus matinees have been added just for the high school students: 10 a.m. Thursday and Friday, March 15-16. The cast and crew will discuss the play with students following the matinees.
“It’s so exciting because that’s one of the goals of doing something like this: bring in people who are going to connect with the material,” Tooley said. “They are not just buying theater tickets to go with their dinner. (The students) know the play, they’ve been taught the play and now they can see it come to life.”
“That’s the prime audience to me,” said Michalec, who left teaching to take classes at Binghamton University. “They are the ones who we need to encourage to critically think. It’s great to have students come and see it and think about it.”
The cast members’ willingness to take on two extra shows – including one just hours before an evening performance – is another example of what has made the group special to Brady.
“I am awed and inspired by my actors’ courage, excitement and passion to delve into this world,” she said.