So, where’s the greatest threat, then or now? 'Afflicted' links 1691 Salem and the 21st century
When director Jamie Nebeker was asked to consider mounting Afflicted: Daughters of Salem at the Danny Peterson Theater in the Morrison Center at Boise State, she was struck by how a story rooted in the Salem Witch trials of the 17th century had such contemporary relevance.
“Women's rights in our country threatened,” said Nebeker. “While I was reading this, while things were tough in our country and rights were being denied and people were being turned away from Planned Parenthood … it's really important for me to be able to tell this story.”
Nebeker joined stage manager Emily Oquist and company member Rachel Fichtman to visit with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about their production, which continues through Feb. 11.
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The fear that defined puritan New England in the 17th century has been such a formidable framework for drama. What was forbidden…and the punishment inflicted on young women. And indeed… well, those themes resonate deep into the 21st century. So, we are particularly excited about a new production: the drama, Afflicted Daughters of Salem. And performances continue at the Danny Peterson Theater at the Morrison Center in Boise, and those performances continue through February 11th. So let us bring in Jamie Nebeker, Boise artist, Boise State alum. And she is the director of this production. Good morning, Jamie.
JAMIE NEBEKER: Good morning.
PRENTICE: And Emily Oquist is the stage manager of this endeavor. Emily, good morning to you.
EMILY OQUIST: Good morning.
PRENTICE: And here comes Rachel Fichtman. And she plays….Tituba in the production. Rachel, good morning to you.
RACHEL FICHTMAN: Good morning.
PRENTICE: Okay, Jamie, I want to start with you. Talk to me about this exciting choice. I think this play will be new to a lot of us.
NEBEKER: There were documents. I mean, any documents that they had, a lot of them were burned or lost. We actually… we don't have a whole lot of historical evidence of what happened here. And what historical evidence we have is generally sort of overlooked for the fictional stories that have been told about the Salem Witch trials. So, I think that that's what makes it such a like a story that we want to keep telling because there's missing pieces. And of course, like our minds just are drawn to those missing pieces and we want to fill in the blanks or figure it out. You know, it's a puzzle to solve sometimes or to wonder about. And that's a lot of what art is, is we're going to wonder about this. So this production, this play is a look into what the girls lives were like and what might have led them to making the accusations that they made.
PRENTICE: Okay, Emily Oquist, join in on this. Talk to me about framing that story. I've seen some images of the set Talk to me about the overall of this… and stitching this together into a production that looks like it's a must-see.
OQUIST: Yeah, absolutely. So it really does take work from all of the different departments that are designing and coming up with the image of this play. They've been meeting for a very long time now and talking about this all together and like I help oversee. It's really them putting in the effort and the work to making this show what it is. And I'm beyond ecstatic when things started getting moved into the theater. I don't think it could have come together any better than it than it has.
PRENTICE: Rachel Fichtman, talk to me about what attracts you to this story?. It looks like it's a considerable story to tell.
FICHTMAN: One thing that really draws to me is the connection that these characters have to one another and the sisterhood that kind of ties them. But then also the way that the narrative has been historically told, like we think about who has been in control of the narrative up until now and we are finally able to hear the side that hasn't had control. These women, these girls, these young girls who lived in this time that I would not like to live in, but just kind of how they were coping with that and understanding that, oh, we think of the Salem Witch Trials and we're like, :Oh, people were killing women and accusing them if they were stepping out of bounds.” But what about the women who desperately were trying to stay in those bounds and the paranoia that kind of built within them? And then looking around that the sisterhood was all they had. It was something that they were desperately holding on to and understanding that side, not necessarily the women who were in the people who were accused as witches, but the the women and the girls in this show who did the accusing themselves and how society is now historically been like, oh, they were terrible for accusing all these people. But now we're kind of looking inward on that and going, well, why did they do that? They were paranoid. They were trapped. And understanding that side of the story.
PRENTICE: You know, Rachel, it's so interesting that through our culture and through our history, fear continues to define who we are - our choices, and more often than not, our bad choices.
