By Bethany Bray
---- — Three hundred years after the Salem Witch Trials, a cast of Puritans took to the streets of Salem.
As tourists looked on, they dragged accused witch Bridget Bishop to Old Town Hall for her trial — and they’ve been doing it for 20 seasons since then in performances of “Cry Innocent.”
Now, to mark the 21st anniversary, the play’s creators are making a film version.
Scenes were filmed at Salem Pioneer Village through May and June, with the goal of a premiere at CinemaSalem in the fall, said Mark Stevick, a professor at Gordon College in Wenham who wrote both the play and film versions of “Cry Innocent.”
History Alive, a professional branch of the college’s theater arts department, produces the shows in Salem, and many of the actors are students.
The film’s cast includes 35 actors who have performed in “Cry Innocent” through its two decades, including eight from the original 1992 cast.
“There certainly was a lot of good-natured ribbing among the cast members that we are all age-appropriate (for the characters they play) now,” Stevick said.
Eventually, they’d like to produce a DVD that can be sold as a souvenir to audience members and used as an educational tool in classrooms. Stevick said he’ll begin editing film this summer.
Stevick and his wife, Kristina, are co-directing and producing the movie; CinemaSalem owner Paul Van Ness is collaborating as director of photography. Kristina is artistic director of History Alive.
“Cry Innocent” is performed at Old Town Hall in Derby Square through the summer and fall.
The play is set in 1692, when Bridget Bishop was accused of witchcraft. The modern-day audience becomes Bishop’s jury — they hear testimony, ask questions and cross-examine witnesses, then decide on a verdict.
The play changes with each performance, depending on the audience.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Birds fly in the windows, little kids walk up on the stage,” Mark Stevick said, chuckling. “ ... It’s always fun for me when I’m there at Old Town Hall as the audience is leaving, and I hear a family debating among themselves about the characters and aspects of the show.”
The Stevicks aim to make the film version of “Cry Innocent” interactive, like the play, with viewers selecting questions and picking different endings through a DVD menu or an online platform. Footage from past years will be combined with scenes filmed this spring at Pioneer Village, a Colonial-style living history site at Forest River Park.
Scenes shot in the governor’s house, one of Pioneer Village’s thatched-roof cottages, are much more intimate than in Old Town Hall, but there are other differences, as well, Kristina Stevick notes.
In the film, for example, there’s one actor for each character; in the play, a smaller cast of actors performs multiple roles.
“It’s a very different way of presenting the information,” she said. “ ... It’s going to feel like two very different experiences.”
After two decades of “Cry Innocent,” this year’s film project is “a natural next step,” Mark Stevick said.
Audience members have been interested in a DVD version of the play for a while, he said, and he had time to devote to it this spring while he was on sabbatical.
The project has served as a reunion for cast members from years past, many of whom have built careers in the arts, he said.
“I think ‘Cry Innocent’ had a significant role in our development as professionals, in our careers,” he said. “ ... This is an important play for all of us.”
“We are grateful for the support that many different (Salem) entities have shown to History Alive! and ‘Cry Innocent’ over the years,” he said. “Without their welcome and continued encouragement, we wouldn’t be here still.”