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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

MPAL Exhibits 2023-2024: Witches On Stage

Documents exhibits at the Music and Performing Arts Library during the 2023-2024 academic year.

Exhibit Materials

From 1692 to 1693, over 200 people, predominantly women, were accused and tried for witchcraft in Salem Massachusetts. The events have inspired and influenced novels, movies, songs, tv shows, and more, from Disney’s 1993 movie Hocus Pocus (the three sisters were tried as witches in colonial Salem) to Saturday Night Live sketches. This case includes selections from the Music & Performing Arts Library’s collections related to the Salem witch trials. 

The musical Wicked tells the story of two young witches, Elphaba and Glinda, as they study magic together at Shiz University. It is an example where witches can be both good and bad – Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West – as opposed to many other selections in this exhibit that portray witches in a negative light. 

The Witch in Sondheim’s Into the Woods is the musical’s main antagonist and a complex character, seeking revenge on those that caused the loss of her youth and beauty. 

"This article investigates Hexentanz (Witch Dance)--Mary Wigman's signature work--in the context of the radically changing political and ideological background to its creation. The piece was choreographed in three distinct versions, each during a different political system... I argue that in constructing her dances Wigman partook in a widely disseminated and complex early twentieth-century German discourse on witchcraft and witch persecutions, which included interpretations ranging from anticlerical and feminist to racist and anti-Semitic."

--excerpt from Alexandra Kolb, “Wigman’s Witches: Reformism, Orientalism, Nazism,” Dance Research Journal 48, 2 (2016): 26-43. 

The plays included all feature witches in some way. Norna, or, the Witch's Curse is the real version of the play performed in Chapter 1 of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Mary Chase’s Mrs. McThing is a musical featuring the daughter of a witch, the casting of spells, and a witches gathering including goblins and ghoulies. Christopher Fry’s 1948 The Lady's Not for Burning includes a character, Jennet, who is accused of being a witch.  Carol Lynn Pearson’s Mother Wove the Morning features the stories of sixteen women from history, including a medieval witch, while Henry David Hwang’s The Sound of a Voice includes a female character rumored to be a witch.

Exhibit Photographs

exhibit case featuring items related to theatre, dance, and popular music

This case features plays with witch characters, dances about witches, and popular music that evokes witchy imagery. 

exhibit case featuring items related to the Salem witch trials

This case features materials that relate to the Salem witch trials, including Miller's play The Crucible, Ward's opera The Crucible, and Cadman's opera A Witch of Salem. 

exhibit case featuring materials related to musical theatre and classical music

This case features materials about the musicals Wicked and Into the Woods, both of which have major witch characters, and musical works that evoke witchy imagery. 

exhibit case featuring sheet music

This case features materials from MPAL's Historic US Sheet Music Collection.

exhibit case featuring sheet music

This case features materials from MPAL's Historic US Sheet Music Collection.