The University of SC Department of Theatre and Dance is presenting two theatre productions over a span of four days at the Center for Performance Experiment.
From November 30 to December 3, the CPE Fall Rep series will feature the play Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, which tells the story of pioneering female astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, and 10×3, a presentation of ten-minute plays performed by three actors.
Show times are 3pm and 8pm each day. Silent Sky performance times are: 8pm, November 30; 3pm, December 1; 8pm, December 2; and, 3pm, December 3. 10×3 performances are: 3pm, November 30; 8pm, December 1; 3pm, December 2; and, 8pm, December 3. Admission is $10 per performance, and available only at the door. The Center for Performance Experiment is located at 718 Devine St., between Huger and Gadsden Streets, near the Colonial Life Arena.
Silent Sky is the true story of pioneering 19th century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications; Henrietta Leavitt and her female peers believe in both, and their dedication changed the way we understand both the heavens and Earth.
“Henrietta Levitt was one of the Harvard Observatory ‘computers,’” says Silent Sky Professor Steven Pearson, who is directing the play. “These were women whose job was to look at photographic glass plates taken of the stars at night, and count, evaluate and catalog each star. They became really critical to the developing discipline of astronomy.”
In the midst of her assigned work, Leavitt identified about 2400 variable stars, and, most notably, was able to calculate their absolute magnitude. This enabled astronomers such as Edward Hubble to determine ever-greater distances of stars, leading to the discovery of a vast universe beyond our own galaxy.
“It’s astonishing that these women, just day after day, would look at these plates, which were just a bunch of black dots, like someone sneezed on pepper. They didn’t even get to look through telescopes,” says Pearson. “And, in the play, there is conflict between what Leavitt is expected to do and what is welling up inside. She has a passion for find out what is there, but because she’s a woman, she’s not allowed to have that.”
Under the direction of Professor Stan Brown, 10×3 features just three actors performing a variety of contemporary, ten-minute plays that range in tone from comedy to drama to fantasy. The actors, all male and all African-American, will portray characters of various genders, ages, ethnicities, and sexualities in a wide range of situations.
It’s an exploration that Brown says is totally intentional.
“I saw this as a perfect opportunity to work on things that I know can broaden their range. It’s about how to be a better actor, not learning to be a better black actor.”
“For the audience, I think it’s going to have an effect of challenging them to shift their perspective because what you would expect visually isn’t necessarily there. Depending on what your perception is of black men at this moment in time, hopefully this will make you rethink things on a level that may not even be conscious.”
Performing in Silent Sky are second-year MFA Acting students Kimberly Braun, Gabriela Castillo, Kimberly Gaughan, Libby Hawkins, and Darrell Johnston. Performing in 10×3 are second-year MFA Acting students Kaleb Edley, Donavon St. Andre, and Nick Stewart.