This fall at the Ent Center for the Arts, a new dark comedy play will open UCCS Theatreworks’ in-person season, running Sept. 16 through Oct. 10 and centering on themes of sacrifice, compromise and change.
“Witch,” written by Jen Silverman and directed by Theatreworks Artistic Director Caitlin Lowans, tells the story of the devil’s visit to the small village of Edmonton. While several villagers fall prey to the classic deal with the devil, Elizabeth Sawyer, a woman outcast as a witch, holds out.
“The hook of ‘Witch’ is that it asks the question: What is worth selling your soul for?” Lowans said. “Some people, the thing that they want is very personal and very much about their relationship with one other person, but over the course of the play, the idea of what is worth selling your soul for expands.”
VAPA instructor Birgitta De Pree, who plays the lead, said, “You can look at that metaphorically as well, if you want to have a hopeful outlook that we can change things, we can change systems and proceed with a new slate and then maybe we can address some of the inequities and abuses that we’ve perpetuated for years and years.”
Lowans chose this play for the 2021-2022 season because of their familiarity with Silverman’s work and interpretative lens, as well as appreciation for its history.
“It immediately hooked me because I loved the playwright, and Theatreworks has this tradition of doing more classically based works,” they said. “It’s a new play, and yet it’s based on this English play from the 1600s, so I thought, what a great clash.”
“I think it’s edgy, it’s funny, there are some wild characters and gorgeous images,” De Pree said. “It’s a fast ride, and I think fun in a very sort of dark way.”
Although Theatreworks is made up of professional staff, students can take part on or off stage, including helping to choose programming as part of the Theatreworks board.
“Usually our artists, designers, actors, and stage managers are professional artists working in the field,” Lowans said. “When we have age-appropriate roles, we love to involve students, we always encourage students to audition.”
In the case of “Witch,” students are mainly involved behind the scenes through the design team and the run crew. “For example, our sound designer is a current UCCS music student. We have students working backstage, we actually have work
“We also really like to involve UCCS graduates and alumni when we can, so even though we don’t have any students in the cast, of the six actors in the cast, three of them are UCCS graduates and one of them is a UCCS faculty member,” they said.
According to Lowans, the production process for “Witch” looks different from that of previous Theatreworks plays because of COVID-19. The usual steps were the same, beginning with the design team’s planning, followed by casting and now rehearsal. However, the timeline was more condensed, and both casting and rehearsal saw certain limitations.
Casting happened virtually through video auditions on YouTube and Lowans held callbacks over Zoom, so in-person rehearsal has required greater adjustment.
“Unlike with a non-COVID process, usually a director and actors have shared space before and given each other notes and get a sense of how folks work so you have a little bit of grounding,” they said. “But the cast is really open and really engaged and very excited to be returning to an in-person process, so the collaborative energy has been really lovely.”
De Pree also voiced her sense of collaborative spirit. “All of the actors commented on the fact that it’s been about a year and a half since any of us have really worked. It is such a joy to come back together and create something that you get to share — finally you get to do your work, create a play that inspires conversation and connection.”
Lowans explained that Theatreworks artists are protected under the Actor’s Equity union, which outlines COVID-19 restrictions, including procedures for fully vaccinated and partially vaccinated companies.
Because the Theatreworks company is fully vaccinated, actors can be unmasked on stage if they are six feet from audiences. Audience members will be required to wear masks, and actors will also need to be masked when moving through the aisles.
There will be limited capacity at performances so anyone interested in “Witch” should reserve tickets online in advance.
Theatreworks will also host extension events, including design process talks before Thursday performances and UCCS faculty panel discussions about the show’s themes on Sundays.
Tickets are free for students and can be reserved through the Ent Center’s website.