Historical play “Silent Sky” spotlights women in astronomy


Photo submitted by Emily Carey

by Belle Ward, Features Editor

Simpson College’s production of “Silent Sky” opens Thursday evening with a cast of five actors and features freshman Jocelyn Smith as Henrietta Leavitt, an astronomer.

Smith, a political science major, did not expect to be cast in the show because Simpson’s other fall play, “Titus and Andronicus,” cast more students. She thought she might receive a small role in that show or be on the set crew.

After being cast as Henrietta, Smith said she excitedly began preparing for the role.

“Immediately, I grabbed the script and read the whole thing and fell in love with it,” Smith said.

The play follows Henrietta as she makes discoveries about astronomy in the Harvard Observatory.  

In previous roles while in high school, Smith typically played a comedic role. However, she said she was able to explore her character further with a lead role.

“I’ve never had a lead. I’ve never really had a large supporting role. So this is all brand new and all a fun time,” she said.

With a smaller cast, the play can be more intimate, Smith said.

“I love the dynamic of Henrietta, and the fact that she’s somewhat put-together and very curious and passionate about astronomy,” she said.

Although Henrietta is capable in her profession, she is inexperienced with romance, Smith said. Being able to balance these differences is a challenge, but Smith said she enjoys it.

Cierra Clark, a senior elementary education major, plays the role of Williamina Fleming, who works with Henrietta in the Harvard Observatory.

“It is so important to our history. Henrietta Leavitt really was the first to discover the pattern in the Cepheid stars,” Clark said.

According to The New Yorker, Lauren Gunderson, writer of “Silent Sky,” was the most produced playwright in the U.S. as of 2017.

“It’s one of the most well-written shows that I have ever been a part of,” Clark said.

This is Clark’s eighth production at Simpson.

“This is also my last production, because I will be student teaching next semester. And it’s a good one to end on,” Clark said

Blake Carlson, junior public relations major, plays Peter Shaw, Henrietta’s love interest. His character oversees the work the women do in the observatory.

Carlson said he was honored to be cast as the only male in such a small production.

Peter is not only a comedic relief or love interest. His character shows growth throughout the play, Carlson said.

“He sees a long journey within himself over the show,” Carlson said.

Like Smith, Carlson also has more experience previously playing a comedic role. His character explores love, and that is something Carlson enjoyed being able to do.

“I feel like the script and the story is very accessible for those who may or may not be very familiar with theatre,” Carlson said.

The cast is made of students ranging from freshman to seniors, and even though not everyone in the cast has the same experience, everyone can learn something from this production, Carlson said.

Smith is excited for an audience to learn about Henrietta and her discoveries.

“Henrietta is one of those characters in history you just miss a lot. We don’t hear about these women in history, and this show teaches you that history,” Smith said.

“Silent Sky” will be performed Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Barnum Theatre in the Blank Performing Arts Center.