KNOW THEATRE LOOKS TOWARD THE SKIES WITH
by Lauren Gunderson
directed by Tamara Winters
The true story of the women who changed our understanding of the universe.
In the late 19th Century, a group of brilliant women were hired by the Harvard Observatory to catalog the stars.
Called “computers” by their employer (and sometimes, infuriatingly, “Pickering’s Harem,” in reference to the director of the Observatory), Henrietta Leavitt and her pioneering colleagues performed calculations for the male astronomers, but were discouraged from pursuing their own research and forbidden from using Harvard’s famed Great Refractor Telescope.
Yet Henrietta’s probing mind showed her a pattern in the data: a crucial relationship between the varying brightness of stars and their distances from us in the universe.
Her discovery, the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid variable stars, became the standard by which previously unmeasurable distances in the universe could now be measured—a standard we use to this day. Henrietta’s discovery quite literally changed our understanding of the universe, and our place in it.
Silent Sky, opening April 15 and running through May 14 on the Know Theatre MainStage, follows Henrietta’s story from the moment she embarks on her journey to Harvard. As it unfolds, we discover the spirit and fire that drove her to pursue the truth, despite every challenge.
Silent Sky comes to us from playwright Lauren Gunderson (author of two hit shows in Cincinnati — Know’s Toil and Trouble and Cincinnati Playhouse’s The Revolutionists) and reveals how a group of extraordinary women found a way to measure the universe, providing a glimpse of the light within us all.
Directed by Know Theatre Associate Artistic Director Tamara Winters, Silent Sky features a cast full of celebrated local performers. Maggie Lou Rader stars as Henrietta Leavitt, joined by Annie Fitzpatrick as Annie Jump Cannon and Regina Pugh as Williamina Fleming, Henrietta’s tough-as-nails colleagues at the Harvard Observatory. Miranda McGee returns to the MainStage as Margaret, Henrietta’s sister whose fierce sisterly love is Henrietta’s bedrock. Justin McCombs joins this A-list group of ladies as Peter Shaw, Henrietta’s sometimes rival, sometimes love interest who propels and challenges Henrietta’s pursuit of the truth.
Silent Sky marks Know Theatre Associate Artistic Director Tamara WInters’ fourth foray onto the MainStage, having previously directed 2014’s Bureau of Missing Persons, and 2015’s Hearts Like Fists and All Childish Things.
About Silent Sky, director Tamara Winters says:
“I couldn’t more thrilled to take on this story of fierce and brilliant women who changed our world. Not only is Lauren’s script inspirational, witty, and poetic, but it is also timely. Henrietta Leavitt’s role in the history of astronomy has largely been forgotten, and overshadowed by the men whose work would later be made possible by her discovery–a fate sadly familiar to many high-achieving women. The time is right for us to shine a light on her work, and by extension, shine a light on the fierce and brilliant spirits that drive trailblazing women to succeed.”
Adds Know Theatre artistic director Andrew Hungerford:
“This play is very important to me personally for a lot of reasons: I spent many nights observing variable stars as an undergraduate astrophysics student, and the synthesis of art and science in this show is beautiful and compelling. But more important than my own connection: the contributions of women in all fields of science have been overlooked for far too long, and the casual sexism and dismissal encountered by these women in the early 20th century are still experienced in the Astro community today, with sexual harassment in the field now being called out on social media with the hashtag #AstroSH.”
Know Theatre believes Cincinnati is an ideal place to showcase this story of American scientific ingenuity, as the Queen City is home of The Cincinnati Observatory, the Birthplace of American Astronomy.
In collaboration with the Observatory, Know Theatre is inviting students from all over the tri-state to two special performances of Silent Sky. Before these shows, there will be a panel featuring several Greater Cincinnati women working in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields, who will share their experience with the students in attendance. Know Theatre and the Observatory are proud to collaborate on this important project to highlight brilliant women in science of the past and present in hopes of inspiring the future generation of women in STEM.
Know Theatre is especially happy to be able to leverage this collaboration to help bring wider attention to The Observatory, a true gem of Cincinnati’s architectural and cultural history.
Silent Sky is a poetic, witty, and inspiring tale you will not soon forget. Appropriate for all ages, Henrietta’s story reminds us all what we can achieve when we allow curiosity and wonder into our lives.
Cast in Alphabetical Order
Annie Fitzpatrick* as Annie Jump Cannon
Justin McCombs* as Peter Shaw
Miranda McGee as Margaret Leavitt
Regina Pugh* as Williamina Fleming
Maggie Lou Rader as Henrietta Leavitt
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States, appearing under a Special Appearance Contract.
Director – Tamara Winters
Scenic & Lighting Design – Andrew Hungerford
Costume Design – Noelle Wedig
Sound Design – Doug Borntrager
Music Arranged by – James Allen