Hidden Star who Measured the Universe
At Horning Theatre in the Delaplaine building, from March 21 to 26, Mount St.
Mary’s University theatre put on a production of “Silent Sky.” The production is based on the book of the same title by Lauren Gunderson.
“Silent Sky” is about the true story of Henrietta Leavitt, an astronomer who was light years ahead of her time. The production covers 20 years, from 1900 to 1920 and follows Henrietta from her home in Wisconsin, to her work at Harvard University as a human-computer, to her travels abroad and eventually her death at age 53. While working at Harvard mapping stars and receiving no scientific credit under Dr. Edward Pickering, she finds a way to measure the universe through the stars. Henrietta’s work is still the basis for a large amount of our knowledge about distances in space.
The production is made up of a cast of five, directed by Dr. Kurt Blaugher. First in the lineup is Claire Moberly (C’23) playing Henrietta, a kind, curious, yet ambitions women. Her sister Margaret, a loving and family-oriented women is played by Kylie Turner (C’25). Dr. Pickering’s apprentice Peter Shaw, a slightly awkward yet kind man, is brought to us by Matthew Pugsley (C’22). Ashley Walczyk, a first-year student, portrays the leader of the human computers, Annie Cannon. Annie is strict and by-the-book leader, but secretly has a heart of gold when it comes to her friends. Finally, there is Williamina Fleming, the first of the computers, played by Lizzie Giuffreda (C’25). Williamina is, simply put, a strong and upbeat woman with a sense of humor that can get a laugh in any situation. These five people brought to life the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a story that has become vitally important to our work in space.
After the show, the cast members were happy to discuss their characters and the show. Moberly express the intimidation she experiences when being casted as “there’s a lot of information on what she’s done, and I didn’t want to fumble it.” She noted that, while Henrietta contributed greatly to science, she is still a person. When asked what should be the takeaway from this, Moberly emphasized what her character did her entire life, wondering and insisting, “will take you light years.”
Turner said that the takeaway should be to “not let others hold you back from your dreams or passions, and to not give up on your passions no matter the boundaries.” Giuffreda agreed and added that “in the past, the people in the shadows led to great advancements and that it is important to ensure that people get proper credit.”
Since the early 1900s was still in need of gender equality, the cast was asked, “Had Henrietta been a man, what do you believe would have been different?” Turner and Giuffreda said that “her work would have been published immediately and that she would’ve had more accommodations for her work, respectively.”
While Walczyk noted that Henrietta’s story “should be turned into something for the public.” In the show’s program, there was a mention of the movie “Hidden Figures” and how the work of those women led to great scientific discoveries. The story of Henrietta Leavitt is similar in that, because of her work, we are able to measure the universe.