The Two Histories of The Crucible (Part Two)

by Kristin Perkins, assistant dramaturg

SAL_CRUsmIn the last blog post I wrote, I talked a little bit about the Salem Witch trials as the primary history that The Crucible draws from. There is a second history that demands to be accounted for in a study of The Crucible: the story of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Red Scare, and Arthur Miller’s involvement.

For the sake of total accuracy, this is technically the second Red Scare which happened after World War II and coincided with the height of HUAC activity. The HUAC was a congressional committee tasked with rooting out dangerous communist or “fellow travelers,” the term for being sympathetic to communist ideals. This committee targeted many theatre and film artists; partly because of fear that radical leftists were taking over the entertainment industry, and partly in service of publicizing HUAC by accusing people in the public eye.

Throughout the 40s and 50s, Miller saw many people he knew subpoenaed by HUAC. The consequences for being accused of communist ties could be severe. While the HUAC was not an official court, being condemned by this congressional committee could result in being blacklisted from Hollywood and, in some circumstances, even jailed for “contempt of congress.” Being blacklisted meant suddenly losing your livelihood for writers, directors, and actors working in Hollywood, all for something that is constitutionally protected: one’s political beliefs.


Support for the Hollywood artists blacklisted by HUAC

Miller was opposed to HUAC from the very beginning and viewed HUAC as foundationally unconstitutional; a view that was initial popular when HUAC first began its communist hunt but which quickly grew unpopular as political figures like Senator Joseph McCarthy promoted fear of communist infiltration. What ultimately strengthened Miller’s resolve to write The Crucible as a condemnation of the hearings was the HUAC testimony of Elia Kazan. Kazan was a famous director and had been good friends with Miller ever since they first collaborated on the original stage production of Death of a Salesman. Miller thought that Kazan was on the same page in opposing HUAC but when Kazan went in front of the committee he named names in order to clear his own. Unlike Miller, Kazan actually had been a member of the Communist party briefly in the 30s, and he felt like naming other communists was the only way that he could continue his successful career in Hollywood. In fact, Kazan was probably right about this but it aggravated Miller who found Kazan’s behavior indefensible. Continue reading

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Welcome to the 2013-2014 Season!

Welcome back to the 4th WALL for BYU’s 2013-2014 theatre season.  The 4th WALL will be your one stop shop for all sorts of insider information about our upcoming productions, which include:

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, adapted for the stage by Timothy Mason

The Light in the Piazza, by Craig Lucas (book) and Adam Guettel (music and lyrics)

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a NEW adaptation for the stage by Melissa Leilani Larson


Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, adapted for the stage by Teresa Dayley Love

Take a moment to meet our dramaturgs, and then check back regularly as they take you inside the world of each of these productions.  You can also make sure you never miss a post by choosing to Follow the 4th WALL (to the right), with an email arriving in your inbox every time new information is added.

For those of you returning from last season, you will notice some slight changes in the design of the site.  It is our hope that this new design will make it easier for you to follow along with any specific shows.

As always, we love to hear from our audience members, so please feel free to engage with our dramaturgs or with the productions by leaving comments on any of the posts.

Thank you for visiting the 4th WALL!


Design Insights: The Servant Set

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

In our production meetings, we’ve had the privilege of seeing the evolution of the scenic design for The Servant of Two Masters. Designer Eric Fielding and his assistant Logan Hayden have been hard at work at creating a set that reflects director Stephanie Breinholt’s concept for the show.

The design accentuates Stephanie’s vision of a production where all the visual elements have a timeless feel, with no specific time period. Located in a traditional Italian piazza, the set combines different period from the forced perspective of historical design to the “Laugh-in” style of doors and windows.  The combination of these different elements, design styles and periods, creates the perfect stage for this zany production.

Here’s a picture of Eric’s original design.

Set Design courtesy of Eric Fielding

Set Design courtesy of Eric Fielding

And currently, if you walk through the tunnel of the HFAC, you can see the different elements under construction.

Photo Jan 30, 6 52 48 PMPhoto Jan 30, 6 53 13 PM

A Run for the Designers

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

For The Servant of Two Masters, the first two weeks back in school have been focused creating the foundation of the show.  Lines have been memorized, characters have started to develop, the overall blocking (movement of the actors) has been set, and the beginning ideas for all the lazzi moments in the show have begun to sprout.  So much creation has been done, that the next step was to do a Designer Run.

