This show runs approximately 2 hours, including one intermission.
THE HOUSE OPENS 45 MINUTES BEFORE CURTAIN. You may want to arrive early to enjoy the exhibit in our art gallery with refreshments ranging from coffee and cookies to beer and wine.
POST-SHOW DISCUSSION: Join the company of These Shining Lives for a post-show discussion following the Sunday matinee on January 27.
AUDIO-DESCRIPTION: The Sunday, February 3rd performance will be audio-described, based on reservations. Click here for a description of this and other access services at TRP.
About the Show
(company members are listed at the bottom, following the interview with the director)
For those young women stepping into the new-found freedoms of the 1920s, it must have seemed like they’d hit the jackpot. Beyond their newly-won voting rights, bobbed hair, free-moving fashions, and the thrilling vibe of Chicago life, the women employees of the Radium Dial Company were gainfully employed; earning 8¢ a dial for applying luminescent paint onto one watch face after another. For awhile, they thought they had it all.
Then they started getting sick.
Based on the true story of the Radium Dial Company employees and their courageous battle to stand up for their lives, These Shining Lives reaches into history to expose the friendships, betrayals, courageous tenacity, and ultimate victory of speaking truth to power. Director Linda S. Paulsen returns to the arena to direct this powerful and moving play.
Interview with the Director
Q: The play is based on history related to the women who became ill with radium poisoning from working at the Radium Dial watch company in Chicago in the 1920s. How much did you know about the play, or the story, going into this project?
PAULSEN: I was not aware of this story until I saw a friend’s post on FB about the book The Radium Girls. Around that same time another FB friend was lamenting the lack of roles for young women in the Twin Cities theatre scene. Wondering if there was a play based on this book, I found two plays based on this book: The Radium Girls by D.W. Gregory, and These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich.
Q: How do you contrast the two plays?
PAULSEN: I read The Radium Girls first. It was a good script but I felt relied too much on the physical impact on these women. As hard as it was to read the book, it was equally hard to read that play. Hoping for yet another script out there based on this story, I found These Shining Lives. I was personally drawn to the lyrical nature of this depiction of what these women went through.
Q: While this show is based on history, it is quite fluid in its telling. Talk about how the scenes unfold and flow together, and how that enriches, and challenges, the staging.
PAULSEN: I describe this as a memory play, moving seamlessly from reality to dream to memory and back again. The challenge then is to take your audience with you. To give the audience permission to feel and experience what these women were going through, whether we move through several years in the 1920s without a single costume change or we stay with the women as they walk out of a kitchen and onto the beach of Lake Michigan. We trust that these women will tell their story, sometimes directly to the audience and sometimes in the shadow of the factory where they worked.
Q: There are a number of great roles for young women in this play; and that’s an anomaly in the theater world in general, where young actresses are generally vying for only 1 or 2 available roles per show. Talk about that.
PAULSEN: Melanie Marnich’s script calls for four women, in their 20s, playing nine different roles. Because the four main roles are so demanding, I decided to add two more women in their 20s to play the other roles in this play. This a true story and these were real women. Using their real names, the playwright has written these roles to be normal, hardworking, and, as it turns out, brave young women. Young women who happened to grow up in the 1920s. Young women who just got the right to vote, and were in the top 5% of wage-earning women of that time. Life was promising. And then it wasn’t. For an actor playing a real person, I believe they need three things – knowledge of the era this person lived in, knowledge of who this person was in life and a respectful and well-written script. You can Google what real life was like in the 1920s and 30s, and there is much written about these women from first-hand accounts to family and friends remembrances. Add this particular script and the actor has all the tools she needs to begin the process.
Q: How are you working with your (mostly) very young cast to help them understand their characters in the context of the 1920s?
PAULSEN: I anticipated having to do a “class” on style and etiquette of the time. But I found that as we rehearsed the scenes on the beach, for instance, it became part of the conversation. Why was it shocking to see women “showing too much leg” or drinking alcohol in public? But then the published accusations and rumors during their trial, friends and family turning against them for holding the main employer of this Chicago suburb accountable, seemed all too relevant. People took sides. Is it any different today? Sadly, no.
