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These shining women

Students act in “These Shining Lives,” a play about women who fell ill from radium-related health issues at a company in Ottawa, Illinois. photo by Cenn Hall

Students act in “These Shining Lives,” a play about women who fell ill from radium-related health issues at a company in Ottawa, Illinois.
photo by Cenn Hall

Bradley’s theatre department premiered the play “These Shining Lives” last night to a full house.

The show recounts the true story of a number of women who ingested large quantities of radium while employed at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa during the 1920s. Many of the women fell ill from radium-related health issues, so they found strength and friendship in each other as they fought the number of court cases that ensued.

Adjunct theatre professor Sarah Salazar made her directorial debut as a faculty member with “These Shining Lives,” and she said she couldn’t be happier with the people she worked with to produce the show.

“Visions and ideas mean nothing without a cast,” she said. “We all care about the work and storytelling. The team you’ve got makes it or breaks it.”

While the show focuses on main character Catherine Donohue, played by senior Katey Kraemer, Salazar said “These Shining Lives” is a play about the courage shown by all the “Radium Girls” employed at the Radium Dial Company.

“For myself, the play is a reminder to really think about and be grateful of the people who came before you,” she said. “Especially the women, who were pioneers for labor laws and other rights – I’m just so thankful for that.”

Katie Wilson, the show’s stage manager, said working on such a powerful and moving historical play has affected both the cast and crew of “These Shining Lives”.

“[This play] has been a challenge for a lot of people,” Wilson, a sophomore theatre production and television arts double major, said. “When I first got the script, I couldn’t put it down until I was done … It’s beautifully written. It’s a beautiful story.”

According to Kraemer, acting in this play has been both physically and mentally draining.

“It’s a pretty tiring role,” Kraemer said. “Physically, it’s demanding. For [the female characters], our physical states decline over time because these women are getting sick. Balancing that out was tricky, because how much do you show without pounding the audience over the head with it? And just the emotional toll of the story, as well, gets tiring.”

However, Kraemer said she finds inspiration to play her role in the strength that was shown by the real-life Radium Girls.

“People in general will be able to take away the stories of these women, how people overcame it because they fought,” Kraemer said. “That’s really prevalent in our nation today – fighting through injustice and fighting back against things, not taking ‘no’ for an answer … It’s a huge story for women and how women found their voices.”

Because of the message of female empowerment in the play, Salazar said she hopes everyone will feel inspired to stand up for themselves.

“[‘These Shining Lives’] has been a good reminder of our luxuries that we have due to the people before us, and also to speak up for what’s right and just,” Salazar said. “Your voices do matter. I hope people – especially girls – are impacted when they see it.”

A number of pre-law students will argue in a moot trial based off the cases from “These Shining Lives” following the Sunday matinee on Feb. 26.

“These Shining Lives” runs until March 5, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2:30 p.m. matinees Sunday. Tickets are $5 with a Bradley ID.

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