Perhaps the most entertaining and educational activities that we took part in during our week’s stay in Colonial Williamsburg were the evening programs offered nightly. Many of these programs are offered on multiple nights and times, so I would suggest that you plan out your itinerary to make sure you get to see those that are very limited in availability. In many cases, participating in these events is the only way to see some of the historic buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, especially at night under candlelight.
Several of the offerings are intended to provide you with a glimpse of colonial life in the 18th century in Virginia. We especially found the programs "To Go A’Pirating," "Cry Witch," "Crime & Punishment," and "Williamsburg’s Most Wanted" to provide interesting perspectives on the differences in society today versus that time as it relates to the laws of the time and the justice system under the British Crown. All four are based on actual events and cases in Williamsburg history. We would highly recommend making every effort to attend each of these programs!
What we really enjoyed most about the "To Go A'Pirating" and "Cry Witch" programs was the fact that the audience was part of the performance as jurors for the trials against the alleged felons. The Governor presided over the court activities with the case tried by the Crown appointed attorney. Defendants were permitted to question their accusers and witnesses. . .and jury members were also allowed time to ask questions. After the case was presented and all questions addressed, the audience voted on the guilt or innocence of the accused. After the completion of the courtroom scene, we were told of the actual outcome of the trials.
Other evening programs that we participated in and enjoyed were "A Grand Medley of Entertainment," "Papa Said – Momma Said," and "Legends, Myths, Mysteries & Ghosts." Each was a wonderful story telling program that portrayed the lives of ordinary citizens and slaves of the time. The "Grand Medley of Entertainment" was more like a vaudevillian show than anything. . .with juggling, puppeteering, singing, and story telling. Laced throughout the performances were explanations of how people during the colonial times were entertained. While at times corny we enjoyed a few good side rippin’ belly laughs.
For group participation as in marching like a soldier, be sure to take the kids to "In Defense of Our Liberty." This is truly an activity that will require you to be involved, learning what it was like to be a soldier during the revolutionary war. It was also educational, providing a whole new perspective on the sacrifices made by men and families during that time.
Lastly, don't miss out on the "Lanthorn Tour" which is a walking tour visiting three tradesmen doing their craft as they did it back in the 18th century. Guests are broken into groups of approximately 12-15 people and visit different locations. We were told that no two tour groups are the same.
You can plan to do two programs in an evening, if the scheduling and location are in your favor. For us, we did two events on two different evenings, maximizing our participation in these most interesting and entertaining performances. In fact, we did "Cry Witch" twice. . .once in the Capitol and the other in the Courthouse. Since the performances were with different performers, the experiences were quite different.
Tickets for the evening performances run between $10 and $15 per person. If you purchase an annual pass, however, there are substantial discounts. With the Freedom Pass ($59 adults/$29 kids) the tickets for evening performances are half-price. And if you buy the $79/$39 Independence Pass, tickets for all evening performances are free. You can reserve one ticket for each pass holder. . .and reserving two tickets for events held during the same evening is possible so long as it is reasonable to expect to be able to attend both. We made the most of our annual passes, since in total we attended 11 shows over the course of our nine nights in Williamsburg.
1/31/09 NOTE: The Independence Pass has been discontinued. They now offer just one annual pass for $50 which includes discounted, not free evening programming tickets. The good news is that this less expensive pass now includes the Governor's Palace which in the past was only available with the more expensive annual pass or by a separate admission ticket. From their web site at www.history.org:
Youth (ages 6-17) are admitted at half the adult admission price year-round.
Come-and-go flexibility - not limited to consecutive days
Access to ALL exhibition sites, regular daytime programs, and museums
25% discount on most Colonial Evening Programs 4
Exclusive access to special-topic, guided walking tours (reservations required)
Admission for up to one full year