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Arroyo Grande High invited to perform Silent Sky at international festival 

The moment was almost four years in the making for one Arroyo Grande High School (AGHS) Theatre Company member.

"I thought he was joking when the director first told us," Quinlin Gallagher said.

The 17-year-old Arroyo Grande High School senior is part of a team of students whose performance of the play Silent Sky earned them an invitation to the International Thespian Festival in Indiana this summer.

click to enlarge IMPORTANT IMPACT Silent Sky highlights the contributions of female scientist Henrietta Leavitt to modern space exploration with help from a cast including (from left to right) Olivia McDonald, Quinlin Gallagher, and Joy Avant. - COURTESY PHOTO BY LONDON RAFTERY
  • Courtesy Photo By London Raftery
  • IMPORTANT IMPACT Silent Sky highlights the contributions of female scientist Henrietta Leavitt to modern space exploration with help from a cast including (from left to right) Olivia McDonald, Quinlin Gallagher, and Joy Avant.

"I get goosebumps just talking about that moment right now," said Gallagher, who performed as the play's lead. "The same thing happens to me whenever I think about it because it is that amazing."

The International Thespian Festival happens every year and is put on by the International Thespian Society, which invites the best of youth theater groups like the one in Arroyo Grande to perform alongside their peers.

click to enlarge SUPERSTAR SISTERS Arroyo Grande High School Theatre Company members Quinlin (left) and Carly Gallagher (right) shine as sisters on stage and in life. - COURTESY PHOTO BY LISA BARTLE
  • Courtesy Photo By Lisa Bartle
  • SUPERSTAR SISTERS Arroyo Grande High School Theatre Company members Quinlin (left) and Carly Gallagher (right) shine as sisters on stage and in life.

Directed by longtime AGHS Theatre Company leader Sean Blauvelt, Silent Sky is based on a Lauren Gunderson book of the same name about Henrietta Leavitt's life and scientific contributions.

"It's very similar to the film Hidden Figures where you have this woman lead who is trying to and succeeds in pushing her way past the gender roles of the era," Blauvelt said. "And thanks to her contributions, things like the Hubble Telescope were able to advance and take us into our modern era of space knowledge."

Alongside the story of resistance in the face of struggles against stereotypes, the play also shows excellent insight into early space exploration, Blauvelt said.

"I am a little biased as to why I like this performance so much, as I used to teach science at Arroyo Grande High School," he said with a laugh. "But for anyone unfamiliar with just how much was explored in the world of space exploration, it is a fascinating play."

Gallagher said portraying someone like Leavitt—whose struggles and eventual triumph as a female scientist at the Harvard Observatory in the early 20th century—was a perfect role to land the crew the chance to perform alongside the world's best in Indiana.

"It's this uplifting story about a woman and her resilience," she said. "To be accepted into such a prestigious festival because I contributed to a play like that is something I feel incredibly lucky about."

According to Blauvelt, there were a few unique challenges and experiences in bringing Levitt's story to life.

"I usually work with a much larger cast but this time around, just due to the nature of the entire play, we had a much smaller crew," he said. "But what makes that cool is that we were able to develop a very strong chemistry as a result."

He also employed projectors and lighting setups to ensure the mood in each scene matched the caliber of the actors' performances.

"That's going to be the fun or, well, challenging part of bringing this play to be performed in Indiana," he said. "We are going to have to put our noggins together to figure out how to make the best use of the performing space even if it's not the same size as where we have been performing."

According to Blauvelt, the biggest hurdle now is getting the performers to the festival in Indiana.

"We are figuring it out, but it will cost a good amount of money to get each student involved with the play out to Indiana for the week the festival takes place," he said. "We are not necessarily worried we won't be able to do it, but it will take some time."

One way they aim to raise some money? Blauvelt said they plan on having a special one-time performance of Silent Sky at the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande in the coming months.

"Most of the proceeds from that show will help give us the boost we need to get the crew out there," he said. "Beyond that show, we also plan on doing the standard candy-, cookie-, pizza-drive type fundraisers."

For students like Gallagher, this is the moment when everything they have spent years working on finally comes to be recognized for what it is—art.

"This was so important to me because it was my last year in school," she said. "I've been doing stuff like this since my freshman year, and now having this honor given to us is the perfect way to end things before I graduate."

Even with the festival trip not guaranteed, Blauvelt sees the chance to attend as a great recognition for his crew of excited theater students.

"I've worked with a ton of students over the years, but this group has shined brighter than most, especially for a high school theatre program," he said. "They deserve every single bit of honor they are getting and more." Δ

Staff Writer Adrian Vincent Rosas is reading up on the story of Henrietta Leavitt. Reach him at [email protected].

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