The show must go on.
It’s the primo rule in the entertainment biz, this reporter’s personal favorite Queen song, and the guiding philosophy of the current Bainbridge High School theater season.
With both the 100 Building and the campus’ main stage but a memory, the now-traveling troupe of student thespians have had to switch venues, to Woodward Middle School, to stage their imminent production of “Radium Girls.”
Nevertheless, stage it they shall.
Because despite the trials of moving a previously well-established operation — working with new lights, new stage dimensions, moving props, transporting the cast and crew and a million other little things — excitement about this show remains break-the-Geiger-counter high among students, said BHS Theatre Director D’Arcy Clements.
“They were feeling this,” she said. “The kids are the ones that brought it to me. They were like, ‘Can we do that? Is that a thing?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, if you really want to do it.’”
Not a light question, that; incandescent as the titular leading ladies may be.
The play is based on the book “The Radium Girls: The Dark
Story of America’s Shining Women,” and also written by its author, Kate Moore. It’s a terrifying, timely and true story.
Pierre and Marie Curie’s newly discovered element of radium is making all-caps headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty care and the wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the first World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe — they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these so-called “shining girls” are seen as the luckiest around, until they begin to fall mysteriously ill and the factories that once offered golden opportunities ignore all their claims about the miracle substance’s gruesome side effects (and their cries of corporate corruption).
As the fatal poison takes hold and claims lives, the brave “shining girls” find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that echoes loudly, and rings more true than ever, even today.
The story’s appeal for the theater students, Clements said, was multifaceted.
“I think the story just kind of spoke to them,” she said. “It’s heavily female-led, which is exciting for them because many of them [often] end up playing cross-gender roles just because of that [scarcity]. And they don’t mind, but it’s nice having a lot of female leads in it.
“It’s about these women — it was like the whole #MeToo era — and they were feeling helpless and yet they found a way to become empowered,” she added. “That was something that was really exciting to them. Many of them had read the book and so they were super excited because they’d read the book and loved it.”
So much so, in fact, that a few new faces showed up, inspired by the subject matter.
“We had a lot of people come out that haven’t done it before, or it’s been a while since they’ve done it,” the director said. “There was one person in particular who was like, ‘I love this book and I want to be a part of it and I don’t care what part I play I just want to do it.’”
The cast consists of 13 actors playing 36 different parts, and snappy back-and-forth dialogue quite different from the usual high school-type fare.
“The dialogue moves fast [and] it’s not like monologue and then monologue,” Clements said. “It’s been a lot, in a short period of time, for them to take in and memorize.”
But the work has been worth it, according to several upperclassmen leads.
Audrey Nelson, a junior, said she was actually not familiar with the book and was “shocked” when she learned the story was true.
“I think it’s the parallels with today,” Audrey said, when asked what interested her the most. “I think the parallels with the #MeToo movement are what really got me, the women fighting back against being oppressed and the women fighting back against these men trying to oppress them, and just the power of big companies against the individual and standing up against that. I thought that was really powerful.”
Senior Alex Du Bois was already familiar with the story, but no less inspired by it.
“What really shocked me was kind of looking into it and seeing how real this was,” Alex said. “They really thought [ingesting radium] was a good thing and it’s almost frightening in a way that this could be happening now.”
In that regard, Clements said she was interested to see the students draw a correlation to vaping, which is much-contested now.
“[It] speaks to them, as well, because they know people who do,” she said.
And both Audrey and Alex agreed that audiences their age would find many familiar themes at play in “Radium Girls.”
“I think it’s going to take a little bit because I think the reaction is going to be, ‘Oh, it’s an old play,’” Audrey said. “But I think we’re going to be able to convince people to go, and once we convince people to go, they’re going to see it isn’t just some old play that doesn’t have any relevance anymore or is boring to watch.”
“Radium Girls” will be staged at Woodward Middle School (9125 Sportsman Club Road NE) at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1; and 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2.
Tickets, $8 for students and $10 for everyone else, are available at the door or in advance via www.bisd303.org/Page/3967.
The cast is also holding a food drive, and those who contribute a donation will get early entry and first choice of seating.
The comparative weightiness of the subject has actually seemed to imbue the cast with a sense of purpose that is reflected in their eagerness to work through the inconveniences of switching stages, Clements said, as well as the student-run food drive and just general enthusiasm.
“A lot of them feel empowered by the fact that they get to take something on and it’s heavy,” she said. “It’s not a teen edition; this is the actual thing that adult actors would use as well and it excites them.”