When two women are named as witches by their scornful neighbors, mass hysteria follows. Against the backdrop of the witchcraft trials in 17th century England, Vinegar Tom reveals how the fear of female sexuality is the lethal source of many of society’s problems, both past and present. Written by acclaimed Obie Award-winning playwright Caryl Churchill, Vinegar Tom premiered on October 12, 1976 at the Humberside Theatre, in Hull, England. Churchill collaborated with the London-based feminist theatre company Monstrous Regiment during the writing process. Churchill and members of the company had met at a pro-choice protest march in the 1970s and quickly discovered their mutual interest in developing a piece that paralleled the fight for reproductive rights during the 1970s with the witch hysteria of the 17th century.
IU’s production of Vinegar Tom is directed by second year MFA directing candidate Rachel Nicole Pierce. The aim of this production, according to Pierce, “is to illuminate moments that we can all connect to […] as well as question, from the past and from our current state. As we engage with the problems of 17th-century West Country England through the echoes of women’s voices, their social commentary challenges our perspectives on injustices. Now and throughout history, we too often see those who are suffering pushed down and “othered” by those who hold more power, status, and wealth. The women in this play serve to represent and hold up a mirror to those marginalized today.”
Playwright Caryl Churchill is regarded as one of Britain’s most influential playwrights, whose work varies widely in subject matter and style but is nearly always political or feminist in nature. Her first professional stage production was Owners at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London in 1972, where she was later the first woman to be resident playwright. Churchill started out writing radio dramas for BBC radio, but she is perhaps best known for her plays Cloud Nine (1979), Top Girls (1982), Serious Money (1987), The Skriker (1994), Love and Information (2012), and for her collaborations with Joint Stock Theatre Company and Monstrous Regiment.
Joining Director Rachel Nicole Pierce on the creative team are MFA students Abby Twining (Scenic Designer & Scenic Charge), Rachel Saylor (Costume Designer), Megan Branham (Lighting Designer) and undergraduate student Macy Kloville (Sound Designer). Original music for the production was composed by Miggy Torres, a Music Composition Master’s student at IU Jacobs School of Music.