News • October 14, 2021

CBU theatre program back on stage with ‘Silent Sky’

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Riverside, Calif. (Oct. 14, 2021) – After being closed for more than 18 months because of the pandemic, the curtain will go up this week in the Wallace Theatre at California Baptist University. “Silent Sky” opens the theatre program’s 2021-22 season.

“Silent Sky” is based on the true story of Henrietta Leavitt and the women who worked at the Harvard Observatory at the turn of the 20th century. The women were tasked with charting the stars for male astronomers. Leavitt’s research eventually led to astronomers being able to measure the distance to faraway galaxies, informing the work of Edwin Hubble and others. While a brilliant, determined pioneer, she must fight for recognition in the man’s world of turn-of-the-century astronomy.

“It's a play about a woman kind of being held back by her society in her times,” said Frank Mihelich, associate professor of theatre and director of the play.

The play, published in 2015, was written by Lauren Gunderson, one of the most-produced playwrights in America. The storyline deals with a timely topic, Mihelich said.

“How do we engage in healthy ways in this wider conversation that we're having around gender? I think living in the wake of the Me Too movement, debate can be done in a healthy way, and it can be done in a destructive way. I think we as Christians can model a healthy way,” Mihelich said.

The stage at CBU was not quiet the entire time of the pandemic. The theatre program produced two productions that it filmed for streaming. But Mihelich said he hopes audience members will feel comfortable coming back.

“I was hoping when [the shutdown] was all done, that theatres would explode because people just want to be around other people,” Mihelich said. “What makes theatre theatre is the in-personness of it.”

Jolene Automo, a theatre senior who plays Henrietta Leavitt, said it has been fun to be back with friends rehearsing and preparing for a show.

“Being the first in-person production after COVID, I am just so excited to feel that adrenaline rush that comes with live performance,” Automo said.

She also said she hopes the audience members will learn something from the play.

“If the audience only takes one thing out of the performance, [I hope] it’s to keep dreaming and not allow obstacles to stop you from wondering what else is out there,” Automo said.

Michael Cohen, a theatre sophomore, plays Peter Shaw, Henrietta's love interest and fellow astronomer.

“Lauren Gunderson is a beautiful playwright and to do a piece of her work has taught me how precious words and human thought are,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he cannot wait to see people back in the theatre.

“Being the first performance back in the Wallace with a live audience has brought me so much joy and excitement in the idea we can start to tell stories of beautiful people and ideas,” Cohen said. “I hope audiences walk away with a sense of family, love and reliability. These characters show us what we want to do with our dreams and goals in life.”

When: Oct. 15-16, Oct. 21-23 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m.
Where: Wallace Theatre, California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA, 92504
Tickets or questions? Call the theatre box office at 951-343-4319 or email: mhyde@calbaptist.edu