OPEN AUDITIONS: Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company presents Silent Sky
Updated: Mar 17
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Leigh Matthews Bock
Assistant Director: Tom Martin
Musical Direction: Jim Martinez
Rehearsal Timeframe: May 10 – June 4, 2021
Tech and Filming: June 7 – 11, 2021
Performance Streamed: June 26 & 27, 2021
Content Label: Appropriate Audiences
The Majestic Theatre (a division of the City of Corvallis Parks and Recreation department) is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion and to creating a safe place for actors of all backgrounds to explore their craft. We are particularly eager to work with artists of color and other artists from marginalized communities. All auditions are free and open to the public. This audition is for an amateur, volunteer production. The Majestic Theatre staff and volunteers do not discriminate on the basis of age, national origin, race, gender, ethnic background, ability, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or any protected class.
All underage performers will need the permission of parent/guardian before submitting their audition.
Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company -The format for this show will be determined by the director and cast after auditions have been completed. As part of your audition video, please state your preference as one of the two options below:
1. Show rehearsed and performed completely via Zoom
2. Show rehearsed may be rehearsed via Zoom or in-person depending on current OHA recommendations and will be filmed in-person on the Majestic stage with extensive COVID-19 precautions (including masks) over a one week period. Participants will be required to come to the theater for the filming and in-person rehearsals unless other arrangements are made.
The show will only be filmed in-person if the director and cast are unanimously in favor of doing so. If even one person isn’t, the show will be rehearsed and filmed via Zoom.
The performances will be presented via Vimeo and will utilize the Pick What You Pay $10-20 online ticket system. A link and a password will be sent to all ticketholders and will be provided to cast and crew.
When Henrietta Leavitt begins work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea. Instead, she joins a group of women “computers,” charting the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has no time for the women’s probing theories. As Henrietta, in her free time, attempts to measure the light and distance of stars, she must also take measure of her life on Earth, trying to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love.
The true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt 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.
FROM THE DIRECTOR Leigh Matthews Bock
When someone has been stuck in the shadows of history, the light that finally shines on their accomplishments seems much brighter. Lauren Gunderson shines that light on the women who made critical, groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of space. Your history books never taught you about Henrietta, Annie and Williamina. They should have. Henrietta and her fellow "computers" made their discoveries despite never being allowed to use the observatory's refracting telescope. Not only does this play showcase the work of these incredible women, but it shows the mingling of art and science and how some see the beauty and wonder of God in art (music) and others see in science (the stars).
Please choose the side(s) you're auditioning for and record a video on your phone or computer of you reading the side. In addition to your audition video, please download, fill out, and attach our audition form located at tinyurl.com/MTAuditionForm and email it to email@example.com and copy my AD, Tom Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org by 7pm on Monday, May 3rd. If you prefer to perform your chosen side over the phone, contact me via the above email address and we will arrange a time. If you want to be considered for more than one role, please record that character’s side as well. If you wish to be considered for more than two roles, make note of that in your email, but include no more than two character’s sides in your video. Also, if you have one, please attach a headshot image to your audition email. It doesn’t need to be a professional headshot; any clear image of your face will do wonderfully. This will be posted with the cast list.
In addition to your video, in the body of your email please list –
Your preference as one of the two options below: (a) Show rehearsed and performed completely via Zoom OR (b) Show rehearsed via Zoom but filmed in-person on the Majestic stage with extensive COVID-19 precautions (including masks) over a one week period. Participants will be required to come to the theater for the filming unless other arrangements are made.
No more than two of your best or most recent performing roles including the play title and theater.
Your height and the age range you feel comfortable portraying
Your cell or landline number and your email address.
All characters do not have a specific race or ethnic background; we're excited to see a diverse pool of actors audition for all roles.
HENRIETTA LEAVITT (LEH-vit)
Desired Actor Gender: Female presenting
Brilliant, meticulous, excited - almost always wearing a period hearing-aid.
