WILLIAMSBURG, Va., August 28, 2019 — Jamestown Settlement will present the premiere of “Season of the Witch,” an original play written by Abigail Schumann, at 7:30 p.m. on September 14 & 19-21 outdoors in the re-created James Fort, with an immersive theatrical experience that brings to life the 1626 witchcraft trial of Jane Wright – who stood accused in the first recorded witchcraft inquiry in Virginia.
“Season of the Witch” is a fictional play with a very real story. Written in support of Jamestown Settlement’s yearlong special exhibition “TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” this new production blends the historical record with a modern perspective. Based on transcripts and testimonies taken in 1626 regarding charges of witchcraft against Jane Wright, the facts are drawn from the historical record where available, while supplemental invention is used to propel the narrative.
“Turning a court record into a script that doesn’t sound like a court record, while striving to create a memorable theatrical experience for our audiences, was the best and biggest challenge of writing ‘Season of the Witch,’” said Abigail Schumann, “Season of the Witch” playwright and special exhibitions programs manager at Jamestown Settlement. The recipient of eight regional Emmy awards for script writing, directing and producing educational history programs, she has created plays and performances for museums and historic sites for more than 20 years, including “Mother Tongue” which debuted earlier this year.
Actors aren’t the only ones with roles to play in this new production. “The first act allows for immersive encounters with witnesses and members of the court, which provide context to assist the audience in determining the fate of the accused during the second act,” said Schumann, noting that each night’s performance offers a unique experience. Act I keeps the audience on their feet as they travel back in time visiting buildings throughout the fort to meet community members and individuals involved in the 1626 investigation of Jane Wright. In Act II, audience members convene in the church to take part in trial proceedings before deciding her final fate.
As the first recorded witchcraft inquiry in Virginia, on September 11, 1626, community members brought accusations of witchcraft against Jane Wright, the wife of Robert Wright, in the General Court at Jamestown, with Governor Sir George Yeardley presiding as chief justice to determine if the accusations merited further legal proceedings. The accusations against her ranged from being the source of misfortune and property destruction for members of the community, to causing pain, sickness and even death. The court records are fragmentary, but provide an insight into witchcraft beliefs of the time, and although there is no documentary evidence of an actual trial or outcome of the inquiry, we do know that had she been found guilty, the witchcraft charges against her would have been punishable by death.
“Season of the Witch” Cast
The role of Goodwife Jane Wright will be played by Stacy Hasselbacher Hernandez, who works for Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute and Colonial Williamsburg Evening Programs. She has performed locally in productions including “Proof and Pride and Prejudice” at Williamsburg Players, and “Gossip Well Told” and “‘Night Mother” for Panglossian Productions at the Williamsburg Library Theater. The role of Governor Sir George Yeardley will be played by Jim Gandolfo, a veteran performer/director with more than 300 titles to his credit and currently an adjunct instructor in theatre at Christopher Newport University. He also founded The Comedy Troupe, In All Seriousness, distinguishing its brand of performance improv while performing with Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black, Sinbad, Jeff Dunham and others. Ron Carnegie, known for portraying George Washington at Colonial Williamsburg, in addition to his numerous stage credits, portrays Dr. Pott, a member of the Governor’s Council. The cast of characters for “Season of the Witch” also includes Heather Doré Johnson as Isabel Perry, Emily Doherty as midwife Rebecka Graye, Nicole Brown as Mistress Allington, and Kilian Head as provost marshal Mr. Smallwood.
Admission to this outdoor theatrical experience is $15.00, with event details and tickets available at historyisfun.org/seasonofthewitch.
About Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement is located on State Route 31 just southwest of Williamsburg and features expansive exhibition galleries and films that connect visitors with the lives of the Powhatan, English and west central African cultures that converged at 17th-century Jamestown, and historical interpretation in outdoor re-creations of a Powhatan Indian village, 1607 English ships and colonial fort. Jamestown Settlement is a stage for special exhibitions, events and programs in conjunction with the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, honoring the 400th anniversary of key historical events in Virginia in 1619. The “TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia” special exhibition, a legacy project of the 2019 Commemoration, explores captivating and little-known stories of Powhatan Indian, English and African women in 17th-century Virginia, and is accompanied this year by more than a dozen public lectures, special events and performances.
Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, daytime museum admission is $17.50 for adults, $8.25 for ages 6-12, and free for children under 6. Residents of York County, James City County and the City of Williamsburg, including College of William and Mary students, receive free admission with proof of residency. For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838. A separate $15.00 ticket is required to attend this outdoor nighttime performance and is available for purchase online at historyisfun.org/seasonofthewitch, by calling (757) 253-5110 or (757) 253-5112 or stopping by Visitor Services at Jamestown Settlement. Seating is limited.
“Season of the Witch” is a rain-or-shine event with tickets subject to availability and non-refundable. In the event of rain or inclement weather, the performance will be moved indoors. Chairs, coolers, food and outside beverages are not permitted.