Celebrate UW-Fond du Lac theatre’s 50th anniversary with ‘Silent Sky’

Joseph Schulz, Campus Connections

The UW-Fond du Lac theatre department began celebrating its 50th anniversary with a production of Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” on March 12 and 13.

“Silent Sky” is about real-life astronomer Henrietta Leavitt’s work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s.

The play also marks director Richard Gustin’s 25th year directing at UWFDL. Gustin said it’s been humbling to be part of the department’s 50th anniversary.

“The theatrical history here in this theater is pretty overwhelming frankly,” Gustin said. “All the students, all the directors, all the faculty members, all the effort, all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into these shows over the last 50 years.”

Gustin said the most rewarding part of being involved in the theatre program for 25 years has been seeing students grow.

“The final product of the shows are important, but those are inconsequential compared to the individual growth of the students,” Gustin said. “That’s why we’re here: for the growth of the individual students.”

Gustin said he chose “Silent Sky” because it celebrates powerful women.

“I grew up in the ‘60s and through the ‘70s, where, supposedly, women’s equality was coming to fruition as something that would actually be attainable in the ‘60s and the ‘70s,” Gustin said. “We know that didn’t happen, because we’re still fighting for that cause.”

Gustin said Henrietta, the play’s main character, faces vast inequalities between men and women in the play.

“Henrietta Leavitt is an American hero: she persisted in spite of male harassment, low wages, discrimination, not being taken seriously, being patronized,” Gustin said. “She persevered for decades in the scientific world, and we’re celebrating that. We’re celebrating that women are strong and intelligent and capable and that women lead, and others follow.”

Joseph Schulz

Hannah Holzmann said playing Henrietta has been a lot of fun because of how passionate Henrietta was about her work.

“She’s an intellectual person, but she’s also very outwardly driven. Her passion just comes through her,” Holzmann said. “She’s bold and insistent that she can do her work.”

Holzmann said the play should resonate with modern audiences despite being set in the 1900s because women still face many of the same challenges.

“I think still today math and computer science are still male-dominated fields, and as you go up in those classes it’s increasingly more and more male,” Holzmann said. “You can feel kind of out of place in those classes.”

Marty Ryan plays Henrietta’s love interest and co-worker, Peter Shaw. Ryan said when his character meets Henrietta, it reignites his passion for science.

“Before the play, before Henrietta comes into the picture, he’s kind of just punching the clock,” Ryan said. “When Henrietta comes into the play, and she’s so passionate about her work, it sparks a sort of passion in him and a sort of conflict later on in the play.”

Ryan said the play remains relevant because it’s about a woman finding her voice.

“Henrietta Leavitt, her work wasn’t credited at the time because she was a woman,” Ryan said. “Doctor [Edwin] Hubble actually took credit for her work.”

The Hubble Space Telescope was named after Edwin Hubble.

Korrynn Lefeber plays female astronomer Williamina. Lefeber said the play remains relevant because women still face discrimination in the workplace.

“To see that blast from the past, to see how women were screwed over and to compare that to how we’re still being screwed over,” Lefeber said. “It’s a wake-up call to say this has been going on for a long time, and it needs to stop.”

Gustin said theatre, when done right, makes us re-evaluate the way we treat each other.

“Theatre as an artform encourages us to behave better,” Gustin said. “To understand what it is to be human while deepening our compassion for others.”

“Silent Sky” will be performed March 14-16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 17 at 2 p.m. at the Prairie Theater on the UWFDL campus.