March 19, 2024

West Chester University’s Department of Theatre and Dance Presents "Silent Sky"

West Chester University’s Department of Theatre and Dance is proud to present Silent Sky, a play by Lauren Gunderson that spotlights the untold stories of women astronomers at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s.

Silent Sky poster

Performances are April 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 p.m., and April 7 at 2 p.m., at the MainStage Theatre in the E.O. Bull Center for the Arts. Tickets are $12-15 and available at West Chester University will offer ASL interpretation for three of the show's four performances on April 5, 6, and 7.

Silent Sky explores the life of Henrietta Leavitt, a pioneering astronomer whose work was instrumental in mankind’s understanding of the universe. Despite facing numerous obstacles, including not being allowed to touch a telescope, Leavitt and her fellow women "computers" made groundbreaking discoveries that shaped modern astronomy.

“The play highlights the fact that without music and art we would not know our place in the universe,” said Christen Mandracchia, assistant professor of theatre and production manager for the Department of Theatre and Dance. “Literally speaking, from an astronomy perspective, we wouldn’t know what our coordinates are without music and without women.”

The importance of women in various fields and narratives is a theme woven throughout the department’s productions this academic year. It gives WCU students a chance to tackle complex, often underrepresented, roles, Mandracchia said.

Silent Sky features three very strong female characters who are game changers in the field of astronomy,” she said. “They were pioneers in that field, and social pioneers as well. They really did not accept their place in the world, and we are better for it.” 

The play celebrates the historic achievements of women and underscores the essential role of the arts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

“It’s why the play is important,” Mandracchia said. “It reminds our friends in STEM how essential the arts are to their field, and hopefully invites more collaboration between our two fields.”

WCU Theatre Arts major Eli McBride, the student dramaturg for the production, conducted extensive research to bring authenticity and depth to Silent Sky. His efforts included collaborating with WCU’s American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Studies Program to host a presentation on ASL and communication methods for deaf people in the late 1800s to enrich the portrayal of two characters who are deaf. 

“At this time, sign language was not allowed to be taught in schools, and for those who could not afford hearing aids, lip reading was the only option,” McBride said. 

Sign language will not be part of the performance, but the presentation provided important context, he said. 

This interdisciplinary collaboration, along with a partnership with the Women's and Gender Studies department, highlighted the play's themes of inclusivity and the recognition of shadow labor – the unseen labor of “invisible” people. McBride, who also has an acting role in Silent Sky, hopes the play will encourage audience members to keep learning about the women of the play. 

“This play, and the research that accompanied it, taught me to always honor those who are the leaders in discovery,” McBride said. “I encourage audiences to not let their research and interest stop once the show is over.” 

The Department of Theatre and Dance at West Chester University, an accredited institution of the National Association of Schools of Theatre, prepares students for the professional and the academic worlds of Theatre and Dance, while raising student awareness of civility, diversity, creativity, problem solving, and social responsibility. The department offers a BA Theatre degree program with elective concentrations in Musical Theatre, Performance, Design and Production, in addition to a dance minor and theatre minor.


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