A Designer Run is the first moment that the cast performs the show all the way through for the designers.  While still very much in the beginning stages, it gives the designer’s the opportunity to see the world that is being created and to make sure that the ideas that they are developing in their individual shops are still working.  This past weekend, the set, lighting, costume, sound and prop designers all joined with the cast, the director, the assistant directors, the stage manager and myself to watch the cast put the whole show together for the very first time.

It was a good time.

Here were some of my favorite moments:

Our first intro to the characters

Our first intro to the characters

Our lovers are introduced

Our lovers are introduced

Rivalry? Or alliance?

Rivalry? Or alliance?

The servant girls come out to play

The servant girls come out to play

Chaos starts to ensue

Chaos starts to ensue

Things start to heat up

Things start to heat up

And we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what this show is to become!

A Wrinkle In Time: An Introduction

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg

Hello 4th Wall Readers!

My name is Patrick Hayes and I am the Dramaturg for BYU’s upcoming production of A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Rodger Sorensen. I am very excited for the upcoming production. We have a fabulous cast of actors and an excellent production crew that will be onboard to assure that this production’s version of AWIT is one of the best ever produced.

As this is my first venture into social media production blogging I will attempt, with each posting, to leave little snippets of ideas, actor interviews, script excerpts, photos, or other material that will help you, the reader, in gaining an insightful knowledge and picture of the production at hand.

With each post I will also try and post quotes from the script. I feel this will be a fun way to connect to the script / performance.

Let me tell you a few things that make this production so special:

1). We have a brand new script! Professor Sorenson and our playwright (Kate Forsythe) have been working on an adaptation of the book for the last three months.

2). A concept of audience interaction with the actors on stage that drives the principle story on stage.

3).  An object oriented performance where found objects drive some of the action / interaction.

Until next time! I leave you with a quote from the script.

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. – Mrs. Whatsit”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Commedia Bootcamp

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Before we headed off for the Thanksgiving holiday, Director Stephanie Breinholt and myself put our Servant of Two Masters’ cast through a “commedia bootcamp” – a day dedicated to learning the history, characters, physicality and movement styles of commedia dell’arte.  This bootcamp will serve as the foundation for the style and physical world of our eventual production.

It was a hilarious day.

Here are some of our favorite moments:


Meet the Playwright: Carlo Goldoni

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

At the end of commedia dell’arte’s 200 year reign in Italy, there came a man name Carlo Goldoni.  Born in 1707, Goldoni had a love of theatre from his childhood. However, though Goldoni had made his theatrical start writing typical commedia scenarios, with little or no alteration from the accepted traditions, he was concerned that commedia did not fully represent the Italian way of life and manners.  So he decided to make a change.

Building off of the works of the Greeks as well as more contemporary playwrights such as Moliere, Goldoni set out to reform the Italian theatre.  Believeing that reform happened through providing strong examples instead of simply ideas, Goldoni started to create his own plays.  Goldoni became famous for his hybrid style which combined the beloved nature of commedia dell’arte with the style and wit of Moliere. Some of his big changes included replacing the improvisational nature with written scripts, removing the masks so that the actors faces could be seen and reinventing the nature of the lazzi.  Legend has it that every time he finished a play he said, “Good.  But not yet Moliere.”

The Servant of Two Masters is Goldoni’s most beloved script.  It has been translated into many languages and has been adapted for theatres, film and televisions around the world.


Auditions for Henry 5 Part Two: Viewpoints

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

A unique approach to making plays is through devised theatre, a technique that allows cast and staff members to build a play from the ground up, and from any starting point: a script, a social question or position, a set piece, a color scheme, anything that inspires the desire and direction to create a play. The script of Henry 5 already exists, of course. However, Professor Megan Sanborn Jones, this production’s director, chose to offer the realization of the play as a class project to Theatre and Media Arts students taking TMA 401 (Contemporary Performances Practices). One of the contemporary practices Professor Jones introduced to the class as a means to devise Henry 5 is called “viewpoints.”

Viewpoints is an acting technique that was developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie. It is based on improvisational movement and gesture, and was adapted for stage acting by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Viewpointing uses 6 basic elements–space, story, time, emotion, movement, and shape–in various combinations to create movement and staging with actors (Bogart). This technique was put into practice during the second stage of auditions for BYU’s Henry 5.