Historical Overview: Though born in Massachusetts in 1868, Henrietta grew up in Ohio, where she attended Oberlin College, as well as Wisconsin, where a portion of the play takes place. She returned to Massachusetts to attend Radcliffe College, the all-women companion college to Harvard University, where she earned a Bachelor's degree in 1882. She made progress towards a graduate degree in Astronomy before going to work as a computer in the Harvard Observatory under Dr. Charles Pickering. During the course of her work under Pickering (detailed below), Henrietta studied variable stars, which are stars that show different levels of brightness at different times. From there she went on to develop Leavitt’s Laws, which state that there is a straight line relation between a Cepheid variable star's intrinsic luminosity (true brightness) and the log of its period. Although she went uncredited for several decades and was unable to contribute to follow-up research, her discoveries went on to influence the work of Edwin Hubble, precipitated space travel, and contributed to numerous other means of scientific discovery. Henrietta was a fairly sickly individual, having never quite recovered from the childhood infirmity (likely scarlet fever) that damaged her hearing. She succumbed to cancer in 1921 at the age of 53 and was buried the Leavitt family plot in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her gravestone lacks any mention of her contribution to the field of Astronomy.
Desired Gender: Female presenting
Homebody, creative, on the verge of her own discovery, sweet, Henrietta’s sister.
Historical Overview: Margaret Leavitt did not exist in real life. Rather, Margaret is an approximation of perhaps several people designed to serve as a foil or counter-note to Henrietta. In terms of symbolism, Margaret is a vehicle for two of the three primary concepts in this play: while Henrietta represents religion and science, Margaret represents religion and art. It is through direct exposure to Margie’s compositions that Henrietta happens upon the epiphany which forms the cornerstone of her theory. This interaction is not supported by any historical evidence, but rather serves Gunderson’s more abstract call for the mingling of arts and sciences in the play. Symbolically, Margaret also represents the obligations of family juxtaposed with the allure of discovery and a far less intrinsically questioning view of theology. It is shown later that as Henrietta sees the beauty of God in the stars, Margie sees it in music.
Desired Gender: Female presenting
The leader of the “computers”, terse and sure, grows into a firebrand (passionate about a particular cause, typically inciting change and taking radical action).
Historical Overview: Annie Cannon was completely deaf for most of her adulthood. Cannon was first taught about constellations as a child by her mother, who later encouraged her to pursue scientific studies. Cannon went on to study mathematics, physics and astronomy at Wellesley College where she graduated Valedictorian of her class. After graduating, she returned home to Delaware, took up photography and traveled throughout Europe. Shortly thereafter she contracted scarlet fever, which robbed her of her hearing. She wrote to her former advisor about job openings at Wellesley where she was accepted as a physics teacher. From there she began taking graduate courses and started working towards a Master’s degree. In 1896, as part of her studies, Annie was hired by Dr. Charles Pickering, then the Director of the Harvard Observatory. She was 33. While working for Pickering, Cannon published several articles on Stellar Spectra in numerous journals, worked on the Henry Draper Catalogue, received the Draper Gold Medal, and was the recipient of numerous grants. Cannon developed the system of spectral classification which organized stars by color. Later into her work, the O B A F G K M categories were discovered. They did not just relate to color, but also temperature and size, as these three characteristics of a star are intrinsically connected. To this day, the classification system she developed is one of the foundational concepts in astronomy education. And yes, they still use “Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me” to remember the star classification categories. She still holds the record for most stars classified in a lifetime at over 500,000, at the peak of her career she could classify three stars a minute. Every year the American Astronomers’ Society hands out the Annie Jump Cannon Award to that year’s most prominent female astronomer.
Desired Gender: Female presenting
Smart as a whip and fun. Scottish.
Historical Overview: Williamina Fleming emigrated to America alongside her husband and her young child at the age of 21. She was shortly thereafter abandoned by her husband and forced to figure out how to make a living for herself and her child in America on her own. As a result, she found herself working in the house of Dr. Charles Pickering, Director of the Harvard Observatory. Allegedly, Dr. Pickering used to tell substandard employees that “his Scottish housekeeper could do a better job” and said it enough that eventually he gave her a job as a computer. Williamina classified 10,000 stars, discovered 59 nebule, and published several works on her discoveries. She discovered the Horsehead Nebula, though her work went uncredited. Despite having made massive contributions to the Draper Catalogue, Fleming's name along with all the names of her female peers were omitted in favor of a simple “Pickering” citation. Fleming was placed in charge of the computing department after Annie Cannon’s promotion to Head of Photometry. She was later made the curator of all spectra images at Harvard University. Fleming published numerous papers on her findings and received numerous awards. She was made an Honorary Fellow of Wellesley College in the early 1900’s.
