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Radioactive performance

Waupaca High School students will perform “These Shining Lives,” in a rare thrust stage configuration where the audience will sit on the stage and be very close to the action. Pictured from left are Sophia Holterman, Hannah Verstegen, Rylie Nusz and Jarah Strain. Isiah Murphy is in back. James Card Photo

Waupaca play based on true story

By James Card

There is an upcoming opportunity to experience a rare theatrical performance at the Waupaca High School Performing Arts Center. Actors will perform in a “thrust stage.”

Theater goers will not sit in the normal audience area with the folding seats. Instead, they will sit on the stage and seating is arranged on the left, right and front of the stage. This makes a U-shape and the student-actors will be right in the middle of the audience as they perform the drama “These Shining Lives.”

Theater director Monica Reeves said she chose this configuration for the impact it has on the audience.

“In a traditional proscenium theater [viewed from the normal seating], the action is on one side. You’re looking at it like a picture frame or in a camera. With this, the action is literally thrust into the space and it creates a very intimate feel. If you were to go to larger city theaters or college theaters, you might experience this type of formation. You don’t at a traditional high school. This really provides the Waupaca audience a unique theater experience,” she said.

Because of the different seating arrangement there are only 95 seats, so reserving tickets ahead of time is recommended. Also, there isn’t any best seat in the house in the three audience sections on the left, right and front. They are all good seats.

Reeves points out different actors will be looking at the different audience sections at any given time.

Another remarkable element of this performance is that is based on a true story.

“These Shining Lives” is the story of four women working at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois, in the 1920s. Their job was to paint radioluminescent paint on watch faces. They were told the paint was harmless.

The women were exposed to toxic levels of radium and became sick. Some of them died from the radiation exposure. They became known as the “Radium Girls” and their labor rights litigation was a milestone in the history of occupational disease labor law.

The story of the Radium Girls has been recorded in films, short stories, songs, nonfiction, documentaries and novels. This play was written by Melanie Marnich and the court scene is based on an actual trial.

“It was lip, dip and paint routine. They would put it [radium paint] on their lips [to make a finer brush point]. They would ingest this radium while they were panting the numbers to make them glow on these watch faces. They were told it was medicinal and it cured ailments of all kind,” said Reeves.

The initial play called for six actors but Reeves expanded it out to 20 with smaller roles. A total of 25 students are involved in the production. This is an all-school production and all grades are represented.

The cast and crew is composed of Hannah Verstegen, Rylie Nusz, Sophia Holterman, Jarah Strain, Tyler Smidt, Isiah Murphy, Lili Liegl, Boe Giauque, Korben Peterson, Aiden Doray, Livi Higginson, Bella Saunders, Sylvia Fries, Sophia Shanak, Colton Drmolka, James Drivas, Elisha Schmidt-Niemuth, Abby Higginson, Alisa Foseth, Maddy Komp, Leah Fahser, Taylor Ryan, Noah Kolinski and Emma Adams. Amy Holterman is the co-director.

There will be intense special effects. Safe fluorescent paint will be used as the radium paint and it will glow under black lights. Since the women were told the radium paint was safe to use, they put it on their skin and used it as make up. The storyline of the play spans a decade.

The play will be performed on at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 8-10. A matinee performance is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11.

Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and can be reserved called calling the high school at 715-258-4131 ext. 1028 or by email at [email protected].

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