This weekend, the theatre and dance department is sharing the story of Henrietta Leavitt through a production of “Silent Sky,” directed by professor Jimmy A. Noriega. Leavitt, who is being played by Annie Sheneman ’22, was a female astronomer who worked at the Harvard Observatory in the 1900s as a “computer” for the male scientists. “Henrietta Leavitt was limited in a lot of ways: she was female, hard of hearing and generally treated as lesser in her academic field. How- ever, her work has become the foundation of our understanding of cosmic measurement; her work on the Period-Luminosity relation to cepheid stars allowed the first calculations of intergalactic stellar distance to be made,” commented Sheneman. She continued, “it has been wonderful to inhabit the character of Henrietta Leavitt. She was such a passion- ate and interesting person and performing as her has been such a wonderful experience.”
“Silent Sky” is presented as part of the dialogue on “Women in the Sciences” at the College. “My research and creative work is focused on theatre for social change, so I was drawn to this text be- cause it reveals the significant ways women scientists have contributed to our knowledge of the universe, while also being denied the opportunities and tools that were provided to men,” explained Noriega when asked how he chose “Silent Sky.”
The importance of the show in a social context was echoed by Sheneman, when she explained, “I think we tend to assume that scientific ideas are too complex for those without prior training to understand, but the collaboration of the sciences and the arts can make those complex ideas more accessible to a broader audience.”
Bridging the gap between theatre and science, “Silent Sky” brings representation to under- represented groups in a way that is accessible to many. “There are so many women like Henrietta Leavitt, Williamina Fleming and Annie Cannon [all characters in the show] that get lost in history because of the way we learn about history in our education system. This is a story that everyone needs to know, especially since it has a lot to do with our universe, which is a pretty big deal,” commented Amari Royal ’23, who plays Cannon in the show.
The cast and crew have put tremendous work into the production. “It has been really wonderful seeing all the technical elements be added to the production; the show is set from 1900-1920, so seeing the beautiful period costumes be constructed has been so interesting. I am really proud of this show and all the hard work that has gone into it,” commented Sheneman.
Royal agreed. “I am super excited to show everyone the work that not only the cast has put in, but the rest of the theatre department. They’ve made a show about science look like magic, which is amazing,” she said.
“More than anything, I hope students learn to appreciate the ways people have fought for our rights to learn and discover. Access to research, specialized tools and learning have not always been guaranteed to all segments of our society and this show represents a piece of that struggle,” commented Noriega.