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Catawba College Offers Illuminating Production of “Radium Girls”

October 18, 2016

Category: Academics, Events, Students, Theatre Arts


 L-R: Sarah Grace Cuthbert, Krissey Browder,
and Carissa Cash.

Catawba College’s freshmen class in Theatre Arts will be putting on a production of “Radium Girls” by playwright D.W. Gregory. The show, to be staged in Hedrick Little Theatre, opens on Tuesday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m. Additional 7:30 p.m. performances will be offered on Oct. 26th and 27th, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee offered on Sunday, Oct. 30th. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students, and free for Catawba students and faculty members.

“Radium Girls” is about a young woman named Grace Fryer, who works as a dial-painter to support her family during the aftermath of the Great Depression. Grace loves her job, but begins to notice her fellow employees falling ill. When she, too, becomes sick, Grace turns her attention to the company, believing it to be their fault. Everything comes to a head when the company is taken to court. There, Arthur Roeder, the president of the U.S. Radium Corporation, refuses to believe that his company is responsible for the mysterious illnesses of his former employees. Based on a true story, “Radium Girls” explores Grace’s perseverance through her trial and her illness.

The director, Dr. Bradley Stephenson, an assistant professor of Theatre Arts, sees this as a hopeful story in a time filled with commercialization, greed, and exploitation. “If we only look at the events, the lives lost, the corruption and mistakes, then the play can lose its spark, its light…” he says. “...every character, despite how flawed, hopes for something better — hope for love, for prosperity, for life.”

With all this being said, it is easy to see this play as a straight “message play,” with two extremes being played opposite to one another. However, Dr. Stephenson says he doesn’t wish for this to be the case: “I don’t want this to become a play where corporations are bad and the Radium Girls are poor, innocent victims. It’s much more complex than that.” Instead of bashing capitalism, or focusing on victimhood, he has chosen to focus on the heart of the story where life intersects in the past and the present.

To achieve this effect, Dr. Stephenson has been working with multiple faculty members across the Catawba campus. By merging the many departments the college has to offer, both the director and cast members are able to get multiple perspectives on the same story. “One of our goals is to help the audience get a taste of that variety in perspective — to see the many truths being depicted on stage as well as within their historical framework.” Dr. Stephenson wants this production of “Radium Girls” to challenge the audience to think about the roles they play in society.

This production, in spite of its challenges, has proven rewarding through its collaborative process. It is part of what is known as a “First-Year Showcase” where the freshman have been cast and are working on the set, costumes, props, and lighting for the show. Together, they went through the brainstorming and designing processes to truly make this show their own.

One freshman, Kelly Sandoval, shares, “I’ve learned a lot about how professional designers present and collaborate on technical ideas for a production.” When asked if she felt that understanding the technical aspects of the show would enhance her performance, she says, “Being aware of what's going on around you can be one of the greatest tools you need as a performer, it’s important to go through the technical learning process.”

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