Real Women Who Helped Pioneer Astronomy and Explain the Night Sky
SHERMAN, TEXAS—A story of real-life women who counted the stars and helped pioneer the field of astronomy will come to life on the Austin College stage in the Theatre Department production of Silent Sky Thursday through Saturday, March 21-23, at 7:30 each evening in Beardsley Arena Theatre of Ida Green Communication Center. Tickets will be sold at the box office prior to each show for $8 to the public. Entry is free with a current Austin College ID. The production is offered in conjunction with Austin College’s annual Student Scholarship Conference, which highlights student presentations of research projects, intellectual scholarship activities, and creative works.
The women portrayed in Silent Sky made impressive discoveries in astronomy and were instrumental in advancing the rights of women, according to Shannon Fagen who serves as dramaturg (student researcher) for the Austin College production. “After measuring over 90 stars, Henrietta Leavitt discovered the link between the rhythm of pulsating stars and their distance,” Fagen wrote. “Williamina Fleming classified over 10,000 stars that were included in the Henry Draper Catalog, and she was put in charge of the women ‘computers’ at the Harvard Observatory for many years. Annie Jump Cannon created the Harvard Classification Scheme, which divides stars into spectral classes, as well as classifying a record 350,000 stars over the course of her lifetime. These three women paved the way for future astronomers, as well as advocating for women’s rights and equality throughout the course of their lives.”
Vanessa Baker of Austin College’s Theatre Department is director of the production. “As Austin College commemorates the centenary of its first class of women undergraduates, Silent Sky celebrates the work women were doing at another American college in that same year,” she said. “As Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, and the other women of the Harvard Observatory mapped the stars, their dedication to scientific inquiry allowed them to make groundbreaking discoveries that continue to shape the field of astronomy today. We are delighted to present this production—a play about rigorous research, and the culmination of many students’ tireless artistic study—as part of the Austin College Student Scholarship Conference.”
Baker said that as a director, she is drawn to telling stories that allow the audience to see through the eyes of one unique, memorable character, and therefore to see the world in a new way. “Silent Sky takes this one step further, shining new light on not just the Earth but the Heavens too—the stars, the cosmos, the ‘billions upon billions’ of galaxies that make up our night sky,” Baker said. “Throughout the play, Henrietta has many of the same questions we all do, although on a broader scale: she seeks to understand ‘exactly where we are’ and wonders whether any of her work really matters. It does matter, of course, but she never gets the chance to understand just how much she has changed the world. I find value in what she does come to understand: that what is most important ‘is seeing something bigger. And knowing we’re a small part of it, if we’re lucky. In the end that is a life well-lived.’”
The cast for the production includes senor Harri Drake of Whitesboro, Texas, as Henrietta Leavitt; freshman Kate McComack-Morris of Fredericksburg, Texas, as Margaret Leavitt; senior Rosie Fasullo of El Lago, Texas, as Annie Cannon; freshman Zoe Crews of River Oaks, Texas, as Williamina Fleming; and junior Michael Megenhardt as Peter Shaw.
Following Thursday’s performance, the cast and production staff will lead a discussion with the audience about the play.
The Friday performance will be preceded with a 5 p.m. lecture, “The Harvard Computers,” by Dr. Mia Sauda Bovill, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Texas Christian University. The lecture will be held in Ida Green Theatre in Ida Green Communication Center. That evening’s performance will be followed by an Austin College Star Party, open to the public at no charge, at 9 p.m. in Adams Observatory of the IDEA Center on campus.
Saturday evening, the performance will be followed by a performance of the Austin College Improv Troupe.
The production staff includes stage manager junior Kat Forbus of Plano, Texas, and assistant stage managers freshmen Olivia Trusty and Grant Garrison, both of Fort Worth, Texas. Freshman Harrison Vickmark of McAllen, Texas, is soundboard operator; sophomore Erin Bobbitt of Dallas, Texas, is light board operator; and sophomore Nick Chaviers of Houston, Texas, is video director. Dramaturgs are freshman Shannon Fagen of Carson City, Nevada, and senior Rosie Fasullo of El Lago, Texas. Vanessa Baker of the Austin College theatre staff is costume designer with costumer freshman Sonia Charales of Sunnyvale, Texas. Dan Pucul, technical director for the theatre, is the set designer for the production, and Liz Banks, assistant professor of theatre, is light designer. Props designer is sophomore Chloe Schnaible of Allen, Texas, with the props team of Harrison Vickmark of McAllen, Texas; senior Tommy Teschner of Garland, Texas; and freshman Micah Weber of Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. John McGinn of the Music Department faculty is pianist for the production.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with 46 percent of students identifying as persons of color. The residential student body of approximately 1,300 students and more than 100 expert faculty members allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. This year, the campus recognizes 100 years of co-education and has had several opportunities to recognize the history of women and accomplishments of current alumnae. Austin College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.