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The witching hour

BY CASSIDY RILEY | FEBRUARY 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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The lights are dim, and there is a haze of fog floating over the stage. In one corner, a bath tub is covered in shrubbery, and near the back is a tree branch. It is unclear if the setting is outside or if the trappings of nature have only begun to encroach on a hospital, slowly preparing to swallow it whole.

A young girl's voice cries out in the darkness, "Spirits. Spirits." She is looking for answers only the storytelling witches can give.

On Friday, Theater Workshop Production Quiet, Witches will première at 8 p.m. in the Theater Building's Theater B. The show will run through Saturday; admission is free.

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Director of the show Nina Morrison said over time, the term "witch" has been used to describe people society doesn't understand. Throughout history, those considered to be witches faced persecution, and suppression. Even in America, some have been misunderstood and silenced behind the doors of what are now abandoned psychiatric hospitals. The plot of Quiet, Witches capitalizes on this idea.

"When mental intuitions were established, it became an easy way to dispatch with women who were behaving in a way that was considered scandalous or in any way distasteful by those in power," Morrison said.

The show takes place on the grounds of an abandoned psychiatric institution in Washington, D.C. Nine witches, who have long been facilitators of untold stories of the misunderstood in the world, are trapped in the grounds of the hospital. They have the stories of the tormented patients in their heads and cannot move on until they find the right people to share them with. The play picks up when four girls from the area are all drawn to the hospital for different reasons and encounter the witches.

Alex Rinehart, who plays Calliope, one of the witches, said the idea is the stories will be shared not with just the girls but that the girls will share them with others, and the world will learn from those who are different, rather than shun them.

"I don't want to sound cheesy, but I think equality for all people and trying to understand other people's perspectives and where other people are coming from can really help prevent other issues," she said.

Morrison said the show is meant to not only tell others to listen but also encourage those who feel like they don't fit in to tell their stories. The four girls who encounter the witches deal with their own struggles that cause them to feel marginalized in society.

UI graduate student Samantha Collier, the author of Quiet, Witches, said she was inspired to write the play after taking a tour of the abandoned campus of St. Elizabeth's Government Hospital for the Insane, in Washington, D.C. She said after learning about some of the "horrific" treatments that were practiced — such as shock therapy and lobotomies — she wanted to tell the stories of these patients.

"As theater artists and as storytellers, I feel like it's so important that we are always looking for the stories that aren't being told," she said. "We're not only reflecting the world as we see it, but we're imaging the worlds as it could be."


THEATER
Quiet, Witches
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Theater Building Theater B
Admission: Free, but tickets are available at the door


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