At the beginning of the semester, the class chose the concept of this production of Henry 5 from a list of four possibilities they developed from their initial reading of the play. A couple of weeks later the class attended a workshop that taught some of the basic elements and execution styles of viewpointing. The class was broken into three groups, with one group consisting of the acting team, and the remaining two made up of the class and members of the production team. The groups chose a line from Henry 5, and created a movement piece built around that line, viewpointing their interactions with each other. These pieces were performed for the class. The class was then asked to watch the acting team’s piece and look for evidences that might suggest which actors seemed like good fits for the various roles in the play. Most of the roles were determined by the class using this process.

As some of the actors received assignments, it became more difficult for the class to determine which remaining actors should be assigned to what roles. Professor Jones then suggested some brief scenarios that the actors could portray through viewpoints, such as a scene depicting the character Exeter bringing the body of the Boy to King Henry. This enabled the class to make more casting assignments, until all but two actors and two roles remained, the role of King Henry and the combined role of Mistress Quickly and the herald Montjoy. Finally, to determine this last assignment, the class was dismissed and the remaining two actors were asked to do a brief reading from the play. Based on this, the two actors determined between themselves which one of them was the best fit for the part of the Henry the King.

After this unique audition process ended, the class was asked if they had ever experienced something like this before. Those who responded said that this was the first time they had been in an audition of this type. Even Professor Jones said she has never auditioned a show in this way before. “I thought that it would be a good way of casting a show that we have been trying to make ultimately collaborative.  I think that if the cast/class is to have ownership over the production, they also need to have ownership over [the casting] decisions.”

Asked what she liked about using viewpoints as an audition process, Mackenzie Larsen said, “It helped me get to know the rest of the cast through a creative medium and gave us artistic purpose… [It] removed my anxiety [and] allowed me to act on instinct and observation. I was able to focus less on being right and more on being real.” Camilla Hodgson stated, “I liked it because it wasn’t high pressure. We were able to see people’s strengths in a collaborative environment. We were allowed to be very natural.” And Mary Matheson observed, “I liked how there was a certain degree of unconscious involvement in the process.  Viewpointing is an open and liberating process; there are principles that provide guidance to movement and action, but within them, there is so much freedom, unlimited ‘right’ answers, and possibilities.”

When asked what some of the takeaways from this kind of audition process might be, Nathan Stout shared that “having the ability to engage bodies in a collaborative way was a huge breakthrough for me. To improve, I would increase focus outward towards other cast members.” Matthew Fife discovered, “[Viewpointing] works great to build unity in an ensemble. I felt very connected to my fellow cast-mates; viewpointing helps walls and barriers come down so that everyone can move forward together.”

Works Cited

Bogart, Anne, and Tina Landau. The viewpoints book: a practical guide to viewpoints and composition. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2005. Print.

Auditions for Henry 5 Part One: Choosing an Acting Team

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

In March of 2012, auditions for Young Company’s upcoming productions of Sleepy Hollow and Henry 5 were announced. Hopeful BYU students attending the initial auditions did not really knowing what to prepare themselves for. They were asked not to deliver a monologue as in a traditional audition setting, or to give a cold reading from a script. Instead, they were broken into pairs and asked to recreate a telling of a fairy tale. Auditioners who were invited to callbacks were asked to be prepared to spend the entire two hours of the scheduled audition with the staff, and to wear comfortable clothes they could move in.

Professor Megan Sanborn Jones

At callbacks the auditioners were broken into groups and led by Professor Megan Sanborn Jones, the director of Henry 5, through a series of movement-based exercises. This included exaggerated marching/stomping steps (a Sazuki theatre exercise), frozen and fluid poses, and other motions and actions that challenged and demonstrated the physical skills of the auditioners. Groups were rearranged several times in order to allow the auditioners to work with nearly all the people who were participating. Auditioners were given improvisation scenarios to create in these groups. Finally, some of the auditioners were asked to read a few lines from segments of Shakespeare’s Henry 5, and to perform these readings in a variety of voices and physicalities.

Through these exercises, seven students were selected to form the acting team of BYU’s Young Company production of William Shakespeare’s Henry 5. These students were not assigned to specific roles in the play at this point. In Part II, we will share with you the next step in the audition process: how viewpointing, an acting technique based on movement and gesture, was used to select which actors would be matched the roles of the play.