In 1691 Puritan New England, fear and superstition were rampant. Singing, dancing and amusement of any kind was forbidden. The Devil was everywhere. Five girls coming of age in Salem Village, desperate for release of their thoughts and feelings, find an ally in Tituba, a Black slave who longs for freedom. Deep in the woods the girls make a pact and build a sisterhood. Then alliances are formed, promises made and broken, power taken. Afflicted: Daughters of Salem tells the story of the Salem girls - Abigail Williams, the leader, Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis, Mary Warren and the youngest, Betty Parris, and the events that led up to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. This origin story examines how these teenage girls became accusers and caused twenty people to be put to death for witching. An interactive forum that explores the accusers and their community is built into the play, encouraging refection, and is ideal for complimenting classroom work. This portrayal of five young adults who rebelled against an oppressive society is perfect for deeper engagement alongside any study of the Salem Witch Trials. Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, explores not only the history and causes of the trials, but how girls have negotiated alliances and power throughout history just as they do today. Cast: 6 women
Photos by J. Robert Schraeder, curtesy of Coterie Theatre, Kansas City, MO.
“Plays for young audiences often sacrifice dramatic integrity for educational value, but “Afflicted” is an ideally balanced piece of writing. This show really packs a punch.”
-Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star
"A deep look into the psychology of the girls who so deeply affected the innocent inhabitants of Salem."
"Intriguing...completely compelling as a snapshot of how social pressures and fear can cause unconscionable actions."
Exerpt from Salem Witch Trials, 60 Years After ‘The Crucible’ By Celia Wren, February 28, 2014, The Washington Post
“Such was the darkness of that day . . . that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way.” So wrote the Rev. John Hale, looking back ruefully on his involvement in the Salem witch trials — the outbreak of paranoia and legal proceeding that began in Salem, Mass., in early 1692 and led to the execution, principally by hanging, of 20 men and women.
A playwright’s job is, in a sense, to pierce the clouds that obscure human motive and behavior. It may not be surprising, then, that dramatists have repeatedly mined the Salem panic, which caused the imprisonment of as many as 150 people, according to one count. Instigated by girls and young women who claimed to be suffering torments inflicted by witchcraft, the crisis famously found its way to the stage in Arthur Miller’s 1953 drama “The Crucible”
What does seem surprising is the striking uptick in Salem-themed dramas in the past year or so. For instance, the Coterie, a theater in Kansas City, Mo., recently hosted the world premiere run of “Afflicted: Daughters of Salem,” Laurie Brooks’s play for young audiences.
Laurie Brooks is another playwright interested in looking at the Salem trauma from the distaff side. The Salem girls had little in their lives except work, religion, sleep and ever-present fear, she says, noting that the fear was a byproduct both of the Puritan worldview — “They believed that the Devil was everywhere.”
“Because of the oppressive nature of Salem Village, [the girls] need[ed] some kind of relief and rebellion,” says Brooks, who is a well-known author of plays for young audiences. “And that’s really not entirely different from the way girls behave today. Boys, too, for that matter.”
In evoking the experience of the Salem girls, Brooks drew on her knowledge of contemporary young people and social constructs like cliques. “Who are the leaders, and who are the followers?” asks Brooks, summarizing her thought process. “How is power taken and given?”
Playwright Brooks sees yet another echo of 21st-century worries in the new batch of “Crucible” rivals: Riffs on Salem, in her view, are akin to the recent wave of books and popular entertainments set amid dystopias and apocalyptic scenarios — think, “The Hunger Games,” or “The Walking Dead.”
“I think it’s directly connected to the world the way it is,” she says. “People are scared.”
Adapted from a broadcast on KCUR, Kansas City Public radio prior to the Coterie Premier
Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, a National Endowment for the Arts award-winning new drama commissioned by The Coterie from playwright Laurie Brooks, begins before the Salem Witch Trials. Inspired by the clique of teen girl accusers that forever established the legacy of Salem, the fictionalized account of their lives in Salem Village and the pressures they endured in such a closed society comes into focus in the play.
Jeff Church, Artistic Director of The Coterie Theatre, was interested in the Salem girls who became accusers and asked me if I’d like to write a play that explored their role in the trials. He didn’t have to ask me twice. Together, we tossed around the idea of an origin story that would examine how the accusations might have begun. I had a keen interest in how the girls’ relationships and their power dynamics played a role. Tons of research and a week of development at Arizona State University led to the performance audiences will experience.
The more I read the more fascinated I became. I was especially beguiled by the process of imagining the relationships between these girls, dictated by the social mores and rigid religious beliefs that surrounded them. Their lives were completely controlled, from reading only the Bible to arranged marriages.
The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s classic play, which many young adults read in school, covers the actual trials very well. I wanted to explore the group dynamics, power struggles, and fight for survival of these girls in a world where danger is a large part of their everyday lives.”