‘These Shining Lives’ sheds light on an emotional story of empowerment

The actors — (from left to right) Senior Ethan Williams, senior Phillip Salisbury, senior Da Vinci Calcara, senior Gio Cepeda, sophomore Matthew Gutzwiller, senior Amy Keca, senior Olivia Antoniolli, senior Carson Bierman, junior Akshara Gunda, sophomore Brendon Keller, junior Alaina Hyland and senior Morgan Merrell — begin their performance of These Shining Lives. “Not many people are aware of this story, so bringing this event to people was special to me,” Salisbury said. Photo courtesy of East Theatre.

The chatter of the crowd dies as the lights dim. The actors anxiously await their cues. One can feel the tension in the air as the spotlight fixates on one girl, Catherine, as she begins her opening monologue. These Shining Lives tells her story. After months of preparation and hard work, her final moments come to life. East Theatre presented the play These Shining Lives last week from October 24th to the 26th.

These Shining Lives tells the true story of four working women in Illinois in the 1920s and their battle for workers’ rights. And just as Catherine tells, what seems like a fairytale at first certainly ends in tragedy.

Junior Akshara Gunda, actress of Pearl, one of the main four Radium girls, said every part of the performance was enjoyed by the audience and, in turn, this made every show more exciting for the performers.

“I think the cast and the crew put on an amazing show for the audience and for themselves. We felt super confident after every show and never left feeling upset or down,” Gunda said.

According to director and theater teacher Nicole Chandler, seeing this play on stage again was a very fulfilling experience, as it was the show she used for her thesis project three years ago. She said that after sitting with this show for so long, it was hardly a challenge for her.

“It’s always just been in my imagination and brain, so to have it physicalized was really cool … It’s one of those things where you’ve been working so hard on something and to have it come to fruition is really a moment,” Chandler said.

Her own experience made none of this play a surprise to Chandler, but for the audience it was a different story. After so much preparation and learning from start to end, the cast got to show the emotion and surprise and heartache this show evokes. According to Chandler, by the end of the performance, there were plenty of shocked gasped and teary eyes.

“It was nice to have a live crowd that were vocal and reacting and just the energy that a live audience brings inserts a new energy into the show, so it was nice to see the actors have that for themselves,” Chandler said.

“It was nice to have a live crowd that were vocal and reacting and just the energy that a live audience brings inserts a new energy into the show, so it was nice to see the actors have that for themselves.”

— Director Nicole Chandler

The cast of These Shining Lives takes its final bow at the Friday night performance of the show. “Having Catherine be a real person made me appreciate her story and care especially about telling it with meaning,” senior Olivia Antoniolli said. Photo by Genevieve Hankins.

The hard work put in by cast, crew, and director is evident throughout the show, from the set to the lighting. However, many of the major actors felt a lot of pressure about their lines. With a smaller cast came higher pressure, although one could never guess this from the audience. Senior Olivia Antoniolli, the actress of Catherine, said she believed this was the most challenging part of the entire show for her.

“I had a heavy line responsibly in this show, so it was important that I put in the work outside of rehearsal,” Antoniolli said.

For senior Phillip Salisbury, this was one of the larger roles he has portrayed as an actor. However, he said with some direction it wasn’t as intimidating.

“I approached this role like I would any other, but I focused very closely on what the director would criticize and would do my absolute best to try and achieve their vision of the character,” Salisbury said. “I always had a problem with the final monologue in seeming angry and portraying this anger that Tom is supposed to feel during the show, but thanks to the rest of the cast’s suggestions along with our directors, I feel as though I got the desired effect.”

Chandler said she also felt that it was, at times, challenging for the actors to fully relate to their characters.

“It’s been a while since we’ve done a dramatic piece … so getting to that place emotionally is difficult, especially when you’re playing people who are older and who have life experiences that are hard for a 16 or 18-year-old to relate to,” Chandler said.

It wasn’t only the actors who had their fair share of struggles. Many new freshmen were learning just how things work behind the scenes. Freshman Jack Ludolph said he originally had his doubts about set-building but was able to overcome his original apprehension through perseverance and an open mind. Because of this, he said he was able to help create beautiful art and set pieces that he originally didn’t have the confidence for.

“My favorite part was the herringbone because it was an incredibly challenging prop to paint but the paint crew felt so accomplished afterward … We had to individually paint about 200 2D bricks and there was no room for error,” Ludolph said. “I learned that the comfort zone is the worst place to be and that an amazing show truly takes a team.”

Despite the difficulties of lines, props and characterization, Antoniolli said that every performance was a success.

“The performances were all very good and consistent. Each night was well-executed and I’m so proud of our team for working together and creating a great show,” Antoniolli said.

After all three shows came to an end and and cheering ended, the Performing Arts Center is left with an empty set and vacant seats. Just like the mortality of the characters, the show can only survive so long before being put to rest. Together, they close the door on the performance they created.

“We always, on Saturday, after our final performance, we take down the set, we kind of stare at the empty stage that once had all of our stuff and we do a final family moment with everyone. We take a moment to reflect on what we’ve created and what was in our space. The beauty and the tragedy of theatre is that it only exists for a certain amount of time, never to be recreated and that’s bittersweet,” Chandler said.

By the time the curtains fell for the last time on this fall’s production, Antoniolli left the stage with more than just a memory of the performance itself.

“I feel incredibly proud of telling such a great story with the cast and crew of this show,” Antoniolli added. “Most importantly, I’ve learned more about courage and fighting for what you believe in,” Antoniolli added.

East Theatre will present the Samuel French-produced The Secret Garden this winter.

Genevieve Hankins is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

Leave a Reply