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Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Crucible Diaries: Entry Two

Still not writing as much as I should. But let's give you folks a bit of an update.

Since I last checked in, we are now just over three weeks out from opening night, which is a little scary. But, more importantly, our stage has been built! It's looking pretty amazing, and you'll just have to come and see it rather than taking my word for it ;) There's still a bit left to build, but the big stuff is done.

This Sunday is our first full-day rehearsal. It's where things really start in earnest. There's still plenty left to do - like get lights happening, sounds working, music alongside it all, costumes on, props getting used, and lines down! It seems like a lot, because it is. But we have an amazing team, and an incredible cast, and I know we can do it. I'm just really excited that it's all happening, and still have to pinch myself sometimes that we're actually doing this.

I keep being reminded of how much of an analog it is to events happening today. For those that aren't familiar with much of the storyline; a group of girls are discovered dancing in the woods, and rather than say what they were actually doing, they accuse other people of bewitching them. At the time they lived in a theocracy, so religion, government, and the judicial system were all very much intertwined. And witchcraft was punishable by hanging. So the people accused could either go to the noose; or confess, and give up more names. What followed was an absolute tirade of names that was released, and a ridiculous number of people put in the jail and arrested. However, only twenty were executed before a halt was put to it.

These days - depending on which country you live in - the death penalty isn't around as much. But you certainly still have a demonisation of minorities, of the "other". Because of course, it was the slave from Barbados that was first accused; and then the women, particularly the poor or those that were considered immoral. These days, we find similar things occurring to refugees or immigrants; Muslims; women who have abortions or have been raped; the homeless; people from the Middle East; and many other groups besides. Governments have literally been elected based on an "us vs them" strategy. Anyone fancy building a wall? I hear there are spots going over in America....oh, and in Europe, now, too.

We don't quite have a Trump in power yet, but we do have offshore detention centres still keeping people out of our society that we think are "too dangerous" for some reason. They don't even get the chance to be heard by most of the country - they're just locked away, for who knows how long, like rats in a cage. Australia isn't always the "young and free" we'd like to think we are.

There are some, by the way, that would like to link this "invisible crime" of witchcraft to the similarly often invisible crime of rape, or sexual abuse, with things like the multiple scandals within the church of sexual abuse of children, or the #MeToo movement that was still fairly recent. But even though there are similarities - they could not be further apart. Rape is very real. Sexual abuse is very real. False reporting in both these instances is a tiny percentage - what is much more common is an absence of reporting. Some people would like to think that their idols and heroes really hadn't done all that, and these people are just liars trying to besmirch their names....but no. While I'm not saying that can't happen or is never the case, that's not what you should be comparing this to. In the vast majority of cases, those coming forward with stories of rape or sexual assault are extremely brave and vulnerable individuals who have been hurt in really serious and devastating ways. Don't try to cut them down again.

But there are many other parallels that you can see between The Crucible and our modern society. When you do come along (I'll say when, not if ;) ), you can decide for yourself which parallel seems most apparent to you. Or perhaps you'll just be taken in by the emotion of the story in itself. It has a lot of power. Either way, please join us in just over three weeks on stage, as we tread the (somewhat creaky) boards at Campbelltown Theatre to show the town of Salem in 1692, and what happened there. You can buy tickets here:

Thursday, 9 May 2019

The Crucible Diaries: Entry One.

I've needed to do a bit of a write-up on this for a while. I won't be able to put everything into one post, so I'll break it up a bit, and intersperse it with developments as they happen.

I thought it might be a good idea to log down some of my ideas around The Crucible. For those that don't know, I'm directing it at the moment with the Campbelltown Theatre Group. We go on stage near the end of June. It's been a long road to get here, but a worthwhile one.

I first fell in love with The Crucible when I was introduced to it, as many are, during high school English. It immediately captivated me. It was a historical drama, and I had a love for both history and drama. It played with ideas of religion, politics, family, and society, ideas that I was fascinated with or passionate about.

