Leading Stories

by Aubrey Shelton, Staff Writer

The UWF Department of Theater is opening its doors for a production of Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” this February in the Center for Fine and Performing Arts Studio Theatre.

Written in 2015, “Silent Sky” follows the story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt at the start of her career at Harvard University in the early 1900s as she struggles against prejudice and oppression from the academic community.

“I would describe ‘Silent Sky’ as a celebration of womanhood,” Marci Duncan, director and acting professor, said, “and an appreciation for the stars with, mixed in, a little love.”

Duncan saw the play in Cincinnati, Ohio, four years ago and knew from that moment that she needed to either star in it or direct it.  When Charles Houghton, head of the theatre department opened up a spot in this year’s season for a studio play, Duncan knew that this was her chance.

“When the opportunity came around again for a studio show with a smaller cast that doesn’t require too much set, it brought me back to ‘Silent Sky,’” Duncan said.

Even with a smaller space, cast, and set, this play utilizes the full effort of a majority of the department and its students. The costumes, props and scenery are all constructed by students with the assistance of their professors who also sit on the production team and oversee the design process.

“In the production process, you start with something you love,” Duncan said. “Once it’s approved by the creative team we move forward with our directions.  We go to casting, and from casting to the table…to break down the play.”

After the actors have the chance to sit down with the play, and the designers begin their work, Duncan moves into the blocking stage, where she works with the actors on their movement and the physical relationships between characters.

Following this, technical and dress rehearsals begin as the cast and crew work through the last two weeks before opening.

“We move into incorporating the components of the spectacle,” Duncan said.  “Costumes, lighting, sound, we see the set start to come together, and we solidify the things that we work on based on these elements.  After all this, we add the audience and then we open.”

Even this early in the production process, Duncan has consolidated her efforts towards making audiences understand the purpose of this play.

“I want (the audience) to know who Henrietta Leavitt is,” Duncan said.  “She is an unsung hero in that she made some huge contributions to science, and she was not given credit for those discoveries until later on in her life.  It wasn’t until after her death that she was given the true recognition that she deserved.”

The cast and crew have done their own research and worked with each other to give audiences a clear representation of the time period and just how important Leavitt’s discoveries are.

“Silent Sky” will be opening Friday, February 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the CFPA’s Studio Theatre and will run Friday through Sunday until February 23.  Tickets are free to students and can be picked up at the box office at the front of the CFPA, in the University Commons or purchased online.

Photo accompanying this article is from a “Silent Sky” performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.