Anchored between the crevices of the universe where time and space exist, the play “Silent Sky” shines an honest light through the timeless story of an empowered astronomer flourishing in a space dominated by men and their science.
In her time working as one of Harvard University’s first “computers” in the beginning of the 20th century, American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt discovered over 1,777 stars.
Now, Leavitt’s brilliance, likeness and discovery are all being replicated to be shared with an audience. In a tale about women in science and the human spirit, the play “Silent Sky,” which debuted at The Hippodrome State Theatre April 21, fixes viewers in a realm where exploration and tenacity take flight.
“We don't always reach out for the new,” said Stephanie Lynge, the Hippodrome’s artistic director. “If we don’t explore and learn, we're shrinking instead of expanding … The world needs that excitement. The world needs to remember that maybe we're a small part of something really amazing.”
“Silent Sky” will run at the Hippodrome Theatre from April 21 to May 7. In addition, the Hippodrome will offer a $15 Wednesday deal April 26.
In honor of the venue’s 50th anniversary, an open house was held April 15 to open the doors and allow the public to see behind-the-scenes magic and how the productions get put together.
It’s fitting this play is being put on during this particular anniversary because the courage of the characters mirrors that of those who opened the theater, Lynge said.
One of the most important parts was creating the believability of the bonds between the characters in the play, Lynge said. Leavitt was described as selflessly devoted to her family and work, and Lynge wanted to ensure humanity was awarded to her character’s adaptation.
“The more human we can make our characters on stage, the more that the audience can connect with them,” Lynge said. “Why are you saying that line here? Why do you leave? Why do you come back?... It brings so many layers in.”
The play, published by playwright Lauren Gunderson in 2015, transports the audience into a limitless tale that tells the story of finding your place in the universe.
Leavitt was an astronomer from the late 19th century who suffered from the effects of hearing loss, cancer and the patriarchy. Despite eventually making one of the most important discoveries in astrophysics, Leavitt initially wasn’t allowed to interact with the technology at her workbase at Harvard because women computers weren’t permitted to use the telescopes.
Now known as “Leavitt’s law,” her observation of the Cepheid variable stars’ pulsing allowed her to map the distance between remote stars, which allowed future astronomers to calculate their distance depending on its period-luminosity relationship.
The discovery changed science forever.
During Leavitt’s time, it was taught that the sun and the Milky Way galaxy were the center of the universe. Her discovery clued into the fact that there are millions, if not trillions, of additional galaxies. Her observation established a standard that paved the path for other astronomers to remove galactocentric theory from scientific ideology.
She was credited as paving the path for future, more well-known discoveries, despite Leavitt originally not being recognized for her work.
Leavitt was initially an option to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1925, four years after she died, to celebrate her contributions to science but was not able to receive the nomination posthumously. An asteroid and moon crater are named in her honor.
Leavitt was described as serious-minded and hard-working, and for this reason, costume shop manager Erin Jester decided to add intricate detailing to Leavitt’s costume to solidify her personality. Straight lines and bold, confident colors are part of communicating Leavitt’s character to the audience, Jester said.
“Ultimately, all the design supports how the actors are telling the story,” Jester said. “The [acting] is the star of the show … but everything else is a piece of the puzzle.”
Jester, 33, has been the designer in residence at the Hippodrome since 2021. She said initial costume blueprints begin with the script, but her costume team is guided by historical knowledge and period-appropriate apparel to shape the silhouette. Although they may not be historically accurate to a tee, the dresses, in all their corsets, bustles and petticoats are meant to introduce the time period without anchoring it in one specific era, she said.
Nearly all the patterns used in this show are reproduced historical patterns, but Jester added her own special touch by implicating a subliminal color scheme to match the character’s personalities.
“[Leavitt was] very serious about her work, incredibly focused,” Jester said. “So I put her in a darker tone … extremely dressed, not fashionable, but not a hair out of place.”
“Silent Sky” translates Leavitt’s steadfast spirit, brilliant mind and intricate discoveries into an easily understandable and adaptable format, with relatable characters and an undeniably talented cast.
Before she was able to fully transition into her starring role as Leavitt, professional actress Elise Hudson knew she had to study.
“To make sure I understood exactly what it is she discovered was a wonderful and big part of our process,” Hudson said. “You can't play a character and not know what they're talking about. That's acting 101.”
Although she might not hold a degree in astronomy like the character she portrays, Hudson, 33, graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Boston College and earned a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Brown University.
Hudson has worked as a professional actress in almost every state in New England (with Maine as the exception), and she’s graced roles in hit streaming-platform shows like Spike Lee’s “She's Gotta Have It” on Netflix and guest starred in an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Last season, Hudson starred as Marie Antoinette in the Hippodrome’s production of “The Revolutionists.” Still, she said Leavitt’s character holds a special place in her heart due to the relatability of her struggle to be understood and recognized for her talent.
“I've definitely learned a crazy amount of interesting things about astronomy, measurement in space, about light,” Hudson said. “But you're not coming to this play to learn about astronomy. You're coming to this play to hopefully have your heart and your mind exploded just as much as Henrietta's heart and mind exploded when she realized.”
Hudson cited her relationship with her on-stage sister, Margaret Leavitt portrayed by Savannah Simerly, as being one of the many bonds that audience members will be able to relate to and invest themselves in.
She hopes audiences won’t only be able to see themselves in the characters, but that they can also discover something about themselves, she said.
“I hope they leave with more knowledge, but also with their heart wide open from this story,” Hudson said.
Ticket prices range from $20 to $45 with student discounts available and they can be found on the Hippodrome’s ticketing website.
Contact Loren at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LorenMiranda13.
Loren Miranda is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She is also a copy editor for Rowdy Magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys watching either critically acclaimed films or cheesy reality TV, no in-betweens.