Mississippi University for Women’s Department of Theatre presented Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” Oct. 26-28 at 7:30 p.m. in Cromwell Theatre.
The play is based on historical events and three women, Willamina Fleming, Annie Cannon and Henrietta Leavitt, whose research proved to be vital in the world of astronomy.
Lee Crouse, a recent recipient of the university’s Humanities Faculty Member of the Year Award, directed the play. He had a purpose in mind when he chose “Silent Sky.”
“I read it [Silent Sky], and I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s the kind of show that speaks to gender equality and things that are happening today, so it’s incredibly relevant,” said Crouse. “It’s an important story to tell.”
Henrietta Leavitt is the central character in “Silent Sky” and was portrayed by Abigail McCreary. McCreary’s theatre classes helped prepare her for the role.
“This semester, I am in a class called Beginning Acting, and it goes through some different acting techniques that different actors and actresses use when preparing for roles so that was really helpful,” said McCreary. “I used a lot of that to get straight from the classroom to rehearsal, and that was a lot of fun.”
The cast and crew had only 20 rehearsals to prepare for the show, and rehearsals began Oct.2.
“Our final dress rehearsal was our final dress rehearsal. We had to cram so much into those 20 rehearsals, and we had fall break in the middle of it and there were a lot of obstacles to work around,” said McCreary. “While it was a crazy rehearsal schedule, it was incredible what we got accomplished in the short amount of time that we had.”
Alysann Simpson played Margaret Leavitt. She found it interesting that she and her character share similar attributes to her childhood. Simpson also plays the piano in a few scenes.
“Margaret was very hard-core church, family-driven and loving,” said Simpson. “It’s kind of ironic because when I lived in Reform, I played piano, and I was very hard-core church.”
Simpson particularly enjoyed one aspect of the play.
“I love just watching the set come from a model to the actual beauty of what it became,” said Simpson. “It just starts with someone reading lines and becomes the play. Watching it come to life is one of the best things.”
A great amount of work went into the production of this play and brainstorming began as early as the summer of 2017.
Along with McCreary and Simpson, the cast included Robert Williams II, Elizabeth Wiggins and Kelsey Damms.
The production crew consisted of several W theatre faculty members. David Carter served as lighting and scenic designer, as well as technical director. Dustin Gibson was the assistant technical director and sound designer, and Peppy Biddy was the production consultant.
Enya McDonald helped with the set for “Silent Sky.”
“This work was really different from anything I had done before,” said McDonald. “I did theatre in high school, but everything we did in high school was meant to be traveling set pieces, and it had to be able to go to different theatres, whereas with this one, it was one humongous, stationary set that didn’t leave the space.”
Other crew members included guest artist Sara Lyn Scott as costume, hair and makeup designer, properties mistress Courtney Thompson, stage manager Louis Codling, assistant stage manager Ashley Vinson and dramaturg Cody Westbrook. Pauline Crouse was the photographer for the production. Additional crew members were Miriah Stacy as light board operator and Rachel Willis as sound board operator.
“Silent Sky” was unique in other ways as well.
“Every single play creates a problem that has to be solved, and there’s no one way to solve it,” said Crouse. “That’s always a fun thing about directing a new show is finding those solutions to that problem.”
The play was well received by audience members and students alike and plans for next season are already in the works.