/New Stage’s ‘Silent Sky’ speaks to its stars of women’s progress and potential

New Stage’s ‘Silent Sky’ speaks to its stars of women’s progress and potential

She raises an eyebrow and laughs, “Well, that wouldn’t fly these days.” After a Tuesday night preview, Silent Sky will open Wednesday at New Stage Theatre in Jackson as Henrietta Leavitt, the leading role of Henrietta Leavitt, an early 20th-century astronomer. There are certain expectations when it comes to Cleveland’s career path in the 21st Century. But “harem”-hood does not count. Silent Sky’s cast and crew are not unaware of the irony in Lauren Gunderson’s play about Leavitt. Leavitt was able to calculate stellar distances. This helped her determine our place in the cosmos. Cleveland says they were both surprised and relieved at the relevance of these issues. This is the struggle of how to pursue your goals. How can you balance your career with a fulfilling family life and a happy home? She says that it feels very prophetic… and that’s exactly the situation they’re experiencing in the play.” “Henrietta was told that the amazing work she’s done can now be used by the men. Of course, we’re like, “How can somebody say that?” But that was the status quo back then,” Kerri Courtney Sanders, who plays Margaret. Margaret is Henrietta’s sister and chooses the traditional home and family life. Silent Sky’s cast also features real-life female astronomers Annie Cannon (played in Wendy Miklovic), Williamina Fleming, and Peter Shaw (played as Evan McCarley). They hope Silent Sky will inspire and reach young girls and women of all ages with its true story. New Stage will host SchoolFest matinees on February 16 and 23. The early female astronomers were unable to find recognition for their work and had to learn in tedious after-hours jobs. As they entered puberty, women were not encouraged to pursue education. It was believed that they would be too fragile. Cleveland states, “That’s what the smartest people thought about women’s bodies at that time and what they could handle, and that’s the reason these women… would double as hard work.” Cleveland says: Men spent all day doing math, while women worked late to explore their theories. They charted the stars using photographic glass star plates, and couldn’t use the telescope. She says that these women made amazing discoveries because they were willing and able to do what was necessary. Silent Sky explores the intersections between home and work as well as art and science. Francine Thomas Reynolds, New Stage’s artistic director, says that she was also drawn to the play’s rich characters. It’s everything I love and what I believe our audiences will love. The play is based on a true story. It’s about people who overcome obstacles to achieve some achievement and it’s all about discovery. Reynolds said, “Strong women and stories of real people who haven’t received recognition — that’s what I love.” Silent Sky, Reynolds said, “gives them their due” in a similar fashion to Hidden Figures (2016) for Space Race-era black female mathematicians from NASA. Sanders describes Silent Sky’s complex, close relationship with the sisters as a wonder. As they try to understand one another’s feelings about God and faith, Sanders says that it is an amazing experience. “… For Henrietta it’s work, and for Margaret it is family.” Cleveland also praises Lauren Gunderson’s approach to each character as both creative and sympathetic. There are many ways to succeed. She says that there are many ways to be rich, and textured, like there are stars in the sky. Sanders, 30, and Cleveland, 28, are single and grateful for the glimpse into the past. Sanders, 30, is married and says that the window gives them a glimpse into the past. Sanders also thanks Sanders for the “how far we have come” in their marriages and at work. That’s a wonderful thing. But, I also think we all realize that we still have a lot to do. “Mostly, I feel really inspired.” Silent Sky’s showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, February 20-24, and 2:20 p.m. Sunday, February 25. Tickets, $30 adult and $25 seniors/students, are available at the New Stage Theatre box office, www.newstagetheatre.com and 601-948-3531. Annie Cleveland is the daughter and columnist for Mississippi Today Rick Cleveland.