Seema Sueko Directs Silent Sky at Ford’s Theatre

2 min read

I grew up on The Hawaiian Islands. From a young age, I learned about Polynesians looking to the stars to navigate the oceans. Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, noted in 1897, “The ancient Hawaiians were astronomers.” This legacy is lesser known to most Americans.

Similarly, the central character of Lauren Gunderson’s wondrous play Silent Sky is a woman whose impact on the field of astronomy is also lesser known, albeit no less remarkable. 

The play is a beautiful piece of theatre. A feminist, historical fiction told sweetly and wondrously. We will tell that story and, in telling that story, we will surface the risk. The idea of Risking Heaven to Find Heaven— that is at the heart of Silent Sky.

Seema Sueko takes a selfie with +40 cast, designers and Ford's Theatre staff
Silent Sky director Seema Sueko takes a selfie with the Ford’s Theatre cast, designers and staff.

We meet two sisters and daughters of a Congregational minister. One who looks up for Heaven’s pearly gates; the other who looks up to map the stars. They have polarized views. Religion and Science. Our nation continues to be divided this way, and yet here is a story of sisters who never lose their sisterhood despite their differing views. 

But the risk is real.

The risk is real for all of our characters:

Sisterhood is risked

Relationships are risked

Jobs are risked

Health is risked

Heaven is risked

Three women wearing collared Victorian blouses and high-waisted skirts stand together. The woman in the middle is holding a photographic plate on which an image of stars in the sky is shown.
Holly Twyford as Williamina Fleming, Laura C. Harris as Henrietta Leavitt and Nora Achrati as Annie Jump Cannon for the upcoming production of Silent Sky at Ford’s Theatre. Photo by Scott Suchman.

We are living in a time when the sciences are questioned. This play beautifully embraces the sciences and personalizes it for us. Henrietta Swan Leavitt and the other Harvard Computers looked at tiny dots on pieces of glass. Hundreds of thousands of tiny dots and through that tedious, solitary, detailed work they forever changed our understanding of the universe. One tiny dot, varying in its luminosity, can change everything.

Ford’s Theatre, a National Historic Site focused on the legacy of a great American, President Abraham Lincoln, is the perfect place to tell this inspiring story of the legacy of another great American, Henrietta Swan Leavitt.

I hope you will join us!

Seema Sueko is director of Silent Sky (January 24-February 23, 2020). She is deputy artistic director at Arena Stage. Follow her on Twitter at @Seemasue.

Seema Sueko is director of Silent Sky (January 24-February 23, 2020).

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