Desired Gender: Male presenting
The astronomer’s apprentice… and the man.
Historical Overview: Peter Shaw did not exist in real life. Rather, he symbolically represents the “old guard” of the study of astronomy, though he has an inherent capacity for change. The rigid, sexist man seen in the opening scene is transformed over the course of the play. It is possible that some inspiration for Peter is drawn from Harlow Shapley, Dr. Pickering’s successor. Shapley was known to be far more progressive in his view of the women computers, ensuring that they received due credit for their work, and facilitating Annie Cannon’s and Williamina’s rise to positions of authority in the Observatory. Shapley also helped Henrietta Leavitt receive credit for her work.
LINE ONE: (to Peter) Mr. Shaw. I don’t mean to be brisk – maybe a little if that would drive home the point that I am finally here. After a long time of not being anywhere. I’d really like to get started, and all you’ve thus far conveyed is that I’m in some kind of math harem waiting to be picked – and that just doesn’t sound right at all.
LINE TWO: (to the audience) On top of a hill… just blocks away… Across the courtyard from my old desk… where it stood off-limits… I see. The Great Refractor Telescope. To which we happily break in that night. And taking Margie’s hand. I lean close. Hold my breath. And see… (she gasps) My heaven.
LINE ONE: (to Henrietta) I just wonder why you exceed expectation in everything except this family. Even so, Daddy is so proud. You think he isn’t. You think he resents your ‘great escape,” and because you never wrote or came home, you wouldn’t know. You also wouldn’t know that I made you up for him. I wrote letter for you, “from you,” brought them into the house every week – So happy – thrilled! – Read them to the whole family – “Look what we got from Henrietta today!” “Oh Daddy, she says hello, she says she loves you, thank you.” On and one. Such a comforting fiction.
LINE TWO: (to Henrietta) I know that we were never going to be grow-old-next-to-each-other kind of sisters, and the way you make me crazy makes that for the best – but – Henrietta this is extreme. This is your future, Henrietta. You know for certain that you’ll never marry, you’ll never fall in love – people do that. Uncoordinated, unplanned emotion… I’m not saying you shouldn’t go – but I worry. It’s far away, that place, it’s crowded, and you’re still here in my sight and I worry.
LINE ONE: (to Henrietta) You know Will was the first woman ever to hold the title “curator’ in astronomy. And the Draper Catalogue is all her work – She discovered stars, and nebulae, novae – She’s the reason that I am here, and even if she has far too much fun I am the first to admit that she is fundamental to this institution.
LINE TWO: (to Henrietta) We collect, report, and maintain the largest stellar archive in the world. And we resist the temptation to analyze it. Can you do this job, Miss Leavitt? I need the consistent, not the creative. (to Willamina) You make me crazy and you know you make me crazy.
LINE ONE: (to Henrietta) Here’s some perspective. I was Pickering’s housekeeper before he brought me here. So we’re a lot of things, but at the present we are cleaning up the universe for the men. And making fun of them behind their backs. It’s worked for centuries.
LINE TWO: (to Henrietta) I’m not laughing at you. I’m not. Love makes us all look a bit stupid. My husband abandoned me as soon as we docked in Boston. I was 21, pregnant, poor and Scottish. So I laughed. Found my way to Dr. Pickering, worked his house as a maid, he brought me here, and here I sit. So I laugh, because that seemed to work.
LINE ONE: (to Henrietta) There’s an ocean liner leaving tomorrow – You should be on it – I’ll be on it – I’m saying come with me to Europe – For a month – or two? You don’t have to decide now – just close to now because the liner leaves tomorrow – I said that – Pack warmly – cold at night – We might stop in Spain – And there’s dancing and lobster and water and moonlight and bobbling around and that’s romantic – or sickening – Either way there’ll be an eclipse. Which is fun.
LINE TWO: (in a lecture hall) It is my judgment that the universe is exactly the same as the Milky Way Galaxy. There is nothing greater and nowhere else. How could there be? To even consider that would mean that these stars are thousands of light years away. And nothing is thousands of light years away. The universe is simply not that vast. Nor need it be to inspire the deepest human wonder. Thank you.