FICHTMAN: Yes, 100%. And I think there's a lot of nods that people in audience members will notice while watching this show and think, ”Wow, this may be 1619, but boy, can this be relevant to how, you know, people can feel trapped within society, within the bounds of society, and how dangerous that can end up being at the end of the day.”
PRENTICE: Jamie, let's explore that a little further, because indeed these are girls raised in oppression. But to be sure, there are people, women in particular, in our country, let alone around the world, who continue to live in oppression. This is pretty relevant.
NEBEKER: It's extremely relevant. Just last year, you know, women's rights were in our country threatened. And the thing that when I was reading this play very first, I was I read it in consideration. I had been offered the job, read this place, see what you think of it. And there's a line not far into the play that says, I wish I had been born a boy, then I would have value. Oh yeah. And that crippled me. And it was. While I was reading this, while things were tough in our country and rights were being denied and people were being turned away from Planned Parenthood. And I was listening to NPR and hearing women's stories. And it's really important for me to be able to tell this story. We see that, though, you know, it may not be as bad as it once was, that there are still threads of similarity and that women are still oppressed. And, you know, we got to keep working to find equality.
PRENTICE: Emily Oquist, can you gush a little here? Can you talk a little bit about this company?
OQUIST:. So, Boise State Theater Arts is part of the theater film and creative writing department. It gives a lot of students incredible opportunities to be able to be in leadership positions and be able to do the work that they want to do moving forward. I know for me it's over the past four years. I'm in my senior year. It's given me fantastic opportunities to be able to stage, manage shows and be able to oversee my peers and be able to work with faculty as if we are coworkers. And it's such an important experience to me because it feels as though it's reminiscent of what I'm going to be experiencing in the future.
NEBEKER: I have to jump in and gush because I've been working professionally for about ten years since I graduated from this department and getting to come back and to have a stage manager that for all intents and purposes, I wouldn't think of the stage manager as a student. Emily Oquist is a professional and she has carried this production on her back, managed it. Every little minute of this production has been managed by Emily with just so flawlessly, and she is going to absolutely kill it once she gets out of school very soon. So, she'll be very employable.
PRENTICE: And Rachel, you are standing on that bridge. You have just graduated. Now, here you are facing the cruel world, but indeed, the productions that you've been a part of, and that this company is a part of, is this marriage of professionals and students; and the vibrancy of theater today and tomorrow.
FICHTMAN: I even remember how star struck I was my first production my freshman year. Just seeing all the renderings, seeing everything, you know, played out and beautifully displayed. I was like, “This is so professional. Oh, my goodness. There's a costume rendering with my name on it. Oh, my goodness” It was very foreign to me, you know, obviously stepping out of high school. But even then, sometimes I'll go to a local company or something like that, but it's still not quite like Boise State to me. Maybe I'm a bit sentimental, but there is a certain vibrancy that we're all these like every design element comes in and us as students, as performers were able to kind of step in and go, :Whoa, there are so many moving pieces here, so many incredibly talented people.” And you do feel so lucky to just be a little, little piece in the big picture. I'm very grateful for all the productions that I've worked on. It. It truly has been. I still get starstruck, you know what I mean?
NEBEKER: Can I tell a little story about that? When I graduated Boise State, my very first professional job was with Idaho Shakespeare Festival for their Idaho Theater for Youth, which is the touring company that travels the state of Idaho and performs at all the schools, all the elementaries. And I got to play Kate in this amazing play called Air Heart. And now I am getting to see Rachel. They are remounting that show. They are sending the same show out across Idaho this year and Rachel is playing the same part I played. And I have the great pleasure of getting to assistant director that, so I'm going to be there with them all through the whole process. And it's just I don't know, it's kind of funny. It's kind of seeing like, I don't know, like a new me.
PRENTICE: So you have our full attention. Rachel Fichtman is a member of the company. Jamie Nebeker is the director, Emily Oquist is the stage manage. And the show… and you've got to put this on your calendar… it will run through February 11th at the Danny Peterson Theater at the Morrison Center in Boise. It is Afflicted Daughters of Salem. So, thank you for what you do. Thank you so very much for giving us some time this morning.
NEBEKER: Our pleasure. Thanks for having us.
OQUIST: Thank you.
FICHTMAN: Thank you so much.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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