Fear is the cause and the tool

Artistic Director Scott Palmer shares his thoughts on B&B’s upcoming production of one of the greatest dramatic works in American history, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible!


“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
― Ambrose Redmoon

Recently, I was approached by someone at The Venetian who asked me about our next production; when I told them that we were preparing to perform Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, he said, “Is that the one about witches or Communism?”

I hesitated.

In actual fact, The Crucible isn’t really about either of those things.

When Arthur Miller’s play opened on January 22, 1953 at the Martin Beck theatre, the critics weren’t that impressed. Some took aim at the acting, some at the directing but almost all of them mentioned the political environment in which Miller had created his historical drama. These critics wondered if Miller had written his play as a direct response to (or, some suggested, an attack on) Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Arthur-millerMiller said of The Crucible, “It was not only the rise of McCarthyism that moved me, but something which seemed much more weird and mysterious. It was the fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the far Right was capable of creating not only a terror, but a new subjective reality, a veritable mystique which was gradually assuming even a holy resonance…the astonishment was produced by my knowledge, which I could not give up, that the terror in these people was being knowingly planned and consciously engineered, and yet that all they knew was terror. That so interior and subjective an emotion could have been so manifestly created from without was a marvel to me. It underlies every word in The Crucible…”

The Crucible uses the Salem witch trials as an allegorical lens through which Miller examines the nature of McCarthy’s Red Scare, but the play is so much more than that. The Crucible is, on a simple level, a treatise on the dangers of extremism and, in particular, the extremism that is created when politics and religion knowingly and with intention join forces to seek social control.

Over the years of reading and seeing the play performed, I have come to believe that Miller is doing far more than just critiquing McCarthyism through historical drama. He is doing far more than asking questions about persecution and mob mentality. He is doing far, far more than questioning the line between truth and illusion, of questioning blind hysteria and the implications of intolerance….He is asking questions about happens when to us when we are afraid.

These characters are scared—scared of themselves, of each other, and especially of things which they are unable to control.

Fear is the cause and fear is the tool; fear of discovery, fear of shame, fear of punishment, fear of detection, fear of disclosure, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of loss, fear of poverty…whatever the case, and whatever the specific individual character, FEAR is at the heart of this play and at the heart of each character’s motivations.

Fear is an incredibly powerful motivator; it can move us to actions of enormous courage and bravery and it can also move us to actions of profound violence and depravity. It is not difficult to see the impact that generated fear has on us; as individuals, as a country and as a species. Fear is all around us, and we are inundated daily with images and stories of how fear can be used as a weapon; but, if we look carefully, we can also see other ways of responding to fear. Compassion, understanding, patience, love and acceptance are as much a part of The Crucible as fear, and can be just as legitimate a choice as a response to fear as violence and suspicion.

On a final note, I want to thank the Ritz Family Foundation, the Reser Family Foundation and the Hillsboro Arts and Culture Council for their generous support of The Crucible’s “Professional Development Program.” A number of the gifted actors appearing on (and back!) stage in The Crucible are from local high schools, having successfully auditioned and been cast in this, their first-ever professional theatre production. B&B is committed to developing the next generation of theatre audiences and practitioners, and it has been an honor to work (alongside Cassie Greer) with these talented young theatre artists. It is also a great honor to celebrate the career of Silverna Scott, a drama teacher from Hillsboro High School, who has worked tirelessly to use theatre as a tool for compassion, acceptance and understanding. The Crucible is performed in honor of her career and her legacy. Thanks, Sil, for all you have done and continue to do for young people and the arts.

Scott Palmer 8Scott Palmer, Artistic Director