‘Silent Sky’: Playwright Lauren Gunderson Connects Women Pioneers Through Performance And Panel

On a perfect rainy afternoon a sold out crowd gathered at Theatre Works Silicon Valley for a  panel and penultimate performance of  Silent Sky. The space was packed with eager and inquisitive  women who came to hear stories of accomplished presenters and see  Silent Sky,  the story of  Henrietta Leavitt’s life and landmark astronomical discovery.

The panelists

The panelists

 

Lauren Gunderson with Randi Zuckerberg

Lauren Gunderson with Randi Zuckerberg

The afternoon began with an incredibly talented group of women who offered the audience an  exclusive look into the challenges of success. Dr. Natalie Batalha, a research astronomer at NASA  spoke of the challenges of being a mother and astronomer. She bravely confronted the work-life  balance myth by announcing the difficulties of being judged as a parent. She defiantly suggested  that all women should hold their ground as mothers and not give in to a corporate culture that  may rob them of the right to parent and be successful at work. She said this while presumably having her  boss in audience.

Ann Bowers, first director of Intel and former VP of Human Resources at Apple suggested that  support was key to success. She spoke of early guidance and encouragement from her mother that  led her to believe she could do anything. The unwavering support was echoed by her husband while at Intel. Her insightful talk pointed to the possibility that few girls enter  STEM fields because they lack encouragement rather than intelligence. It's obvious reassurance is critical to success.

Mira Veda, Ann Bowers and Lauren Gunderson

Mira Veda, Ann Bowers and Lauren Gunderson

Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media, was the last of the speakers and offered a  vibrant youthful viewpoint. Her sometimes self-deprecating, humorous approach to telling  stories made her entertaining and fun to listen to. She spoke of joining Facebook in 2005 and  throwing herself into situations she was never quite sure of. Uncertainty coupled with fearless  desire to learn seemed to be the key to discovery of her success.

Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson

After the panel, playwright Lauren Gunderson introduced her play.   Silent Sky is based on  the life and work of Henrietta Leavitt and the drama takes audiences behind the doors of her  scientific research at Harvard Observatory. Based on actual events, Leavitt’s landmark discovery  of the Cepheid period-luminosity relationship unfolds on stage as she toils to understand the  Cepheids. We see the absorption and single mindedness of a scientist aching to solve a puzzle.  We are drawn into the challenges she faces being a woman in a male dominated field -- objections  a woman might still feel in today’s world. Gunderson takes meticulous care to highlight Leavitt’s work as integral to the science of astronomy.   After all, Leavitt paved the way for well  known astronomers like Hubble to make calculations and calibrations between galactic speed and  distance therefore creating ‘standards’ and laws based on Leavitt’s work. Although Leavitt has not been given enough of the accolades and credit she deserves for such an important discovery, Gunderson's play gives her life's work a prize she may never have anticipated.