ACCT Silent Sky
<48HD> ‘Silent Sky’
Known as “the woman who measured the universe,” Leavitt was one of a small number of pioneering women astronomers working at Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s. She transcended the odds and took on the establishment of her time, making discoveries that forever changed the field of astronomy.
Her true story is told in the play “Silent Sky,” playing now through April 2 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater.
Written by Lauren Gunderson, Silent Sky is produced by Charles Dragonette and Marg Soroos and under the direction of Marzanne Claiborne. The play chronicles Leavitt’s work as a human computer, mapping the stars but receiving no scientific credit. She is denied the opportunity to use Harvard’s telescope — the Great Refractor — and will only be allowed to log stars photographed by the men of the department.
Not to be dissuaded, Leavitt begins the process of recording the changes in Cepheid stars, a scientific discovery now known as “Leavitt’s Law.”
Leavitt and her colleagues Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming would become trailblazers in the male-dominated field of astronomy.
“Henrietta was one of the many female ‘computers’ who worked at the Harvard College Observatory,” said Madeline Byrd, who portrays Leavitt in the ACCT production. “I hope audiences are struck by the immense scientific impact that these women brought forth. The characters in this play and the real life ‘computers’ of the Harvard Observatory may be lesser known than Hubble or Newton or Kepler, but they are no less important.”
Kate Ives plays Annie Cannon, the Head of Stellar Photometry at Harvard Observatory who developed the organizational system by which stars are classified.
“I hope the audience will come to appreciate these amazing women whose curiosity and determination literally changed our universe,” Ives said.
Rounding out the trio of true-life trailblazers is Williamina Fleming, a Scottish immigrant who was abandoned by her husband right after they arrived in Boston.
“This play shines a light on the impact of women scientists long before they received the recognition they deserve,” said Elizabeth Replogle, who portrays Fleming. “I hope it will make people appreciate how far we have come in society in terms of gender equality but also realize that we have much work yet to do.”
Added Soroos, “This is a compelling story of one woman’s fight to get recognition for her tireless effort in science, an area where women were truly discriminated against in prior times.”
Through Gunderson’s humorous writing, “Silent Sky” aptly portrays Leavitt’s contributions to astronomy, despite the restrictions of her time, and how her work continues to empower scientists today.
“This is a great play to see during Women's History month,” said Melissa Dunlap, who plays Henrietta's sister Margaret. “There is much to be admired in these women who made major contributions to astronomy at a time when there were many barriers to them studying and working in this field.”
Silent Sky opens March 17 and runs through April 2 at Wesley Hall of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 1301 Collingwood Road in Alexandria. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information visit www.acctonline.org.