The Making of Radium Girls

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Tyra Garrett and Olivia Cornell

The full cast of Radium Girls at the end of a show.

Olivia Cornell and Tyra Garrett, Reporter

All the pieces of a play fit together like a puzzle, creating a distinct and unique experience that can’t be replicated. At the beginning of the month, Highland Theatre presented its fall play, Radium Girls. The cast and crew worked for almost two months on the show, and all of it paid off on opening night. However, many people who aren’t involved in the arts don’t know what it takes to put together a production. 

The Director(s)

Two directors put together Radium Girls: Mrs. Hardy and senior Jenna Lombino (12).

This was Mrs. Hardy’s first year as the theatre director, so she felt some pressure stepping into Mr. Abaroa’s place. However, she has felt so welcomed and blown away by the talent of Highland students. “It was also so great to know I had so much support from colleagues like Nathan Crane, our auditorium manager, and all of our students, both tech crew and actors,” says Hardy.

One of Hardy’s main goals was to encourage the cast to come together as one. Being a part of a cast is a collaborative effort, and “Listening to students and respecting their work as artists is really important to developing that collaboration.”

Assistant director Jenna Lombino expresses “I was kind of nervous at first to work with a new director. I was just so used to Mr. A’s style of directing. I was a little nervous to be working with Mrs. Hardy, but it changed everything in Highland Theatre… It was a really good experience working with her.”

One of the biggest challenges to directing is making sure that a cast stays motivated and that their energy stays high. Lombino felt that one of her most important roles as a director was “making sure that everyone was feeling safe and happy… I tried my best to make sure everyone felt happy to come to rehearsal every day.”

And then, of course, there’s the casting process to deal with. This happens before any show, and it’s a time where critical decisions must be made. Lombino recalls “I had some ideas in my head for what I wanted the cast to be like before the auditions, and then everyone at auditions completely blew me away in different ways.” Mrs. Hardy believed it was the hardest part of directing, explaining, “You have to weigh a lot of factors such as who can play opposite another person, what roles need to be your strongest actors, what different perspectives or personalities are brought to each character from each actor, etc.”

The Actors

What are the events that led up to this? What does my character feel? What is prompting her dialogue? What is she thinking that makes her feel this? What is she feeling that makes her say this?

These were all questions that raced through Lily Harris’s (10) mind before she stepped on stage as Kathryn Schaub.

Actors in a production have a major responsibility. They not only have to tell a story, but they must also bring it to life. Actors have to portray emotional and vulnerable aspects of the characters that they play.

For lead Aly Propes (11), who played Grace Fryer, a real dial painter, research was her first step. “I did a lot of research on Grace as a person and spent a lot of time saying my lines while looking at her. Grace’s discovery of her voice was a story I resonated a lot with.”

For some actors, connecting to their characters wasn’t difficult. Teja Trepte (12), when asked if she felt any personal connection to her character, says, “Yes, mostly because up until the end, the character seems to be very empathetic and has something that she stands for, and I respect that a lot.”

However, for others, it wasn’t as easy. Grant Austin (10) played Grace’s boyfriend, a young man with strong opinions yet good intentions. “I don’t know if I could personally relate [to Tom] because I’ve never had my significant other get radium poisoning. But, it’s the same thing in every relationship; when you feel like it’s coming to an end and you’re in denial of it at first… he [Tom] wanted to have this picturesque life with Grace.”

Being an actor in Radium Girls required a bit of soul searching as well as a deep understanding of what real women that lived 100 years ago went through, but the work was so rewarding.

The Set

The design of a set is a detailed process that needs to be examined thoroughly so that the final product correlates with everything in the script. For the auditorium coordinator and lead set designer for Radium Girls, Nathan Crane, the task was a bit overwhelming. 

