“The brightest stars take the longest to blink.”
The Salt Lake Community College Theatre program opened their run of “Silent Sky” last Friday and Saturday in the Black Box Theatre. The play tells the story of science pioneer Henrietta Leavitt.
Leavitt and her colleagues, Annie Cannon and Willamina Fleming, overcame a variety of hardships while working as astronomers at Harvard College Observatory in the late 1800s through early 1900s. As “women human computers” — their official job title, Leavitt, in particular, made scientific discoveries that have gone largely unnoticed.
The entire cast appreciates the empowering story and expresses the importance of recognition for female scientists.
“They’re real women that did these things, and they’re not talked about … It’s imperative that we’re telling this story,” says Cole Vigil, who plays the fictional character Peter Shaw, a Harvard professor and Leavitt’s love interest. “They changed everything in astronomy … they’re the reason we know where we are, and yet the astronomy professors say that they’re not even in their textbooks.”
After Leavitt completed her first astronomy class, she traveled to Europe and lost her hearing. Cannon, one of her close colleagues at the observatory, was also deaf.
Leavitt was not paid at the beginning of her time at the observatory, and later was paid $0.30 an hour for her work. Despite their competency in astronomy, the women were not allowed to operate the telescopes during their careers.
Regardless of her circumstance, Leavitt prevailed and went on to discover that the brighter the Cepheid variable star (a star with changing brightness), the longer the star remains lit; this theory became known as “Leavitt’s Law.”
Written by Lauren Gunderson and performed in the Black Box, “Silent Sky” allows audiences to be in closer proximity to the action, witnessing subtleties the actors exhibit more easly than in a bigger venue.
While watching the play, audiences will sense the stakes are high and gravitate toward Leavitt, an underdog risking her familial relationships to do what she loves — studying the stars.
The lead role of Leavitt is played by Ali Dangel, who portrays the scientist’s dedicated, trailblazing demeanor as both passionate and withholding. Robin Young plays Leavitt’s sister, Margaret, a traditional small-town church pianist who doesn’t understand her sister’s headstrong attitude.
Young and Dangel have a dynamic that is thrilling to watch; together they perform some of the more emotional scenes in the play that display the conflict between her old life and her new one at Harvard.
“Silent Sky” will run Nov. 8-10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre. The play has a runtime of two hours. Tickets are $10 apiece and can be purchased through the SLCC Black Box event page.