The third of four productions in Paris Junior College Drama’s 2022-2023 Weird Science Season is “Silent Sky” by Lauren Gunderson. The play opens Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ray E. Karrer Theater, and repeats at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 24-25 and at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 26.
When Henrietta Leavitt begins work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea. Instead, she joins a group of women “computers,” charting the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has no time for the women’s probing theories. As Henrietta, in her free time, attempts to measure the light and distance of stars, she must also take measure of her life on Earth, trying to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love.
“Nobody knows who these women are,” said PJC Drama Instructor William L. Walker, who directs the play. “They literally changed the way we look at physics and astronomy. People know Hubble and Kepler, but they don’t know Williamina Flemming, Annie Cannon, or Henrietta Leavitt.
“Henrietta Leavitt literally discovered how to measure the universe. I didn’t now who she was until I saw a production of this show. Williamina was one of the first female curators at the Harvard Observatory. Annie Canon invented star classifications. And of course, Henrietta came up for the formula measuring the distance that light travels. As the main character, Henrietta holds most of the dramatic tension. She’s making huge strides but she’s hard on herself and can’t see them. Her sister is very faith-based and they talk of different types of heaven look like. It’s a beautiful story and it’s just crazy how history is so different.”
The true story explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications; Henrietta Leavitt and her female peers believe in both, and their dedication changed the way we understand both the heavens and Earth.
Hannah Huie, who plays Henrietta, says the play has been interesting and fun.
“My character is one of the first female astronomers and the reason we can calculate distance between stars and that other galaxies outside the Milky Way,” said Huie. “She’s very energetic but she’s restrained by what she can do because at that time women didn’t have as much authority as men. I’m not a very big science person but it’s interesting to play someone who is and change who you are as a person completely. The play is funny and sad with romance and science in it. It’s interesting and fun.”
Nate Sipe plays Peter Shaw, the lone man in the cast.
“Peter is a person with flaws, but not a villain,” said Sipe. “He’s not a terrible person; he has wants and needs. It’s a complicated role for me because I was raised to have respect for everyone so it was hard to play a condescending character who has power. It made me come out of my comfort zone, but it’s been very fun. My character goes through a sort of redemption and I’m glad the writer gave high moments and low moments to the characters with everything coming full circle in the end.”
“Silent Sky” Cast: Hannah Huie – Henrietta Leavitt; Nate Sipe – Peter Shaw; Sara Pacifici – Annie Jump Cannon; Aria Scroggins – Margaret Leavitt; and Lisa Martin – Williamina Flemming.
“Silent Sky” Crew: Director William L. Walker; Assistant Director Ollivia Stiles; Stage Manager Jordan White; Assistant Stage Manager Sarah Curtis; Charge Artist Robyn Huizinga; Scenic Design – Will Walker, Hannah Huie and Aria Scroggins; Spot Lights – Bodee Robinson and Amanda Blouin; Light Board Operator Jordan White; Sound Board Operator Will Walker; Backstage Crew – Kaleb Speakman, Sarah Curtis, and Robyn Huizinga.
Tickets are available by cash or check only at the door. General admission for adults is $20; for public school age students and senior adults, $10; and free for those with a current PJC ID.