The play ranges from 1918 through the 1940s, in about 15 different locations. “I wasn’t sure how to represent all of that on stage in a way that gave the story the weight it deserves,” says Crane, but “I latched onto the first line of the play, ‘Grace: So much light. Daylight, all the time. And on sunny days – you almost felt like you were sitting outside. It was that bright.’ That was the most any character said about their environment, so I knew the final look should represent that quality of light.”

Deconstructing and analyzing some of the characters’ lines helped Nathan and Mrs. Hardy develop their final vision of the set. 

When putting his idea into motion, Crane got help from Highland’s stagecraft class. “Each piece had to be carefully calculated and built separately… I am incredibly proud of the work of the stagecraft class here: of the 68 rope holes and 262 pipe holes, all of which had to be drilled at exactly the right place at the right angle based on a complicated spreadsheet, all but one was right on the first try,” explains Crane. He had never built a set that relied completely on a high level of precision.

The intensity and dedication required of set design is real and can be seen in Nathan’s work. “I spent a whole day building a spreadsheet to calculate all the positions and angles… I didn’t breathe easy until the class finished up the first piece and it matched the prototype.”

The Technical Crew

The technical crew (or techies) put in a lot of work when it came to putting on Radium Girls. The stage manager of the show, Kathryn Apuan (11), said, “Keeping everything in order can be a big challenge which is like the whole job so it’s fun.” Kathryn also noted that Mrs. Hardy had a big impact on the success of the show, saying, “The fact that Mrs. Hardy put on such a production made it more challenging, but also a lot more exciting.” One of the lighting designers, Annalise Martin (11), also mentioned Mrs. Hardy, telling us, “… it really helps having her there because she knows a lot of what she’s doing.” 

Even though being a stage manager makes you seem mean to others, Kathryn told us, “I try to be quite nice to people while I’m stage managing, but I get pretty mean and I yell at people when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

The backstage crew is also a crucial part of any production, and especially in Radium Girls. The backstage crew would run in between scenes to change sets, carrying heavy tables and chairs as fast as they could, without making mistakes.

The Costumes

Costumes in any sort of media, whether it be on the movie screen or the TV screen, is a very important part of creating the atmosphere of the time. 

That is especially true for Radium Girls, with the costume designer Austin Watts (9) saying, “A lot of the costume decisions came from period influences and the characters’ personality traits; even stuff like color and what’s associated with the character and the overall vibe of the show.” 

But unlike other shows, Radium Girls had special requirements when it came to costumes. Austin said, “There was so much research. It isn’t a stereotypical 1920’s show like Chicago or 42nd Street; it’s very toned down, muted, and about a different class. A lot of 1920’s shows are about the upper class whereas this one was about working-class people. There was a lot of research about what they would’ve worn, and a lot of the costumes turned out to actually be influences carried over from the late Victorian era.” 

Even though you may not think about the costumes, they were incredibly vital to the makings of Radium Girls.

The Props

For most theatre productions, fake food and drinks are used instead of real ones, but for Radium Girls, Theo Hirsch (11) (who was in charge of the props), said, “Since we were doing actual food and drink props, that was the most challenging part. Each time before a show, I would have to make mashed potatoes, and then we had this really gross cucumber Gatorade that I would put into bottles.” 

When we asked about any problems on set, Theo told us, “Actors kept touching the cane; that was the major problem. But a lot of people helped and brought in their own props, which made it easier for us.” 

Sometimes when putting on a production, there may be some props that you can’t just get at the store, you have to make them yourself. Theo said, “I had to make a few of the props like the radium bottles – those were the biggest project.” Even though there were some bumps in the road, “It was easy to just go in the prop closet and find something that fit the time era.”

The work and spirit that was poured into Radium Girls created a masterpiece. Theatre creates a family environment that brings people of all ages together. Community is formed, and lifelong friendships are made. “I love everybody there, it’s a bunch of beautiful and hilarious people. It’s such a good bonding experience and to be so vulnerable around people really does a lot for developing relationships,” says Aly Propes (11).