Astronomy 101 - A glossary
Computer: Person tasked with undertaking computation. Because this was considered to be rote and uninspired work, most computers during this time period (and then leading up to the creation of the electronic computer) were women.
Radcliffe: Harvard-affiliated all-female collegiate institution. Harvard did not admit female students until 1977. The Great Refractor: 15” telescope installed in 1847, crucial in such discoveries as the eighth satellite of Saturn in 1848 and was used to take one of the earliest photographs of a double star in 1857. Once Pickering took over the Observatory, it was used almost exclusively for photometry.
Photometry: In astronomy, the measurement of the brightness of stars, nebulae, galaxies, planets, etc. Primarily achieved by gathering light into a telescope and then capturing and recording the light on photosensitive plates, the basic calculations of photometry included visual comparison between these images.
Draper Catalogue: An astronomical star catalogue which lists spectroscopic (light wavelength) measurements for stars. Called The Draper Catalogue of Stellar Spectra, the first of these works was published in 1890, and included classifications for over 10,000 stars. Most of the classification work was done by Williamina Fleming. Star Spanking/Fly Spanker: A tool used to help standardize brightness measurements and in real life actually invented by Henrietta Leavitt. Previously, brightness had been measured by observers ranking it by eye, which was too subjective for an accurate measurement. The “fly spanker”––so named because it resembled a fly swatter but was “too small to do a fly much damage”––was a piece of photographic plate with a wire handle attached which had stars of well-established brightnesses on it. This tool could be moved around in front of a glass plate with stars of unknown brightness to help standardize the measurements and to determine if the brightness of a star had changed.
Cepheid Stars: Stars that have entered a stage of their life cycle that involves a repetitive ‘pulsing’ cycle of lighter and darker appearance. These cycles can last anywhere from 1-40 days, with the brightest Cepheid stars taking longer than the faintest. This relationship between the rate at which the stars ‘pulse’ and how bright they appear to us gives a very handy way to measure how far away they are. This is the “measuring stick” for the universe that is the source of such excitement for Henrietta.
Small Magellanic Cloud: A dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way. Classified as a Dwarf Irregular Galaxy, it is about 7,000 light years across. Between 1893 and 1906, the 24-inch telescope installed in Peru and run by the Harvard College Observatory collected plates observing both the large and small Magellanic clouds. These plates were used by Henrietta Leavitt to study the Cepheid phenomenon.
OBAFGKM: A system of classifying stars based on the observed color of that star. Specifically, Annie Cannon (who invented this method) looked at the Balmer Absorption Lines (a measure of what colors of light are absorbed by a star and which are reflected, from which we can infer color) and classified the different stars based on that. It was later discovered that the color of a star was also related to heat and size, thus these qualities have been retroactively correlated with this classification system.
What is a Cepheid? A Cepheid variable star is one that pulsates, meaning the layers of gases that make up the star expand and contract in a cycle, causing the size of the star to change. This in turn makes the star seem brighter or dimmer because the larger the surface area of the star, i.e., the more space emitting light, the brighter the star appears to be. Luminosity is the measure of how bright a star is, though it comes in two varieties: observed and true luminosity. Observed luminosity is how bright we perceive a star to be; true Luminosity is how bright a star actually is. If one can quantify the distance to a star, they can tell how bright it actually is by mathematically accounting for the dimming of the light as it travels, (Note: not quite how light works, but that is a whole other physics lecture.) If you happen to know its size, you can use the same equation to determine how far away something is by measuring how bright it is. If you know luminosity and distance you can determine size, and so on. 11 The trouble with a Cepheid is that if you don’t know how far away it is, brightness is also not a reliable measure to determine distance because that brightness appears to change. What Henrietta discovered is the relationship between the pulsation period (the time it takes for the star to expand and contract in a single cycle) and the star’s perceived luminosity. Thus, by observing the pulsation period of the star, you can use that value to calculate true luminosity and thus calculate an accurate distance to that star. Thus, Cepheids provide benchmarks that help us determine the distance between us and various celestial bodies. If a faraway galaxy contains an observable Cepheid, the approximate distance to that galaxy can be calculated utilizing data from that Cepheid. In this way, Henrietta literally gave us the ability to map the Universe.