The Crucible: A look behind the curtain

Brendan Ward

The Georgia Southern University department of music held a performance of Frank Ward’s opera The Crucible last February.

The production cost a majority of the department’s budget according to Arrika Gregory, director of GS’s opera and a professor of voice at GS.

“The biggest budget item is always the set which must be sizable enough to not be dwarfed by the space, said Gregory. “Usually we rent from other companies and have them shipped . . . which is extremely expensive. This year it worked out that [the theatre department] was able to build a set for us, which meant we only needed to pay for materials and labor.”

What is the Crucible?

The opera is based on the 1953 Arthur Miller play of the same name, that takes place during the Salem witch trials.

The Crucible follows a group of young women, led by Abigail Williams as they accuse various residents of Salem of being witches. Abigail accuses the wife of the main character, John Proctor, out of jealousy. John is ultimately accused and is hanged.

The play was intended to serve as an allegory for McCarthy’s hunt for communists in the 1950’s, with the hunt for witches symbolising the United State’s hunt for communists in the 1950’s. Arthur Miller, was personally investigated for Communism, by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities during the Red Scare.

Georgia Southern performed an opera adaptation of the play written by Robert Ward. The opera originally premiered in 1961 at the New York City Opera and won a Pulitzer Prize for writing in 1962.

GS’s Production

Over 50 GS students worked on the production with 23 performers filling 21 roles, with two roles being doubled cast and having their parts split between two performers making up the cast, 28 comprising the orchestra and 11 students making up the crew.

For a typical production the cast would be entirely GS students, but the difficulty of the Crucible required that two outside singers be brought on, according to Gregory.

“The difficulty of [The Crucible] required that we cast two roles, Abigail [Williams] and [Judge] Danforth, with older singers,” said Gregory. “ Young voices are not often developed enough to safely perform these roles, especially the judge.”

The role of Judge Danforth was performed by a guest tenor from the University of Delaware and Abigail Williams was played by GS faculty member Jillian Durant.

Jillian Durant

In GS’s production, The part of Abigail Williams was performed Jillian Durant, a GS alumna and faculty member.

Durant is a soprano who has been singing since her childhood. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2012 and her master’s degree in 2014, both from GS.

According to Durant, a lot goes into preparing for a leading role.

“Before you even start to rehearse with the music director and the rest of the cast you must learn your own part,” Durant said.

Apart from the Crucible, Durant performed in Gianni Schicchi, Gallantry, and Into The Woods, as an undergraduate and Cosi fan tutte, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Pirates of Penzance, and Trouble in Tahiti, as a graduate student.


Rehearsal for the Crucible began in October 2016, which was earlier than usual according to Gregory.

“The cast began musical rehearsals for the February production in October,” said Gregory. “It is highly unusual for our [Performing Arts Center] show to be so early, so we had to begin preparations in the prior semester.”

The first rehearsals held focus primarily on the music. Performers rehearse specific pages with the other cast members who also sing on those pages. These rehearsals focus on how the various parts to fit together, so singers are expected to come already knowing their parts.

Interlaced with the musical rehearsals are cast meetings were the singers work on characterization.

The next step after the initial music rehearsals are blocking rehearsals. Blocking rehearsals focus on the singer’s movement, gestures, timing and how all of that is impacted by characterization. During these rehearsals, the stage is marked off with tape that is the size of the props that will be used on stage, this allows the performers to get a feel for how the stage will be set up for performances.

Finally, rehearsals move into the venue where the production will be performed and the focus of the shifts to adjusting the material to fit the venue, such as acoustics, space and light cues. These rehearsals are also in costume and the orchestra is present.

Coming Up Shows

The next big performance for the GS opera is Mansfield Park on Oct. 20 and 21 at the Averitt Center in downtown Statesboro.

Mansfield Park is an opera written by John Dove that is based on the novel of the same name by Jane Austen.

A full list of upcoming shows can be found on the department of music’s website under the calendar.