Saltonstall's Trial, a Salem Witch Trial Play – Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast
Listen as we talk with actor and playwright Michael Cormier and Punctuate4 president and artistic director Myriam Cyr about their upcoming play Saltonstall’s Trial.
This is a cover up story. It’s the story that takes a look at a Salem Witch Trial Judge that most people have never heard of, Nathaniel Saltonstal. He stood up against social injustice and questioned the legitimacy of the trial proceedings. Due to his intervention, he was able to bring prevailing common sense into the accused witch hunt debate.
Don’t miss the Boston Massachusetts staged-reading of the updated script on October 27, 2022 at 7 pm. It is at the Modern Theater, 525 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111. Thanks to the Ford Hall Forum admission is free. Registration for free tickets available at link below. Limited tickets. Wheelchair accessible entrance.
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Transcript [00:00:00] Josh Hutchinson: Hello and welcome to a bonus episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. In this special episode, we interview Michael Cormier and Myriam Cyr of Punctuate4 about Saltonstall's Trial, a play about the only judge who quit the Salem Witch Trials Court due to concerns about the nature of the proceedings. [00:00:20] If you are in the Boston area, please attend the stage reading on Thursday, October 27th at 7:00 PM at the Modern Theater in downtown Boston. The reading will be followed by a talkback with Marilynne K. Roach, author of The Salem Witch Trials and Six Women of Salem, and the presentation is brought to you free of charge by the Ford Hall Form at Suffolk University. Visit punctuate4.org for tickets. [00:00:46] And now Michael Cormier and Myriam Cyr. [00:00:52] Can you tell us about how you were inspired to make this play? [00:00:56] Michael Cormier: It really started with me. I'd been carrying around this [00:01:00] idea in my head for many years. [00:01:01] I am an amateur historian about the Salem Witchcraft Trials, been for a very long time. And I kept in my reading, coming across the name Nathaniel Saltonstall. And of course, Haverhill, Massachusetts has the name Saltonstall all over it, because that's where the family started, very famous New England family. [00:01:24] And every time I'd read about him in the books, it would have maybe a paragraph that would say that he was appointed one of the nine judges on the trials. And of all those judges, he was the only one who quit in protest over the conduct of the trials. So I was always wondering what would make this man do that when nobody else did? [00:01:49] And the story sort of germinated in my head. And I went to work putting together a play on the encouragement of Linda Menzies Greenstein, one of the [00:02:00] producers of Punctuate4, and that was back in 2016. And so it's gone through several rewrites. [00:02:09] Myriam Cyr came on board. I did the first draft. Then Myriam Cyr and I have done everything since then together and created a play that tries to explain the Salem Witch Trials from the point of view of not of the victims, as you have seen before in in Arthur Miller's play, but from the point of view of one of the judges, one of the aristocracy of the puritans of New England. And attempts to see how things must have looked from that point of view. [00:02:43] Myriam Cyr: And then the story is really about how this judge is going to be taught by the women who were accused to see the truth, as opposed to the fake news that was being put forward. And what's amazing about the play is [00:03:00] that it speaks so much to cancel culture and fake news and what is truth and what is not truth. [00:03:07] And, these people truly believed in witches, and this man's kind of journey to understanding that yes, in his world, witches did exist, but these women were not that, that they were women, and it was because they were women that they were being treated and so badly treated and othered. [00:03:27] What's extraordinary about the Salem Witch Trials is how relevant they are today, and they just continue to be relevant. As the world around us changes, they continue to explain the world to us. And it's all, it's very interesting to note, I think that John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution very much with the idea of the witch trials in the back of his head, where he said, we cannot allow this miscarriage of justice ever to happen again [00:04:00] in our land. And therefore, Massachusetts of all the constitutions is one of the strongest when it comes to individual rights. [00:04:09] And all of that comes from the Salem Witch Trials. So that's really interesting. And so the, so we see, if you were like in Hamilton, who says, we wanna be in the room. The play puts us in the room with what was really going on. And it's really interesting because what was really going on isn't what you think was going on. [00:04:32] Josh Hutchinson: How did you select your cast of characters? [00:04:35] Myriam Cyr: So there are several witches, obviously 19 people hanged at that time, and there's Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Good, and many many of the witches. We stopped at three witches, Bridget Bishop, Sarah Good, and Deliverance Hobbs. And she's a real character. And then we have one other [00:05:00] character that ultimately doesn't hang ,so we invented her. And so the reason why we went for the story of Bridget Bishop, it had also to do with the fact that it was at once a personal vendetta by this woman called Deliverance Hobbs. It was a personal vendetta from Bridget Bishop's point of view towards Deliverance Hobbs. [00:05:23] But it also involved one of the judges, Hathorne, because Bridget Bishop owned an apple orchard, and she made cider out of her apples, and Hathorne owned a pub. And so he wanted that orchard, to be able to have more access to his is benefit. [00:05:45] And so it was very much in his interest to Bridget Bishop out of the way. So there are all these this confluence of reasons why Bridget Bishop, they want her gone. [00:06:00] And so it's a real great material for drama, needless to say. And not a lot of people know the details of what went down. [00:06:09] Michael Cormier: The reason that Bridget Bishop is the main focus, as far as the witches are concerned, is that hers was the very first trial, and hers was the test of how things were going to go in these trials from there. And that would be the only trial that Nathaniel Saltonstall would've sat on. [00:06:32] So all the characters in the play are people who were involved in the trials or family members of the Saltonstalls and witnesses of course, but all the characters revolve around that very first trial of Bridget Bishop and the people who were also being accused at that time, who were being held in prison. [00:06:57] Josh Hutchinson: Can you tell us about Sarah Good?