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Female astronaut Hen­rietta Leavitt at her desk. | Wiki­media Commons

Hillsdale College stu­dents will be per­forming a staged reading of con­tem­porary play­wright Lauren Gunderson’s play “Silent Sky” on Oct. 17 and 18 in the Fine Arts Building – a his­torical piece about a young woman pur­suing her interest in astronomy at the Harvard College Obser­vatory.

The play is based on the life of Hen­rietta Leavitt, a female astronomer at the Harvard College Obser­vatory in the early 1900s. At the time, the Obser­vatory had a group of women who were tasked with com­puting data from the tele­scope, referring to them as “com­puters.” 

Leavitt made some important dis­cov­eries in her time there “that led to influence people like Hubble,” according to Vic­toria Matsos. The play also includes Leavitt’s love interest in the lab they both work in.

“It’s her nav­i­gating her work and her life,” Matsos said.

Matsos said the staged reading series has pre­vi­ously done “new and unpub­lished” plays, but “Silent Sky” differs in that it is a pub­lished play by a con­tem­porary play­wright.

Lauren Gun­derson is a Southern con­tem­porary play­wright who focuses on his­torical figures. After trying to make a start in New York, Gun­derson headed out to the Bay Area and “started gaining a lot of traction” in their the­aters and has become popular across the country, according to Matsos.

“Silent Sky” is one of Gunderson’s most popular plays, and Matsos said she loved how the play­wright used more con­tem­porary lan­guage in a his­torical story.

“There are lovely comic moments, it’s emo­tionally a very sat­is­fying story, and it’s a won­derful vehicle for the actors that are in it. They’re doing a beau­tiful job,” Matsos said.

Freshman Colleen Blockhus, who plays Hen­rietta Leavitt, said she fell in love with the play instantly because she is inter­ested in space and science herself and found the story to be “very funny, very human, very heart­breaking.” She said the play revolves around Leavitt trying to nav­igate her passion for science, her life with her family, and her romantic life.

“I think the heart of the play is how Hen­rietta figures out how to exist in those three worlds because a lot of time it feels like there’s not enough of her to go around,” Blockhus said.

Blockhus said the actors and Matsos are very pas­sionate about the pro­duction, and Matsos’ love for the project is “so infec­tious.”

“I think the important part of it is how much passion and joy that has been put into it because I guar­antee you’ll get that passion and joy out of it,” Blockhus said.