Eyes to the ‘Sky’: Perseverance Theater Focuses on Women Who Changed the Way We See the Stars


Perseverance Theater’s latest play tells the story of stars and women who deserve to be stars for their contributions to astronomy.

“Silent Sky,” which opens at the theater on Friday, tells a story inspired by real-life women who were hired to do office work at Harvard Observatory in the early 20th century, but who escaped to their societal records to make serious and lasting contributions to science. .

“This story itself is such a wonderful moment of the women and women you don’t hear about,” said Shelley Virginia of Anchorage, who plays Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Tuesday in a pre-rehearsal interview. “I had never heard of any of these women – Annie Cannon, Williamina Fleming, Henrietta Swan – and they discovered things that we still use today. How to measure the universe, classify the stars, and you don’t learn it in history class, and it’s like, why?

Photos of Michael Penn | Capital City Weekly Shelley Virginia portrays Henrietta Swan Leavitt, whose discoveries helped create the standard used to measure the distance of distant galaxies.

Additionally, Juneau’s Margeaux Ljungberg, who plays Annie Cannon, said “Silent Sky” is rare since its cast is made up mostly of women, but the play doesn’t pit the female characters against each other.

“It shouldn’t be unique to have a story about women where no one plays the sex kitten,” Ljunberg said. “No one is trying to go behind someone’s back and tear them down, and how wonderful because that’s how female relationships are real and genuine.”

Irene Martinko of Juneau, who plays Margaret Leavitt, pointed out that “Silent Sky” passes the “Bechdel test”. Bechdel’s test asks if a work features two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. This is not necessarily a quality indicator – “Marriage Story” does not pass the test, and “Happy Death Day 2U”, according to bechdeltest.com – but it is one way of looking at the type of story being told and the vision of the world of a work.

Perseverance Theater‘s next play, “Fun Home,” is based on a book by Alison Bechdel, who is the namesake of the test.

“It is only women who are able to make valid different choices about their lives, and they are not ashamed,” Martinko said.

Diane Fleeks, left, Shelley Virginia, center, and Margeaux Ljungberg in ?? Silent Sky. ??

Diane Fleeks, left, Shelley Virginia, center, and Margeaux Ljungberg in “Silent Sky”.

She said that her character, who is a housewife, and the scientifically minded women who work at the observatory are treated equally in “Silent Sky”.

The cast of “Silent Sky” in Alaska said that a piece of action-driven calculus and studying near vast expanses of the night sky is brought to life by both playwright Lauren Gunderson’s swift writing and by “absolutely, incredibly beautiful” projections.

Diane Fleeks of Fairbanks, who plays Fleming, said that despite public perception, the science is exciting.

“It’s just cool to find new things,” Fleeks said. “I come from a scientific background myself, I’m a little new to this whole acting thing. So when we get to this point where we talk about the possibilities that come with his discoveries, and “You can go from star to star”, that’s one of the lines, and it’s so cool, and it’s so much fun. Many of us are educated to think that science is no fun, but it is, it really is.

Passion and enthusiasm for science is what ultimately drove the women who inspired the play to make discoveries and analyze data, the cast members said, and they are happy that these contributions are holding back the public attention through “Silent Sky”.

Ty Hewitt, right, and Shelley Virginia dance in a scene from ?? Silent Sky. ??  The production includes a cast entirely in Alaska.  (Michael Penn | Capital City Weekly)

Ty Hewitt, right, and Shelley Virginia dance in a scene from “Silent Sky”. The production includes a cast entirely in Alaska. (Michael Penn | Capital City Weekly)

“Four women in the span of about 20 years at Harvard made the majority of the discoveries that changed everything, and we don’t know the names,” said Ty Hewitt of Anchorage, who plays Peter Shaw on the show. “I didn’t know any. I might have heard Annie Cannon’s name. I know the name Hubble, I should be damn familiar with the names Leavitt, Cannon, Fleming, and Payne.

One actor said that these names are now better known thanks to “Silent Sky”.

“We’re doing it now,” Hewitt said. “Thanks to Lauren Gunderson, we’re doing it now. ”

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907) 523-2243 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

Know and go

What: “Silent sky”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday January 9, Friday January 10 and Saturday January 11; 4 p.m. Sunday, January 12; 7:30 p.m. Thursday Jan. 16-18 and 4 p.m. Jan. 19; 7:30 p.m. January 23-Jan. Jan 25 and 4:26 p.m. Jan. 26; 7:30 p.m. January 29-Feb. 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on February 2.

Or: Perseverance Theater, 914 3rd St., Douglas

Admission: $ 26.25- $ 45. There is an à la carte preview on Thursday, January 12. The à la carte performances take place on Sunday January 12 and Thursday January 16. Wednesday January 22 is Juneau Arts Night and all tickets are $ 17.50. Tickets can be purchased online at ptalaska.org or by calling 463-8497.

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