Historical drama to premiere today

Katie Daniels

The Theatre & Dance Department will perform a play Thursday night called “These Shining Lives”. The play follows historical events which highlight strong female characters and morality in the workplace.

The historical drama was written by Melanie Marnich, and is a dramatization of the true story of the “radium girls” – women who worked for Radium Dial Co., painting watch faces with self-illuminating paint in Ottawa, Illinois.

The play follows the life of four women, including Catherine Donohue, who is hired by the company when she is 19. The company uses radium to paint numbers onto watch faces but fails to warn the workers about the potential dangers of the material. When they begin to get sick from radiation poisoning, they are fired from the company – and warned not to make a fuss. Catherine and her friends refuse to die quietly, though, and choose to fight to make a difference instead.

Assistant professor of theatre and dance Michelle Dvoskin, chose the play because of the timeless nature of the events it records.

“The incident is historical,” Dvoskin said. “I think the things it asks us to think about are very timely – the value of human life, the relationship between corporations and their workers – things like that still feel very relevant.”

Two dramaturges, people who research and edit texts for theatre productions, worked behind the scenes to ensure the historical accuracy of the show. All the characters in the play are based on real people, and senior Kaitlyn Bacchus spent her summer researching the historical figures. “The thing I love more about the play is that it is so empowering to women. The main characters are women, and all of the behind-the-scenes people are women. I’ve come to see it as a play about powerful women, by powerful women,” Bacchus said.

The show has only two male actors, both in supporting roles. Somerset senior Mason Stevens plays Rufus Reed, the manager at Radium Dial Co. He said while his character may be having doubts about the radium poisoning, he ultimately does what is best for the company, including denying that there’s anything dangerous in the radium paint and firing the women for poor performance.

Sophomore Arielle Conrad plays Francis, one of Catherine’s co-workers at the factory. She is described as the moral backbone of the group, although it can be a flexible one. For Conrad, the play is important because “these women deserve to have their stories told.”

“We can all make a difference. At the very beginning of the play Catherine says, ‘We were just girls who wanted to work – ordinary girls.’ And that line ‘ordinary girls’ has been a touchstone for us all through the play. It’s not like these are superheroes – they were ordinary people who found themselves in the worst imaginable circumstances and decided to try and leave something behind to try and make the world a little bit better,” Dvoskin said.

The production opens Thursday night at the Russell H. Miller Theatre, located on the second floor of the Fine Arts Center. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. It runs from Sept. 21-26, and performs every night at 8 p.m., except the Sunday performance which will be at 3 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the box office website at wku.showare.com.

Reporter Katie Daniels can be reached at [email protected] or through Twitter at @authorkatielynn.