At the Williams Lake Studio Theatre this month the pace is breaking up to bring the historical drama Silent Sky to the stage first thing in March.
Silent Sky is a thoughtful historical drama that examines the changing role of women in society, the workplace and science by taking inspiration from the life of Harvard astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt. At a time when women were largely looked down upon or given ‘women’s work’ to do, Leavitt made a discovery in the luminosity of stars that fundamentally changed astronomy and our understanding of the universe. The WLST’s play covers this discovery and her early struggles from a fictionalized angle best suited for the stage.
The WLST’s vice president Kirsten Lyons is taking her turn in the director’s chair for Silent Sky after being part of the theatre for the last six seasons. This play marks the first one Lyons has directed with the WLST, although she has directed productions in the past while attending university.
Thus far, Lyons said the play has been coming together really well and it’s been a pleasure working with her small group of five actors.
“They’ve all been so willing to try really anything, which is quite a gift to have as a director having actors who are willing to try anything and do anything, do their own research and come to practice with new ideas,” Lyons said. “To see the play grow throughout the entire rehearsal period, from the first table read to now, it’s amazing to see that growth.”
Every rehearsal they’re getting more and more on point with their lines and performances, continuously deepening their character, she said. By the time March comes she feels they’ll be ready and will do even better with an audience’s energy to feed off of.
Three of the five characters on stage, Lyons said, are all based on real people. Henrietta Leavitt is the most obvious one but Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming were also real-life astronomers that worked besides Leavitt. Henrietta is being played by Tanis Armstrong in what, so far, is a very bright, hopeful and subdued performance that showcases her character’s intelligence and determination. Cannon and Fleming are being played by Susan Nelson and Sharon Hoffman respectively who bring hilarious chemistry to the stage.
Henrietta’s sister Margaret Leavitt, meanwhile, Lyons said, was found to be a composite character of all of the real Henrietta’s siblings. Peter Shaw, the only male character in the play, was also not a real person but instead is used to represent the masculinity of the working world and the struggles these women had to go through.
Jessica Hill is playing Margaret in a firm, understated performance with immediate chemistry with Armstrong while Neal Matoga plays a comedic role of an easily flustered young man who isn’t terribly bright.
Set construction and design is also coming together nicely, Lyons said, thanks to set designer Sheryl-Lynn Lewis. Lyons said she told Lewis she wanted circles to give the play a cool visual appeal.
Generally, WLST set designers either keep the stage as is or bring it out and keep it flat with stairs on either side. This time though, Lyons said, they’re going for a “double spiral galaxy” design with the stairs wrapping around a circular platform. A backdrop of curtains will provide the look of an observatory, Lyons said, while the overall design is a simple one to allow for seamless scene changes.
“I’m so used to being the one on stage, or backstage in a stage management role or makeup, it’s been fun seeing your own vision come to life, directing is definitely something I’d want to do again,” Lyons said.
In addition to their run in March, Lyons and her team will also be remounting the play in the third week May for the Zone Festival being held in Williams Lake this year.
It’ll be much easier to put this play on here, Lyons said, than move the set.
The regular run of the play, however, begins on March 4 and goes until March 7, March 11 to March 14 and March 18 to March 21, doors open at 7 p.m., showtime 7:30 p.m. sharp with matinees on March 7 and March 14 at 12:30 p.m. sharp. A special talkback night, which will give the audience a chance to ask questions of the actors, will take place on March 12 after the show.
“It’s really good for students and just anyone who is maybe interested in getting involved and seeing what (theatre) is all about,” Lyons said.
“I want (audiences) to walk away with a sense of wonder and to really just look at the world around them in a different light. To find what their passions are and not to be afraid to go for those passions and to not let anybody else tell you you’re not good enough,” Lyons said. “The sky is the limit and there’s so damn much of it.”