The Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society is calling on lakecity thespians once more to come out to audition next month, this time for a serious drama, based on a true story, known as Silent Sky.
Silent Sky, by Lauren Gunderson, is based on the life of real-life astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt a Harvard ‘computer’ whose work led to us being able to calculate the distance between stars based on their luminosity. In her day, however, during the early 1900s, the work of women was rarely credited and often stolen by their more powerful male counterparts and this play seeks to shine a light on this important piece of history.
The play is being directed by veteran WLST member and current vice-president Kirsten Lyons, who has been involved with theatre most of her life. Lyons said she was intrigued by the concept of this play from the get-go, both because of the space aspect but also the strong female characters throughout the show.
After ordering the script in 2018 and reading through she said that the seamless flow from scene to scene and the technology and set involved was fascinating to her. For the longest time, Lyons’ friends have been encouraging her to direct a play and she always held off because she wanted to choose something that was meaningful to her and was inspiring. After consulting with a friend who encouraged her, Lyons decided to propose and ultimately direct this production.
“Silent Sky is about a girl named Henrietta Leavitt who gets hired on to work at Harvard University, thinking that she’s going to be working with all the other men in the field, using the telescope, making astrological discoveries,” Lyons said. “Just to find out she’s going to be working with a handful of other women in the basement calculating distances of stars on maps, not what she thought she’d be doing at all.”
From there, Leavitt must balance her personal life with her dedication to science, her family and the possibility of love. Lyons said that most of all the play explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries where women’s ideas were dismissed until men took credit for them. Taking place during the time of the suffragette movement, Lyons said the play shows how Leavitt and a team of dedicated women ‘computers’ changed both how we view the heavens today and society.
Auditions are being held Nov. 3 and 5 in the upstairs boardroom of the Kornack and Hamm’s Pharmacy Building starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday and 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She is casting for four female characters between the ages of 25 to 65 and one male character in his 30s.
The lead is Henrietta Leavitt who is in her 30s and is very much dedicated to her work, Lyons said. She’s all about the stars and making discoveries while battling with her family’s expectations for her to get married, settle down and have children. Leavitt, being strong-willed, chooses instead to pursue her own dreams, Lyons said, around which much of the drama unfolds.
Her primary contact with her family within the play comes from her younger sister Margaret, who is around 25 to 30, who is the one who stayed at home, plays the organ at their father’s church and gets married and starts a family. She represents the lifestyle Leavitt left behind, Lyons said and is a very musical character that plays the piano throughout the play. Ideally, Lyons said they are looking for an actress who can play the piano for the live music experience.
Annie Cannon, meanwhile, is one of the women Henrietta works with, Lyons said, who is a strong-willed “this way is the right way” type of character. A relatively serious and humourless character, Annie is into the women’s suffragette movement and is in her late 30s to early 40s.
Her foil is the oldest character of the play Philomena Fleming, in her late 50s to early 60s, a Scottish immigrant to the states who is very bubbly and energetic. While she is as intelligent as the rest of the characters, she tends to be more lighthearted overall.
Finally, there is the sole male character of the play, Peter Shaw, the overseer of the ‘computers’ who brings down the star charts for them and develops a fascination with Henrietta, Lyons said. After she puts him in his place, Lyons said a growing tension develops between them that may even become love, though the result of that will be revealed by the end of the play. Of all the characters in the play, Shaw also has the distinction of being the only one not based on a real person, Lyons said, and is purely fictitious in nature and should be aged 25 to 40.
“(Silent Sky) happens in a time where women are kind of subdued by men and they’re really fighting for their right to be heard and say ‘yeah, no, we are smart enough to do this work. We need to be on the same level as men to get the recognition we deserve’,” Lyons said. “All the women in this play are very strong female characters who are very intelligent and fighting for their voice to be heard.”
Lyons said she is always happy to see new faces come out and audition and hopes that the actors who come out, despite doing a cold read of the script, will be able to bring some realism to their performances. She also hopes they are able to find the humour within the lines, as it’s not all serious drama all the time, and have fun with the script.
“Come out and give it a try, you never know. We’re always happy to see new people come out and welcome new people into our little group,” Lyons said.
The production opens in March and runs for three weeks from March 4 to 7, March 11 to 14 and March 18 to 21 with two matinées in addition to evening performances on the first two Saturdays. There is also a possibility, based on the actor’s abilities, that it could go to Festival, as well, Lyons said. The Zone Festival this year is being hosted in Williams Lake at the end of May and should it be granted best production would go to Mainstage at Port Alberni in July. This is not set in stone, however, and Lyons said it should not dissuade people from auditioning.