Preview: ‘Radium Girls’ opens tonight

Leena Hussein and Anna Feng

Gavin Thomas (left), Jack Champlin (center), and Harvey Vostrejs (right) act out a scene from “Radium Girls” in Palo Alto High School’s Performing Arts Center. Paly Theater is kicking off the first production of the season from Nov. 4 to Nov. 13, and Thomas said he is looking forward to putting on a drama based off of a real historical event. “This is a serious and dramatic show, which was a little new for everyone in the program,” Thomas said. “It’s very dark and very real, and I think that really sets it apart from a lot of the shows that Paly Theatre has put on in the past.” (Photo: Paly Theater)

In its first play of the year, the Palo Alto High School theater program is taking the stage with the historical drama “Radium Girls” from Nov. 4 to Nov. 13. 

“Radium Girls” is a play based on a true story about three different female laborers who were poisoned and killed by their radium-based plant factory while making glow-in-the-dark watches for soldiers during World War I. 

According to Program Director Sarah Thermond, the play was chosen to give students the opportunity to participate in a production different from previous ones.

“I chose this play mostly because I wanted to give both actors and technicians the challenge of working on something that required more specific historical research, and more dramatic performances,” Thermond stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “It’s always my goal that if a student were to do shows all four years at Paly, they get to do a wide variety of pieces, and this was the type of show I felt we hadn’t done in a while.”

According to junior Eloise Dumas, a member of the makeup team and a sob sister in the play, accurately portraying the three main women in the play who become poisoned was a challenge for the team.

“The radium girls get sick, and we wanted to figure out how to portray that without sensationalizing their illness and death because they were real people,” Dumas said. “Figur[ing] out how to perform this as an interesting and engaging play without being disrespectful to these people who did die [was hard].” 

According to senior Sofia Vincent who plays Mrs. Roeder, this play contains darker themes than productions Paly Theater in the past. 

“A lot of the plays that we’ve done in the past have been kind of light or comedic,” Vincent said. “This one has been more serious, kind of darker, than shows that we’ve done in the past. So, it’ll be fun to do acting in a different kind of way.”

Senior Gavin Thomas who plays Vice President Charlie Lee said, due to the nature of this event, the actors and crews focused on accurate historical portrayal. 

“One thing that we always had to keep in mind during the rehearsal process was historical accuracy,” Thomas said. “The events that the show is based on are real, so it’s important to make sure that we are being accurate and respectful in our portrayal of these events.”

Vincent said another challenge the actors faced were the jumps in the script’s timeline.

“A lot of it had to do with the way the play is structured, it jumps around in time a lot,” Vincent said. “In one scene, it’s one year and the next scene, it’s six years later. So sometimes you have to balance figuring out what your character knew and when they figured it out.” 

This will be the first show the program has put on in over two years that is based on historical figures and events which Thermond said makes this play especially unique.

“It [the play] requires an amount of research – and respectfulness in approach – that is really different from other pieces we’ve done,” Thermond stated. “It also has a lot more scenes with a small number of characters, so we did a lot more intense scene work than we do with shows with large ensemble scenes.”

Thomas said he is looking forward to presenting the cast and crew’s work in and Paly Theater’s first production of the season.

“I’m really looking forward to revealing the work that everyone’s put into this show on opening night,” Thomas said. “We’ve been working really hard to make it come together, and I hope the audience ends up liking it as much as I do.”