Step back in time to the turn of the century and meet some of the women who shaped the science of astronomy in Evergreen Production’s new play, Silent Sky.
Based on the life of Wisconsinite, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Silent Sky focuses on her contributions to the science of astronomy at Harvard University around the turn of the century. Set against the backdrop of the suffragette movement, and women in the workplace, this play ultimately addresses the genderless and persistent questions; Who are we? What is our purpose? What compromises does life require?
Two of the stars of the show Sandy Zochert, who plays Williamina Fleming, and Roshelle Amundson, who plays Annie Cannon, stopped by Local 5 This Morning Wednesday with more on the real-life women they are portraying.
“I play Annie Jump Cannon. She is the most widely-acclaimed female curator and she devised the stellar classification system that is still used in astronomy today. She was the boss of the workroom, and she was also a highly accomplished photographer, writer, and women’s suffragette activist. She was a true Renaissance woman,” Amundson said.
“My character, Williamina Fleming, was an actual person who was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1857. Eventually, I worked at the Observatory, doing clerical work and mathematical calculations. I had many accomplishments: I devised a system of classifying stars according to their spectra, cataloged over 10,000 stars, was the first to discover stars called “white dwarfs”, published a number of my findings, and in 1898 was appointed Curator of Astronomical Photographs. In 1906 I was the first American woman elected to England’s Royal Astronomical Society. Despite lacking formal higher education, I would rise to a key position in Harvard’s astronomy program and be hailed as the nation’s preeminent woman astronomer. During our lifetimes, we Harvard women “computers”, as we were called, were famous, but largely forgotten in the following century,” Zochert.
Silent Sky deals with issues that currently resonate in society: sexism and women’s issues like equal rights and pay and opportunity in the workplace. Also, the play deals with challenging the norm, speaking truth to power, and coping with change, and also both the willingness and the resistance to reconfiguring history and perception, according to Zochert. Struggles like family expectations, job vs. family responsibilities, and parental care are all part of Gunderson’s tapestry. Silent Sky chanpions individuality and discovering and following your own passion, despite the odds.
The casts would like for people to leave the show with a sense of understanding of how extraordinary these women were. They made all of these discoveries solely by math and physics, never having been able to touch a telescope.
“I’d love for people to leave with the same sense of wonder about the universe as my nephew Mason has and that they be so moved, that they set down the noise and haste and complication of the modern world and just enjoy the simple abundance and perfection of the night sky,” Amundson said.
Evergreen is a 100% volunteer-run organization and we have opportunities both on and off the stage. They are always looking for individuals of all ages interested in the technical aspect of theater, marketing, finance, and working backstage for productions. Contact their recruitment chairperson at Ruth@evergreenproductions.org.
Silent Sky runs May 4, 5, 10 – 12 at St. Norbert College’s Webb Theater.
For tickets call 920-403-3950 or visit evergreentheater.com.