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Witch hysteria and mob mentality | UNB drama club takes on Crucible

It’s a snowy Thursday evening, and while the cold winds whirl outside Marshall d’Avray hall, witches burn within.

It’s a rehearsal for The Crucible, the debut performance by the UNB Drama Club.

It’s a week before their performance, and the cast is freshly off their books. Their lines are staggered, but the passion and energy is palpable in the room.

“Is it too late to switch to The Wizard of Oz?” asks one performer. Everyone laughs.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller follows the Salem Witch Trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The performance is directed by fourth-year engineering student Andreas Marquis as part of his drama minor independent study.

“It’s all about witch hysteria and mob mentality and how people can just get taken over by their fears,” said Marquis.

“There’s this group of girls who are out dancing in the woods, and they get caught. But to avoid blame, because this is a really strict society and they would be whipped, they start faking being possessed by the devil. They start saying other people come to them, they start accusing people of being witches.”

Crystal Chettiar, a Mount Allison drama grad, is the technical director of the play and will also be performing as Abigail Williams. Chettiar said her character is the one “who gets the whole thing started.”

“My character really moves the play and continues to lie about who’s a witch and who’s not a witch, while also covering herself up,” she said.

Alex McAllister, first-year arts student and co-founder of the UNB Drama Club, will be performing as Reverend Samuel Parris. He said that the politics within the play are relevant today.

“Arthur Miller wrote it as kind of an allegory for the McCarthy doctrine, when they were calling out communists [in the American government] and blacklisting actors . . . so it’s really political,” said McAllister.

“When I was reading The Crucible, it was during the strike, and I thought it was really interesting learning about the Salem witch trials and the politics of Salem then going on the Gleaner and reading about the UNB strike.”

The play is the premiere performance of the UNB Drama Club. The club is composed primarily of UNB students, several of whom are drama students looking to keep their theatrical spirit alive outside of class. The twenty students all have technical roles in addition to their performance roles, handling all aspects of the play from lighting to set creation.

“It is a very amateur theatre group, which is great because it’s giving people who’ve never done theatre outside of high school, or even at all, a chance to be involved building sets and designing things and acting,” said Chettiar.

Marquis said that the UNB Drama Club has received lots of support from the local theatre community.

“Fredericton has a great community for supporting little things like this that are up-and-coming. My experience in the Fredericton theatre community has been nothing but positive support and a desire to help,” he said.

“We’re borrowing props from Theatre New Brunswick, we’re borrowing risers from the Aitken Centre, we’re borrowing flats from Theatre UNB, we’re borrowing costumes from FHS – there’s been a lot of reaching out and getting help from people. It’s not all free, but, thank god, we’ve got Student Union funding, which is wonderful. We would not be where we were if not for Student Union club funding.”

Although the club is young, Chettiar says it has great potential, and the theatre group has high hopes for next year.

“This is an up-and-coming club and there’s a lot of promise in it and a lot of people who are working really hard,” she said.

“Some of the first-time actors are giving some of the performances that I’ve been enjoying the most, like Alex Roscoe as Giles [Corey],” added McAllister.

“Just because they’re first-time actors doesn’t mean they’re not natural onstage.”

The Crucible will be performed on Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22 at 7 p.m., with a matinee performance at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is $5.

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