Q: The play’s central character, Catherine, has a very loving, and tender, relationship with her husband, Tom. How are you and your actors working in the rehearsal process to create a convincing relationship? How do you create or coach actors to present intimacy in a way that is convincing, while respectful, and safe for all concerned?
PAULSEN: #MeToo has the portrayal of relationships on stage and how we get there, in the forefront of theaters. Even the Guthrie has hired an Intimacy Coach. As a young actor, I was never “coached” while rehearsing an intimate scene or advised as to what my options were if I felt uncomfortable. As a Director, though, I believe that if the actors are secure and comfortable then it will translate to the audience. And getting there is the key – constant communication, awareness of your actors, clarity of direction in the intent of the scene and choreographing every step. You would never send two actors out to sword fight without coaching. It is no different with scenes more intimate. And it helps that your actors have a chemistry that grounds these moments!
Q: Who is the villain in this play? Is there a villain?
PAULSEN: It is easy to say that the company is the villain. The company is represented by manager Rufus Reed, and Reed is certainly is not a one-dimensional character. And this is emblematic of the answer to your question. Is it this company, or the economics of the time? Is it greed or is it ignorance of the facts that the scientific community was trying to shed light on? Sound familiar? So these women decided to fight their employer. They could not know that their efforts and bravery would affect so much more.
Q: Let’s talk about the technical elements of the show a bit. How are the set, lighting and costumes supporting the staging? How are you leveraging the arena’s distinctive amenities to enhance this production?
PAULSEN: Setting the right environment is as important as casting the right actor. But much of it is a leap of faith. You hope that that actor, who was great at auditions, continues to grow. You hope that your initial vision of the play (after reading it 1000 times!) translates to your designer, with a vision of their own(!), and THEN, hoping that your collaborative visions hold up as rehearsals progress with those same actors bringing an additional dimension that you could not have envisioned way back when you cast them…I’m sorry, what was the question? Seriously, the first image the audience sees will, hopefully, give them a sense of the wonder and beauty in an ordinary life. After that we have to lead them through many locations, time periods and emotional states. To support this brief play, we give the audience just enough to let them know where we are. The minimal set and props support the actors and still allow them to move seamlessly from one location to another with the turn of a page. The evocative sound and light designs lead the audience’s understanding of what these women are experiencing. The play moves quickly and many of the women are on stage much of the time. It was decided that, with no time to change clothes, we would keep the women in their 1920s look for all of Act One and then change to the look of the late 1930s for Act Two. This is their memory.
Q: According to the script, one of the actual symptoms of the women’s poisoning was their glowing hands. How are you going to depict this?
PAULSEN: “and they were shining” as Catherine says. How would you portray this? Come see this play and find out!
Q: In addition to the standard lights, sets, costumes and props, you’re adding some design elements to your production. Talk about the role of music in this show.
PAULSEN: The pre-show music, recorded and live, informs us of the times they are living in. The gaiety of that era is in contrast to the impact on these women’s lives. There is a secondary theme that plays throughout the piece that speaks to the importance of love and support. The music in this play should bridge events not try to lead the audience in how to feel.
Catherine Donohue: Autumn Sisson
Frances O’Connoll: Gillian Mueller
Charlotte Purcell: Gretchen Nelson
Pearl Payne: Shiloh Zoccoli
Woman #1 / Reporter #1: Ashley Nicole Stevens
Woman #2 / Reporter #2: Claire Avery
Tom Donohue: Austin Lewis
Mr. Reed: Scott Horvik
Dr. Rowntree, Radio Announcer, Judge, Company Doctor: Howard Held
Dr. Dalitsch: Paul Brissett
Leonard Grossman: L. Robert Westeen
Singer: Helena Daye
ARTISTIC & PRODUCTION STAFF
Director: Linda S. Paulsen
Set Designers: Abbie Krohn, Sadie Ward
Costume Designer: Mickey Foley
Lighting Designer: Mark Kieffer
Prop Designers: Abbie Krohn, Sadie Ward
Sound Designer: Stephanie Melisande Hipple
Musical Arrangement: Donald Sweet
Stage Manager: Samuel Joseph