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Theatre students shoot for the stars

“Silent Sky” is the second student-directed main stage production at Bradley. The performances are now showing until March 10. Photo by William Craine.

The sky is the limit for the theatre department as it opens its spring season with Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky.” This show is the second main stage production directed by a student in the theatre department’s history.

“Silent Sky” is based on the story of American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, whose discoveries became the foundation of later-known astronomers’ work that illustrated how our universe is far vaster than many once believed.

Bradley’s production features three student designers. These undergraduates were tasked with creating their own vision for “Silent Sky.” They were given equivalent responsibility to a theatre industry professional. Students were advised by faculty in each of their respective areas, but the direction of the show was for them to determine.

Director and senior theatre performance major Trevor Baty felt this process was truly something he and his peers were able to make their own.

“The faculty have been quite freeing and supportive,” Baty said. “At all times I felt [they] were doing

[their]

best to support the story I was trying to tell and the vision I had. We built a story together.”

That story is mostly told through the dialogue of freshman Emma O’Mahoney, who plays Henrietta. It is O’Mahoney’s first Bradley production, and she believes the story of perseverance and determination will resonate with audiences, especially Bradley students.

“I hope [audiences] come away [from the show] with what wonder and passion can do for a person,” O’Mahoney said. “[Henrietta] is a very passionate woman who insists on stuff beyond herself. She insists on a greater world.”

Set in the 20th century, the world of this period piece is created through a constant interweaving of elements, including the lighting designs of senior theatre arts and advertising double major Zavier Simmons. She believes being a lead designer on “Silent Sky” has taught her the most out of her four years at Bradley.

“With this process, we all got to learn and grow together,” Simmons said. “I didn’t really think I’d be here when I was a freshman. I started off as a [spotlight operator] and I didn’t think that would go anywhere, but here I am designing.”

Being fully immersed in this three-month journey from idea conception to opening night is an out-of-classroom experience many undergraduates are not fortunate enough to have.

“It’s really cool and I feel like a lot of people don’t get that experience – to be student designers,” Simmons said. “We do get these great opportunities.”

Though the task of effectively collaborating with a group of students who each have the freedom to make their own artistic choices might sound daunting, junior theatre arts major Stephanie Begalke believes she and her peers were given a worthwhile opportunity.

“[This experience] felt empowering,” Begalke, the hair and makeup designer, said. “To look around the table in our production meetings and see most of us students in the design chairs feels like our efforts are getting noticed. We are doing the work and really getting credit for it.”

Much of that work is original and opened up the team to new challenges. Sophomore theatre production major Cierra Conrad tackled many of these as the sound designer for “Silent Sky.” Much of what audiences will hear are her original compositions.

“I had to learn how to compose myself. I have never done that before,” Conrad said. “It has for sure become my best out-of-classroom Bradley experience. And in the end I felt far more a part of the production than ever before.”

The student led team has devoted countless hours, revisions and passion into this three-month process. As of opening night, the show is no longer in their hands.  

“I don’t have any control over who likes the show and who doesn’t, but I know at the end of the day that I am extremely proud of the product we’ve created,” Baty said. “And I say we because it isn’t just me … Everyone stepped up to the plate.”

This massive collaborative effort is a testament to the Bradley theatre department’s goal to not merely teach aspiring theatre artists, but to train them in their disciplines both on and off stage and provide students an immersive education that goes beyond the classroom.

Performances of “Silent Sky” are currently running until March 10 at the Hartmann Center. Tickets can be purchased in person, online, or by calling the Box Office and are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $8 for students.

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