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UMN theater students present “Silent Sky” at Rarig Center

The female-forward production explores the role of women in STEM, among other key themes.
Courtesy of UMTAD.

The BA Theatre Arts Program presented “Silent Sky” by Lauren Gunderson this weekend. The play will run at the Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre from Friday, Nov. 11 until Sunday, Nov. 20. Find tickets here.

“Silent Sky” tells the true story of Henrietta Leavitt, a 19th-century astronomer and “computer” at Harvard University. From 1898 to 1921, Leavitt’s work led to a number of groundbreaking discoveries in the astronomy field. Gunderson’s play highlights the complexities of Leavitt’s journey as a woman in science while examining gender discrimination alongside her dedication to scientific discovery.

“The audience can expect to see the humanity of a scientist, they can expect humor, they can expect to experience a story that isn’t just about Henrietta Leavitt, but in some ways is about all of us,” Director Kym Longhi said. “It’s about how we place limits on our reality, on each other and on ourselves and how those limits may provide definition.”

While Leavitt’s story may feel removed from the more progressive society of today, University of Minnesota Theatre Arts and Dance department (UMTAD) marketing and communications/front of house director Qiuxia Welch points to the contrary. “It seems like it’s far away, but it’s not,” Welch said, mentioning the ongoing gender pay gap. “We haven’t shattered the glass ceilings.”

From the set coordinators, costume designers, student actors and everyone else in between, “Silent Sky” has come to life over the last several months through immense time commitments from everyone involved. The cast is small, consisting of four primary female characters and a lone male character playing the love interest, which Longhi emphasized as a “nice inversion.”
The show’s run will feature two post-show talkbacks — part of the department’s emphasis on interdepartmental collaboration, according to Welch. On Sunday, professor emeritus Roberta Humphreys and professor Liliya L.R. Williams discussed the science of the show as well as their own experiences as women in STEM. Professor Jigna Desai will discuss her background in astronomy and PhD candidate Alexander Criswell will talk about the science behind “Silent Sky” and the lobby display on Wednesday.

“We’re really hoping audiences leave feeling limitless,” said Laurel Reynolds, student marketing associate for UMTAD. “It’s such a unique show and an interdisciplinary one that combines the ideas of gender and astronomy … I think the best part of it is that there really is something for everyone to sink their teeth into.”

Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” is a story about feminism, sisterhood, science, resilience and as Longhi describes, the greater connection we have with one another.

“We are so much more connected than we know, and we are so much greater than we are as individuals as a society. I think if we really knew that and we cherished it, that we would treat each other differently,” Longhi said. “I hope that audiences take that away.”

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