KHT’s Silent Sky tells little-known story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt

The cast of Silent Sky, front from left, Mandi Thompson, Shilah Tibbets. Back from left: Nathalie Reid-Holbrook, Julianna Gibbons and Rain Holland. 

Keizer Homegrown Theatre reaches for the stars when it presents Silent Sky, opening Friday, April 12, for a nine-show run.

Written by Lauren Gunderson, the play tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a 19th-century astronomer.

Based on a true story, Leavitt explores a woman’s place in society during a time of important scientific discoveries, including recording the changes in Cepheid stars—a scientific discovery that has profound and lasting impact on the field of astronomy.

Loriann Schmidt, a frequent director for Keizer Homegrown, helms the play with a cast of five, many of whom have appeared in previous shows. Schmidt had dreams of becoming an astrophysicist. As one of nine women in total on the college campus, she felt she had to perform better than her peers. She left the program, disillusioned, and ended up in computer science and teaching.

“So many of our past scientific discoveries have been made by women who were largely cut out of any recognition,” said the director. “Lauren Gunderson and her historical re-imagining of Henrietta’s story felt like I was coming into my own past and reflecting on what could have been.”

“It is important for us to be reminded about the huge contributions many women have provided the scientific community,” said Schmidt. “Henrietta’s character, while a historical person, is fictionally represented by playwright Lauren Gunderson, with a realism and truth that speaks to a wide range of audiences. One of the things I really appreciate about the story is that while it is not completely historically accurate, it is an excellent reimagining of the story in a way that is engaging and provides the overall message of the story.”

The play’s design is by Nathaniel Pierce. The set includes an observatory with an accurately scaled-down version of the telescope, the set is merely suggestive of the observatory, Henrietta’s apartment, the farmhouse where she grew up, an ocean liner dock and other locales.

Shilah Tibbets plays Henrietta Leavitt. She said of the character, “Henrietta is a deeply curious human who cares about the natural world and is passionate about scientific discovery, which are all things I enthusiastically relate to.” Tibbets continued that what led her to feel a connection to the 

character is that she has intense questions and she wants to know what ‘the point’ is. “She wants answers about the universe and our place in it. She demands, ‘Who are we? Why are we? Where are we?’ 

Tibbets is especially taken with the timelessness of the story. “It is unfortunately true that the struggles and limitations Henrietta faced as a woman in a scientific field still plague areas of academia and STEM to this day. Seeing her story makes it possible to imagine being a minority in a field dominated by others and to still excel through insistence and persistence, and to thereby change the world.” 

Though unaccustomed to appearing in leading roles, Tibbets spent as much time as she could musing about stars, and souls and existence. “I thought about all the people I love who I wish could see this story, and it reminded me how deeply I care about telling it. I believe in storytelling. I want that to be my purpose. I love this story. Sincere love for this story is perhaps the best preparation I’ve managed,” Tibbets added. 

The cast is rounded out by Keizer Homegrown company members Mandi Thompson, Rain Holland and Julianna Gibbons. A newcomer to KHT is Nathalie Reid-Holbrook, a new resident of the mid-Willamette Valley, who has appeared in other shows in the region. 

Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, (April 12 through April 27) and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays (April 14, 21 and 28). 

The 2024 Keizer Homegrown Theatre season is being underwritten by the Erik and Laura Davis Fund. R. Bauer Insurance is the sponsor of Silent Sky. 

Tickets are $15 and are available at Admission is free for those with an Oregon Trail card. 

Keizer Homegrown Theatre is located on the second floor of the Keizer Cultural Center, 980 Chemawa Rd. NE. A lift is available for those unable to navigate stairs. 

Shilah Tibbetts plays Henrietta Leavitt 
The cast of Silent Sky in a scene. 

Contact Publisher Lyndon Zaitz:
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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