Theater production highlights real-life contributions of women to the world of science

Tuesday February 18, 2020Doug Osborne-Coy
student actors in costume
Margaret Leavitt (Noelle Crites) and her sister Henrietta Leavitt (Lauren Layfield) take in the stars in a scene from the Department of Theatre and Dance production of Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky.” 

The real-life contributions women made to the world of science at the turn of the 20th century will be brought to life in the next Walter Gloor Mainstage Series production.

The Department of Theatre and Dance presents six performances of Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” from Feb. 28 to March 7 in Rockefeller Arts Center’s Bartlett Theatre. The production is directed by Theatre and Dance faculty member Daniel Lendzian.

“Silent Sky” is sponsored by the SUNY Fredonia Federal Credit Union as part of the 2019-20 Lake Shore Savings Season at Rockefeller Arts Center.

Tickets are available through the Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501 and online at fredonia.edu/tickets.

The play is based on the true story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who worked at the Harvard College Observatory during a time of immense scientific discoveries. However, the ideas of women were dismissed until men could later claim credit for them. The dedication of Leavitt and her female peers ultimately changed the way people understand both the heavens and Earth.

“This work allows us to wind back the clocks to the turn of the 20th century, giving us a glimpse into the life and work of several notable astronomers at the Harvard College Observatory,” Lendzian said. “It’s no secret that history has largely been written in a manner that either overlooks or underestimates significant contributions by women to the arts and sciences. Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon, and Williamina Fleming were cornerstones of the HCO, but we seldom discuss the gravity of their achievements. ‘Silent Sky’ takes us on a magnificent journey of rediscovery as we come to know their true place amongst the stars.”

Because “Silent Sky” relies heavily on historical fact, Lendzian said the dramaturg – a literary adviser who helps research and interpret the script – will play an important role in the Mainstage production.

“‘Silent Sky’ is a play that utilizes contemporary elements within a historical framework to create a particular silhouette of these women and their lives. The dramaturg helps us find the balance between the real history and the romanticized elements of the play, keying into the heart of the text and unlocking its truest potential,” Lendzain said. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have an experienced dramaturg and alumni, Shawn Sprankle, collaborating with us on this production; he’s also mentoring two students, Jack Levenberg and Delicia Holder, through methodology and approach to dramaturgy.”

Lendzian said the musical score being created specifically for the Mainstage production will bolster the “effervescent sense of wonder and curiosity that (the play) instills in us.”

“We’ve been extremely lucky to bring in a composer to create a unique score for our production,” the director said. “John Carroll, a student in the School of Music who also served as the music director for ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ has returned to collaborate with us on ‘Silent Sky.’ He brings a great deal of passion and knowledge with him to the production team. His innate sense of musicality has been a breath of fresh air during the creative process and his work as our composer is an incredible achievement to be celebrated.”

In addition, Lendzain said the Mainstage set, costume and lighting design are “beautiful, detailed work and create an amazing escape into a vast and beautiful universe.” 

In the end, Lendzian said “Silent Sky” is a work that has the ability to inspire audience members on many levels.

“I hope audiences take away an appreciation for the historical characters in the play; Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon, and Williamina Fleming,” the director said. “I hope that they feel the sense of wonder and curiosity that fuels every element in this play. I hope they consider the night sky, the universe, and our place in it more fully.  Finally, I hope that they have a wonderful and enjoyable night.”

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