But the real thing that grabbed me about this play were the characters. They were real. They weren't just token people, put in there for no reason - these were real people, who lived real lives, that had depth, meaning, intentions, emotions, relationships. You could feel that, through the story and the writing. And the suffering and pain that these people went through - it was intense. You don't really see anyone at their best; everyone is under stress, under strain, going through trials and tribulations and being put through the crucible to see if they come out the other side. Many didn't - or at least, not alive.

Many actors have a dream role they want to play. This was my dream play to direct. Ever since I read it in high school, over ten years ago now, this story has stayed with me, and these characters have stayed with me. I knew that I wanted to bring this story to life on stage. A few years back, I borrowed a script from a friend, and then bought one online, to start getting ideas for how it might look and feel. I read through it repeatedly. I dove into Miller's notes on it, which were quite detailed. And last year, I got the opportunity to make a submission for a show. I hastily put as much of a team together as I could. 

The submission was accepted.

I didn't have much of an idea of what to do next. I had never directed a show before, and my first stint as assistant director was late last year. I would be learning as I went. I gathered more team members, and started to garner interest for auditions. I knew that this would be a big show that a lot of people would be keen to audition for, but it also had a big cast - twenty two. I needed to get as many to auditions as I could, particularly guys. The split was basically fifty-fifty of male to female parts, but that's never the ratio you see at the theatre. And these were some big, weighty parts, that needed to be done well. I didn't want to stuff this up.

My assistant director ended up being one of my old teachers from primary school, funnily enough. I'd worked with him before on a show, but not for a few years. He was pretty keen, and it felt like things were coming full circle. I also had another experienced director on the team that would be overseeing things, and brought many years of stagecraft and skill to the mix. I had a good friend on sound, and our go-to man was happy to do lights again. Stage manager was trickier to lock down, but the experienced person we had on team said she'd take care of that for now. And costumes. And props. She wears a lot of hats!

Auditions came around, and thankfully, we had some great talent there, and a good number of people. A few more would have been nice, but we managed okay. At the end of the day, we had almost all of our roles filled. But we had a couple of backups that might be able to fill in, and they were smaller roles. We were doing okay.

You might not know, by the way, why it's called The Crucible. It's not a word we use that frequently these days. A crucible was something used in metalwork, and smithing. It was a small metal or ceramic pot, into which you would put pieces of metal. You'd then heat the whole thing up ridiculously hot, to turn the metal inside to liquid. You'd be able to remove the impurities. You'd then pour it out into something else.

The word has since been used metaphorically, in a similar way to the phrase trial by fire, if you like. It's a test of sorts, to see whether you would come out the other side. But it's designed to refine and bring out the best - even though the heat can be intense.

The metaphor is apt in many senses. Witches used to be put through many 'tests' to see if they were witches; generally speaking, if they died they were innocent, and if they lived they were guilty. It was pretty messed up.
The people of Salem went through a test of their own, of sorts. Though most survived, none were the same afterwards. I don't know if you can say they were 'purified', though some may have tried to for a while. They were Puritans, after all.
The process of putting this show on stage has been a trial in itself. Directing a show is no mean feat, particularly for the first time. Most of the time I'm making it up as I go along. I don't know what's going to come out the other side. So far, it's looking pretty good. But I'm no prophet, or soothsayer. I'll see how it goes as I go along, and that's all I can do.
I've been going through somewhat of a personal crucible myself. I won't go through that now, but if you've been reading some of my more recent posts, you'll know what I mean.

This show has been many years in the making, and a lot of hours and work have gone into it, mostly not from me. It's a big team, for a big show. I'll leave it here for now, but I'll be doing a few more posts about it as things travel along.

But if you want to come and see it - tickets are on sale now! It is a limited season, so don't wait until opening night to get your seats. Click on the link here, and you'll find all the information you need to come see this incredible production on stage.