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Silent Sky

Out of this world

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WHAT: Silent Sky
WHEN: March 29-April l14
WHERE: Bellingham Theatre Guild, 1600 H St.
COST: $8-$16
INFO: http://www.bellinghamtheatreguild.com

WHAT: Silent Sky
WHEN: March 29-April 20
WHERE: Anacortes Community Theatre, 918 M Ave.
COST: $20
INFO: http://www.acttheatre.com

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

For the average layperson, it would be difficult to explain the formulas and theories that led American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt to discover a means to measure the distance to faraway galaxies.

During the time frame when she paved the way for modern astronomy’s understanding of the structure and scale of the universe, most people probably would have assumed Leavitt couldn’t provide the answers, either—not because she wasn’t whip-smart, but because she was a woman.

When Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky opens this weekend at both the Bellingham Theatre Guild and Anacortes Community Theatre, audiences will see Leavitt’s out-of-this-world tale come to life. The play begins in the early 1900s, when the Radcliffe College graduate begins working at the Harvard College Observatory, where she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea.

Joining a group of female “computers,” Leavitt charts the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has little time for the theories the women with above-average intelligence put forth. In her free time, she measures the light and distance of stars while also taking measure of her time on Earth and exploring the possibility of love.

When asked if she thought Leavitt eventually helped bridge the distance between male and female astronomers in addition to mapping distances in space, BTG director Shawn Fuller says she thinks that happened more in Europe than in America.

“Her work and that of many women scientists have been recently ‘rediscovered’ here,” Fuller says. “The women’s contributions are huge. In our play the audience also gets introduced to Williamina Fleming and Annie Jump Cannon—women who have made significant contributions to astronomy but are rarely talked about today. Henrietta definitely helped start the bridge. It has just been a slow build.”

Fuller says she hadn’t known anything about Leavitt’s brilliant work or her commitment to astronomy before being introduced to her through the play, but is now a big fan of the trailblazer—one of many women in America’s past she says have helped others find their way.

With the play opening at the tail end of Women’s History Month, Fuller says she hopes Silent Sky encourages people to remember how much Leavitt did for her field, and for the understanding of the universe.

“I want people to remember her dedication to astronomy, not giving up or giving in when she knew she was on the path to something even though she didn’t know what that path was leading to,” Fuller says. “Henrietta knew passion; the passion of discovery, of doing what she loved best.”

Alan Doyle
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