Lancer Spotlight 10/26/21: Radium Girls lights up the stage

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Audrey Kilgore

Julia Hersch (playing Arthur Roeder) and Joseph Looper (playing Dr. Von Sochocky) taking center stage while performing a scene from the first act of Radium Girls.

by Audrey Kilgore, Editor

In 1898, radium was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie. Soon, the luminescent substance became known for its green glow and miraculous “health benefits,” like curing cancer, consumption and tuberculosis.

Who would not want to paint their lives with radium if it were rumored to be such a magical substance?

Radium Girls follows the story of women working with radium to paint glowing numbers on tiny watch faces in a factory. One by one, they fall ill with a mysterious disease, and the factory owners cover it all up. The drama department is producing the play on November 11, 12, and 13.

That beautiful green glow did not serve any healing purposes. In fact, it was a result of radium’s harmful radioactivity. The leading characters of the play Radium Girls take it upon themselves to expose the true effects and to get justice for the women whose lives were destroyed by these factory jobs.  The story is historically accurate, which makes the play all the more compelling.

A flyer for Linganore Drama’s production of Radium Girls with all of the show premier details. (Audrey Kilgore)

The drama department is making impressive progress in rehearsals as the director, cast and crew explore creative options that will distinguish their production, despite the possible Covid challenges and conditions.

Drama teacher Angela Smithhisler said the creative team and actors are looking forward to getting back to acting without masks.

“The best day ever was when we found out that masks could be removed now for our performances,” said Smithhisler. “We are so excited to be able to bring back the element of facial expression on stage!”

Some of the characters suffer horrific symptoms and physical changes, which might be a challenge to show on stage. Malia Smaha, a junior starring as Irene Rudolph/Miss Wiley in the production, is confident that the plan the cast and crew are creating will impress audience members.

“We definitely have a few tricks up our sleeves,” Smaha said. “You’ll just have to come see the show to find out.”

The creative team’s approach to one of the most engaging aspects of the show – the glow-in-the-dark “radium” – is still a mystery until the curtain rises. The plan for showing a radioactive glow during the performances is the result of collaboration between the director, cast members, and the tech crew.

…I feel like I’m telling a narrative that needs to be heard, and creating further justice for these girls years after this horrible event.”

— Mary Bailey

Smaha said, “We had to be creative with it since we’ll be putting it in our mouths, but as Smitty always says, ‘It’s Disney Magic.'”

Leading actress Mary Bailey, who plays Grace Fryer, said, “We’ve been rehearsing almost every day since the middle of September and have been progressing well over the past month and a half. With only being able to run the same scenes a couple days out of the whole rehearsal schedule, we’ve been in a time crunch per se, but working with such incredible actors has made the whole process go so smoothly.”

Smithhisler is proudest of how her veteran drama students are taking charge as mentors to the newest members of the cast and crew.

“I’ve had veteran actors coaching the newbies, and I’ve had veteran techies mentoring those who’ve never handled a drill before,” said Smithhisler. “And it makes me proud that they are able to step up and lead others.”

The linked QR code to Linganore High’s Radium Girls ticket purchasing site. (Audrey Kilgore)

The story behind the play is tragic and moving, making it one of the more difficult performances to date.

Smithhisler said, “I’m just so proud of each and every one of my actors for pulling through and bringing such a serious and heavy story to life on our stage.”

“The Radium Girls are not talked about enough when it comes to the hardships that adolescents went through in factories in the early 1900’s,” said Bailey. “I would have to say that this process has been so enjoyable because I feel like I’m telling a narrative that needs to be heard, and creating further justice for these girls years after this horrible event.”

Linganore’s Radium Girls hits the stage this November 2021. Tickets are available now for the shows on November 11, 12 and 13.