Women make their way into the Olympic play

SEQUIM – The big thrill for Tia Stephens was getting into the character of Annie Jump Cannon.

“The more I researched Annie, the more fascinating she became,” Stephens said of her role, the first in which she played an actual character from history.

Cannon is one of the female astronomers who, at the dawn of the 20th century, worked at the Harvard Observatory – despite being disrespected by their male boss, Dr. Edward C. Pickering.

Crucial points in women’s lives are revealed in “Silent Sky,” the stage drama at Olympic Theater Arts that began last weekend and continues this weekend and next.

“She was incredibly smart, hardworking, tenacious and fought for her ideals,” Stephens said. “It was an honor to represent her.”

Henrietta Leavitt (Ginny Holladay Jessee) tells her sister Margaret (Emma Jane Garcia) that she’s heading to Harvard in “Silent Sky,” the Olympic Theater Arts drama based on a true story. (Olympic Theater Arts)

Cannon’s colleague, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, is also an astronomer, a Radcliffe graduate eager to join the Harvard team.

When she first arrives in college, American women have not yet won the right to vote. The men in the observatory do not allow women to look through a telescope.

Instead, Leavitt crunches the numbers and is called a “computer,” much like the female NASA analysts some 60 years later – the heroines of the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Leavitt’s odyssey as a woman scientist, from Ivy League upbringing to independent epiphany and beyond, is at the center of “Silent Sky.”

Sequim actress Ginny Holladay Jessee plays her in the series, which also features Matt Forrest as her romantic interest Peter Shaw, Emma Jane Garcia as her sister Margaret and Marissa Wilson as the Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming.

The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays until November 24.

Tickets are $18 general and $12 for students via OlympicTheatreArts.org or by calling 360-683-7326 on weekdays between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If still available, tickets are also sold at the theater door, 414 N. Sequim Ave.

Post-game discussions take place after Sunday mornings.

Leavitt “is kind of a big nerd like me. She goes on rants,” Jessee said.

The actor has been passionate about “Silent Sky” since seeing the play staged in Seattle and Jackson, Mississippi, where she lived before moving to the Pacific Northwest.

Leavitt, fresh out of college, comes to the observatory hoping to practice astronomy; soon it becomes clear that she is going to do math.

“She takes advantage of her position quickly,” Jessee said.

“She spends more time and does more work than she gets paid,” and the end result is that Leavitt, without the tools her male colleagues have, makes her own scientific discoveries.

“Silent Sky” is by San Francisco-based playwright Lauren Gunderson, whose other works about self-determined women include “Exit Pursued by a Bear,” “The Revolutionists,” and “The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and Her Dog!”

The Sequim “Sky” team includes director Josh Sutcliffe, costume designer Richard Stephens (Tia’s father), lighting designer Ron Coffman and set designer David Willis.

In creating the environment – ​​which includes the Harvard Observatory and Leavitt’s family home in Wisconsin – Willis sought to show the juxtaposition of a cramped attic and the star-filled universe.

He couldn’t go too far, though.

“Richard Stephens does these wonderful big costumes,” Willis said, so “I kept my decor simple.”

He noted that the chemistry between the actors, several of whom are making their Olympic theater arts debut, is strong. The piece is a mix of intense emotions and sharp words, Willis said.

He too finds “Sky” inspiring. The story is still relevant 120 years after Leavitt embarked on his journey; “It shows you how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, former editor of the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

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