Playing Illusions

One of the treasures of putting a script to stage is the opportunity to play reality and leave the audience in wonder. Many playwrights spend a lifetime writing scenes that will depict society in its true and sometimes disturbing form. Arthur Miller did just that with the majority of his scripts, my favorite being The Crucible. I remember the first time putting it on stage, using real moments to bring students to the next level, and finding takeaways that might sometimes change their own outlook on life.

I think The Crucible held a grasp on our society as it stood in Arthur Miller’s eyes in the 1950s when the production was first written. Miller wanted to speak to the idiocy of the McCarthy trials, a time that turned the entertainment industry upside down with unfounded or overzealous attempts to blacklist artists under the guise of communism. The idea that entertainment focused on the desecration of America’s freedom of expression destroyed many careers based upon rumor and speculation, and Miller used a common truth to express his indifference with an errant decision making process.

The Salem Witch Trials were a black mark on our history as a free society. In the 1600s dozens of residents of Salem were executed for unfounded involvement with witchcraft. In a similar scope the trials were Miller’s focal point when exposing the atrocity of the McCarthy hearings. The witch trials became a public exhibition of innocent lives and hangings; the careers of writers and entertainers had an eerily similar impact on human beings in a figurative sense. Miller used his genius to draw parallels between the two tragedies.

In order to stage Miller’s depiction of the trials, his script needed to be followed closely. What began as confusion from illness in the town of Salem erupted in a widespread speculation of children of the community practicing witchcraft in the surrounding forest. Imagine if our children were found playing kick the can in the dusk of their neighborhood suddenly becoming the victim of an elder accusation. The world of our children would be turned upside down. Much like the progress of or lack there of history of our political process, our society is easily drawn into discredit and shame as regards our desire to live in a free and safe society.

I think one of the pleasures I found with directing such a difficult piece as is The Crucible is our ability to look at the world through the eyes of a conscientious playwright. Arthur Miller told stories in his plays that emulated our society, our world. His ability to take real situations and act them out on stage would give any director a sense of giving society a value to imagine. My goal with all productions is to leave the audience conversing the symbolic nature and themes played out on stage. Imagine the education our students can receive acting out ‘real’ moments on stage with events that mirrored our society.

The masses need credible information that exposes speculation rather than limit freedom.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

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