SILENT SKY Begins This Month At Peninsula Players Theatre
Peninsula Players Theatre, America's oldest professional resident summer theater and Door County's theatrical icon, is excited to announce the opening of "Silent Sky" by Lauren Gunderson. "Silent Sky" tells the story of unsung astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, whose discoveries at Harvard Observatory in the 1890s opened the galaxies above. "Silent Sky" performs August 21 through September 1.
"Silent Sky" is based on the life of Leavitt and the other "human computers," as they were called, at Harvard Observatory in the 19th century. Leavitt, a Radcliffe graduate, is invited to join a dedicated group of women, including Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming, who work at the Harvard Observatory charting the stars.
"People are really moved by it ('Silent Sky'), which moves me," Gunderson said in a 2015 interview with Theatrical Outfit. "It is kind of why we do this crazy business. To tell stories that move people.
"('Silent Sky') is moving (to) women who need more stories told about their heroes and their hopes. It is moving men. I remember several fathers coming out from the play and saying, 'I need to call my daughter and tell her I love her."
In "Silent Sky," Leavitt decides to leave her pastor father and sister Margaret at home in Wisconsin for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When she arrives at the observatory, she learns she isn't allowed to touch the telescope or express an original idea. Instead, she and her female co-workers work as "human computers" and chart the stars using math and measurement for Dr. Pickering, renowned astronomer.
In a time when women did not have careers, let alone theorize and make scientific discoveries, Leavitt and her fellow "computers" trade the comforts of domestic life for their dedication to science. Staying long hours after each workday to pursue her own scientific theories, she discovers a technique that makes it possible to measure the distance to stars by their pulsating light. Astounding truths cascade from this single shocking discovery, upending her colleagues' views of themselves, each other and the universe itself.
Cannon, Fleming and Leavitt all made astronomical discoveries while at Harvard. Cannon's cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. Fleming helped develop a common designation system for stars and is credited for discovering the Horsehead Nebula in 1888.
Ashley Lanyon Cassandra enthralled Door County audiences last year portraying the title character in the thrilling mystery, "Miss Holmes" by Christopher M. Walsh. Henrietta Swan Leavitt While working at Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge in the 19th century, Leavitt conducted research that led to two of the most surprising and important discoveries in the history of astrophysics. Image from the Harvard College Observatory.
Leavitt's discovery provided astronomers with the first "standard candle" with which to measure the distance to faraway galaxies. Leavitt noted that some of the brighter variables' period of fluctuation is related to their brightness. Further study confirmed this discovery, which came to be known as the "period-luminosity relationship" or "Leavitt's Law."
"What is so fully realized in ('Silent Sky')... is this conversation between opposites that are throughout the world," Gunderson said. "We have science and faith talking to each other; we have math and music talking to each other. It is a really fluid and interesting theatrical conversation that you get to be a part of."
Penny Slusher as Annie Cannon Gunderson is a screenwriter and author, recognized as the most-produced living playwright by American Theatre magazine in 2016. During the 2017-2018 theater season, she had 27 productions on stage. Her work has received national theater and fiction awards as well as a Sloan Science & Film Award (2008) for her screenplay "Grand Unification." She also co-wrote the book for "The Happy Elf," the Christmas musical with music and lyrics by Harry Connick Jr.
"It is a lot to ask for one play to be witty and intellectual, yet interlaced with humor and to be soulful and full of ideas," Artistic Director Greg Vinkler said. "'Silent Sky' is all of that, and more. Henrietta made a brilliant discovery that allowed scientists to find faraway galaxies and was directly linked to the discoveries of Edwin Hubble. 'Silent Sky' is a very human story that not only awes but makes us laugh often and loudly." Elizabeth Margolius, who directed the Peninsula Players' production of "Miss Holmes" and "The Bridges of Madison County" is directing this true story of discovery.
Margolius is a Chicago and upstate New York-based multiple Jeff Award-nominated stage and movement director. Her primary focus is directing contemporary non-traditional music theater, opera, and plays as well as re-imagining the classics. Her recent projects include "Queen of the Mist" for Firebrand Theatre (Chicago) and "The Scarlet Ibis" for Chicago Opera Theater.
Kopischke's renderings and fabric swatches for the Peninsula Players forthcoming production of "Silent Sky." All of the ladies dress have been built for this production. The design team worked with director Margolius to create a "luminous" production. Kopischke, Set Desinger Jack Magaw and Sound Designer Joe Court are all members of United Scenic Artists 829 union.