It’s the witching hour in Williamsburg as a new play comes to Jamestown Settlement to immerse the audience in a 17th century witch trial.
“We are drawn to those stories in a costume or horror movie way, but I think when we can turn it into a lived experience, the persecution that women actually endured, it makes us consider our own human condition a little more,” said Abigail Schumann, special exhibitions programs manager at Jamestown Settlement and author of the new original play “Season of the Witch.”
The play will run at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 14 and Sept. 19 to Sept. 21 at the James Fort and is part of Jamestown Settlement’s yearlong exhibition, TENACITY, which tells the story of women in Jamestown and early Virginia.
Schumann said she was inspired to write the play because she wanted something that would tie in to the settlement’s symposium on Sept. 13 and Sept. 14 called “UNTAMED: Women in the Law.”
The story takes place in September 1626 when colonist Jane Wright became the first English settler in the British North American colonies to be accused of witchcraft.
Nine witnesses came forward to the court and accused Wright of various forms of witchcraft, from property destruction to causing sickness and even death.
Many of the documents from that time have not survived, so it’s still unknown whether or not Wright was tried. But historians say if she had been found guilty, she would’ve been punished by death.
What has survived to the 21st century are the nine original witness testimonies which Schumann used to construct the fictional play.
“If you spend time looking at [the history], you’ll see how women interacted with the law,” she said. “How they were suppressed and silenced.”
But turning a court record into an entertaining script posed the biggest challenge for Schumann. With two decades of writing experience under her belt for museums and historic sites, Schumann made sure to compose something that would immerse the audience and take them out of their 21st-century mindset.
The first act of the play will allow the audience to move around historic buildings and interact with the actors in order to better understand the mindset of the period.
In the second act, the audience will convene in the church and participate in trial proceedings to determine Wright’s fate.
“You meet these characters and get that context,” she said. “People can consider what are the motivations of these people, what do they really believe. The magical world was very much alive in the 17th century and to people now, it will open their eyes.
With those two pieces together, Schumann said each night of the play will provide a different and entertaining experience for the audience.
Most importantly, she said, it will bring this woman’s story to a 21st century audience.
“It is important to tell stories about women at anytime,” she said. “But now the avenue is open and it connects us to people in the past.”
To learn more about tickets and showtimes, visit Jamestown Settlement online.