[00:07:00] [00:07:00] Michael Cormier: Sarah Good was a very unfortunate person. She was a woman whose father owned a tavern in Salem at one time, and because of some family wranglings and a stepmother and so forth she was disinherited. As a result, she ended up very poor. [00:07:19] Her husband was a laborer, didn't make a lot of money. And she wound up being a more or less a house to house street beggar at times and at other times doing some simple uh, pickup handy work herself. She had a daughter by the name of Dorothy. In the history books, she's known as Dorcas, but her real name is Dorothy. [00:07:42] And Dorothy used to go door to door with her mother. So she was known among the villagers as this person who was a beggar woman, and rather than having sympathy for her, or empathy I should say, they saw her as nothing but a nuisance. [00:07:59] Myriam Cyr: [00:08:00] And Sarah Good's daughter is then in turn, and that's in the play, is also accused of witchcraft. [00:08:06] Michael Cormier: She was around four or five years old at the time. She was actually accused, and she was jailed, and actually, she went mad as a result of it. She lost her mind and had to be in care the rest of her life. [00:08:19] Myriam Cyr: So it's a tragic story, and our play is at once moving and touching and funny and tragic, and what's great about the stories, we tell the historical story of it and through the eyes of this judge, but it's still it's factual. So it's not so Arthur Miller, which we will never come close to. He's amazing. He's God, he's all of these things. However, he inspired himself from the Salem Witch trials to do a metaphor for the McCarthy trials that were going on at the time in America. And so he wasn't terribly bothered [00:09:00] about the whether he was being factually accurate or not, and which is okay cuz that's the food for great drama. [00:09:08] And his story, which is the story of John Proctor, we don't touch that story at all in our play. So all the characters Arthur Miller uses, they were real people, but the history around the play isn't necessarily accurate to what actually happened. [00:09:25] Michael Cormier: What our play brings up is some other very interesting characters, some very compelling characters. In Arthur Miller's play, again, John Proctor and his wife are the central characters, Abigail Williams, Giles Corey's in it. [00:09:38] Myriam Cyr: Abigail Williams, who in Arthur Miller's play is a temptress, in real life was 11 years old. [00:09:45] Michael Cormier: He was about sixty. [00:09:46] Myriam Cyr: So not quite the food for an affair, but and obviously Arthur Miller made this phenomenal decision as a writer to create Abigail Williams as a young [00:10:00] temptress and the Achilles heel to John Proctor. That historically was not the case. So whereas with us, the girls in the play are really only those ages, 13, 14, 11, 12. These were young women. [00:10:18] Michael Cormier: Our focus is other people who were very instrumental. The judge everybody seems to know and hate, because he did all the examinations, after which people were held for trial. Judge William Stoughton was the judge who really was on the cases at that time. He was the lieutenant governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And you will see a few others that are not as well known, Reverend Noyes and people like that. But it's a more family oriented piece that really highlights the witches and what they went through and the the thing that got them where they were. [00:10:56] And it highlights the Saltonstall [00:11:00] family as a family that's being immersed in this whole tragedy from the point of view of the powers that be. Because Nathaniel Saltonstall was a Harvard graduate and grandson of English aristocracy. He was he was a well connected man. [00:11:15] He didn't have to do what he did, so the struggle has a lot to do with, are we part of this whole community? Do we protect those people who are helpless? Or are we this upper crust of the Puritan society, and therefore we're gonna go along with the program no matter whether they're right or wrong. [00:11:37] That's one of the big issues in the play, and it's brought out, again, by examining these other characters that a lot of whom you don't see in the Arthur Miller play. [00:11:48] Myriam Cyr: The play has a lot of drama, and it's very exciting, and it's a little bit like a, who done it in certain parts. [00:11:54] And so it's a very entertaining evening, and we see the [00:12:00] witches on trial, the accused on trial. So we're very excited to share it with the public, and what's really exciting is that we have really all through all the steps of this process, we have kept checking in with the public as to what worked and what didn't work. [00:12:17] So we're very excited and we can't wait to see people's reactions to it. [00:12:23] We do have three Elliot Norton Award winners that are part of the cast and who are lending their voices to this and sometimes stage readings can be even more exciting than plays themselves because as a member of the audience, you can imagine what all of this will look like, because you really have the words to rely on and the images that in the powers that these words conjure and it is, it's like a spell. It's like entering a spell. And there's gonna be music, and there's gonna be [00:13:00] sound effects and but it will be very exciting. [00:13:03] Michael Cormier: It's an important play. We believe in it. We believe it's a very important play. And you two know this better than anybody that what happened 300 years ago is not, was not an aberration. It's not something that can ever be forgotten or just dismissed as something that couldn't happen again. [00:13:24] Because as we know, it does happen in various forms. So it's an important play. And it's important to get across the the themes that run through that play that we're trying to present with it. [00:13:37] Josh Hutchinson: When and where can people see Saltonstall's Trial? [00:13:43] Myriam Cyr: Saltonstall's Trial can be seen at the Modern Theatre in downtown Boston at 525 Washington Street, Boston, 7:00 PM on October 27th, which is a Thursday, and there will be a talk back [00:14:00] afterwards with Marilynne Roach, who's the author of Six Women of Salem and is very famous. She was interviewed on Jon Stewart, and she's one of the world's leading expert on the Salem Witch Trials. [00:14:16] Josh Hutchinson: And how do people get tickets to see it? [00:14:20] Myriam Cyr: If you go to punctuate4.org, you will see a button that says reservations, and it will lead you to where you have to go. And also it's a free event. And that is thanks to the Ford Hall Forum in Suffolk University who are sponsoring us.