Friday, October 11, 2013

Dance, Theater Combine for The Witching Hour

Miceli Productions Photography
Heart-thumping tales of women and men accused, tried and convicted of witchcraft in mid 17th-century Connecticut are cast from the past into the present through a newly re-imagined staging of “The Witching Hour,” a dance-theater piece by The Ensemble of Judy Dworin Performance Project.

A free, pre-Halloween preview will be presented on Tuesday, October 15 at noon at the Old State House, 800 Main Street.

Performances of “The Witching Hour” are Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s Aetna Theater.

This historically informed work won the National Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History after its premiere in 2007. It revisits what happened in Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield, Conn. when witchcraft was punishable by death – predating by nearly half a century the notorious trials in Salem, Mass. – and when rigid Puritan authority censored the outspoken and bedeviled the herbalists, midwives and indentured servants, among others, who practiced cherished folk traditions.

Vividly depicting how fears of difference can turn dangerous, and how designating scapegoats seems to appease the hysteria of mob mentality and other social ills, “The Witching Hour” invites comparison to contemporary problems of prejudice and persecution, such as bullying, intolerance, and gender injustice.

Stories of Connecticut’s accused witches are told by the character of Katherine Harrison (performed by guest actor and dancer Lesley Farlow), which is based on a real-life Wethersfield landowner who escaped hanging through banishment. Among those stories is the first witch trial in Colonial America, resulting in the hanging of Alse Young of Windsor in 1647 at the site where Hartford’s Old State House was built.

Larger than life size puppets by Anne Cubberly that she created for the original production, which was a collaborative venture with Connecticut Landmarks, will be seen in a lobby installation.

Dance-theater artist Judy Dworin believes that the arts can serve as a catalyst for change. In works produced by the Judy Dworin Performance Project and created by Dworin in collaboration with associate artistic director Kathy Borteck Gersten and The Ensemble, questions of history, equality, and social justice, and the potential for transformation within the individual and society at large, are thought-provokingly explored in a blend of movement, spoken word, song, and visual elements.

Judy Dworin was a 2012 honoree at the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony that celebrated women of “Voice and Vision.” That same year the Judy Dworin Performance Project received an Award of Merit from the Connecticut League of History Organizations for “In This House,” a work inspired by the history of the 1678 Joshua Hempsted House in New London. In 2010, the Judy Dworin Performance Project was presented with the Hartford Courant Tapestry Award for its efforts at bridging diverse community sectors, which includes teaching and mentoring children in the Hartford Public Schools, children of incarcerated parents, and inmates of York Correctional Institution, the state’s sole prison for women.

Ticket prices are $25, $15 for seniors and Let’s Go! Members and $10 for students. To purchase tickets call (860) 527-9800. Tickets will also be available at the door.

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is located at 600 Main Street; the entrance to the Aetna Theater is through the museum’s Avery Memorial, across from the Traveler’s building on Atheneum Square North.

Judy Dworin Performance Project is able to present this timely performance thanks to the Department of Economic and Community Development’s CT Office of the Arts, Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign, Simon Konover Fund, and Connecticut Humanities (CTH). CTH is a non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities that funds, creates and collaborates on hundreds of cultural programs across Connecticut each year. CTH brings together people of all ages and backgrounds to express, share and explore ideas in thoughtful and productive ways. From local discussion groups to major exhibitions on important historical events, CTH programs engage, enlighten and educate. Learn more by visiting Special thanks are extended to Connecticut Landmarks, Connecticut’s Old State House, Hartford Public Schools, and Trinity College.

For curious folk, here are a few related sites and sources pertaining to “The Witching Hour”:

Judy Dworin Performance Project:

Witches and Witchcraft: The First Person Executed in the Colonies:
Connecticut Witch Trials and Posthumous Pardons:

Research Guide to Colonial Witchcraft Trial Materials at the Connecticut State Library:

“The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994)
Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1959.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Buttolph-Williams House, Wethersfield:

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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