I recently had the enormous pleasure to direct Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, which is about the extraordinary work of real female astronomers from the early 20th century. This was one of my favorite directing experiences so far! I had a lovely, hard-working cast, incredible designers, and a smart crew. Check out my director’s note from the program below. I’m energized by this work!
“Women aren’t asking for special treatment, we are showing how special we already are and always have been. We’re not asking anyone to let us participate, we are exclaiming that we have participated in discoveries, breakthroughs, and wild achievements all along (despite being excluded, barred, and presumed incapable).” – Lauren Gunderson
In these few words, playwright Lauren Gunderson has put a very fine point on her own play. Silent Sky, which is based on the extraordinary legacies of real female astronomers from the early twentieth century, gives a voice to those lost to history. This story focuses on three women specifically: Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon, and Williamina Fleming, each of whom overcame incredible odds to achieve great discoveries in their field. As the play unfolds, the playwright shows insightful ability to capture the highs and lows of their lives, the extraordinary sacrifices demanded by their careers, and the power of their passion to unlock the limits of the universe. Living in a world that cheapened their value to “human computers”, these female characters carry brave hope, and for that, the world is changed.
These women are like the stars they studied – resplendent points of light, shining to dispel the darkness for us all. They are just a few of the many, many women who have come before them, breaking conventions, rising above, and holding their own in the world. I’ve been changed by working on this play, and I hope it touches you, too. It’s time to let in the luminous joy of these women’s long-overlooked achievements shine. And let us ask ourselves, who in our own time is currently overshadowed?
Photo credit Kenn Stilger.