A Play About Turn-of-the-Century Female Astronomers Feels Timely at WaterTower
Anastasia Munoz plays a Harvard astronomer in Silent Sky, the true story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who made major advances in her field but wasn’t even allowed to touch a telescope in the time in which she lived (1868-1921).
courtesy WaterTower Theatre
The regional premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky opened this month at WaterTower Theatre. The play is full of badass lady drama, or rather, “badass lady astronomers,” to quote the star of the play, Anastasia Munoz.
Silent Sky is the true story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a turn of the century astronomer who made an important discovery about stars that changed the way we study space and allowed astronomers to measure the distance between the Earth and other galaxies.
Munoz had never heard of Leavitt before the play, nor had she heard of any of the other Harvard women who accompanied Leavitt in her studies. They were not allowed to use the equipment or even touch a telescope. Their job was to chart the stars as “computers.”
Munoz says Leavitt — who cashed in her dowry to attend Harvard with the support of her preacher father — was steadfast and ignored the fact that she was not treated as the equal of her male peers.
“She was phenomenal,” Munoz says. “She was so scientifically minded that she didn’t even recognize there were things she wasn’t allowed to do, like touch a telescope.”
The show is a cast of five; four of them women. Munoz, who is half Hispanic, says she personally connected with Leavitt’s attitude because of her heritage.
“I’ve always done what I wanted,” she says. “I’m so driven, I don’t know that it’s ever registered with me if I’ve been discriminated against as a woman or a Hispanic person.”
And like her character, evidence of Munoz’s ambition is easy to find.
She’s behind the restoration of the Winnetka Church in Oak Cliff, soon to be rebranded as Arts Mission Oak Cliff. In fact, as we discuss the play over the phone, Munoz is moving her belongings into the old church. She will live there as the dilapidated building is transformed into a co-op arts center and working space.
The building will function like a coworking space, similar to The Common Desk in Deep Ellum. But the Arts Mission will feature studios for dance and painting, as well as rehearsal and performance space for theater. Munoz’s ultimate goal is to provide a one-stop shop for artists, teachers and students.
Munoz works closely with her investors Lola and Todd Lott, the brains behind Charlie Uniform Tango, a post-production boutique; she says they’ve been more involved than anyone could expect or hope investors to be.
“As long as we’re talking about amazing, strong women, Lola Lott is one of my personal heroes. She’s so involved in the arts. She believes in people and their dreams.”
Munoz says the timing of the Silent Sky production at WaterTower — a play about women, written by a woman and directed by a woman (Kelsey Leigh Ervi), featuring a nearly all-woman cast — feels very apropos to the election of a new president who has sparked lots of debate about women and their rights. The play is set in 1900-1920, but Munoz says it doesn’t feel that far away.
“One of the characters, who went on to be a suffragette, has this great line: ‘It’s about equality and it’s about time,’” Munoz says.
The audience erupted into cheers and applause when it was delivered for the first time. It was pretty badass.
Silent Sky will run through Feb. 12 on the Canterbury Family Main Stage at the Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Tickets are $27 to $30 at watertowertheatre.org.
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