Gwen Morton has worked in theaters from Arkansas to Alaska to Annapolis for 45 years. With all that experience, she still learns something new with each production.
She talked to The Capital about what she’s learned as director of Colonial Players’ “Silent Sky.”
You’ve been doing theater for many years in many places. How did it become a constant in your life?
My husband was active-duty Coast Guard. We spent seven years in Juno, Alaska, and we didn’t get transferred here until 2008. Everywhere I’ve gone, when I’ve gotten involved with a theater company, it’s become like a family. Not only was each theater company a family, but the entire theater community was also a great family. It’s a great way to get involved in the community, make friends and get support. I love what theater does for a community.
What drew you to this show when picking the lineup for the season?
It’s very beautifully written, and it tells an important story about women who were working and making discoveries only to find that the men they worked for got credit for those discoveries. While you hear about the Draper Catalogue and the Harvard classification system and the Hubble Telescope, you don’t hear about the Fleming catalog. It was Williamina Fleming who built so much of that catalog. Annie Jump Cannon created the star classification system that was known as the Harvard system. It was Henrietta Leavitt who made the discoveries that allowed [Edwin] Hubble to measure how big the universe actually is. They never got credit for that. This is something that is correcting that and making sure people know about the great things these women did in very difficult conditions.
One of the performances will be sign language interpreted. What’s behind that?
Henrietta Leavitt and Annie Jump Cannon were both hard of hearing. The author of the play did not address that with Annie Jump Cannon for valid reasons. She said if both characters were hard of hearing, it would become a play about deafness. And she was not qualified to write that play. But the fact that these women really were hard of hearing… That really struck a note with me. The culture and linguistic connection are fascinating to me.
Annie Jump Cannon actually stated that she felt her deafness contributed to her success because it reduced the number of distractions, so she was able to focus more intently on her work. She was an amazing woman. There’s a wonderful picture in “The Glass Universe” by Dava Sobel, which we refer to a great deal, of the group of women who were working, where everybody is looking at the camera except Miss Cannon. It’s because she refused to look up from her work long enough to take the picture. She somehow managed to make her deafness an advantage to everything she did.
Do you need to understand complex science to enjoy the show?
In making this show, I’ve learned that I don’t understand science, which is not a revelation. I’ve known this for a long time. I did learn that you don’t have to understand the science behind it to appreciate the work. We’ve tried to make some technical adjustments to help the audience understand the work they were doing, but it’s not entirely absolutely necessary to appreciate the detailed work, the precision of the work they did.
Is there anything audiences should keep a sharp eye out for in the show?
I want to give credit to someone who was not in the program. We had a short section that needed choreography. Darice Clewell came in kind of last-minute to teach the actors the dance and it was just a final touch. Just beautiful.
When you go
The Colonial Players’ “Silent Sky” runs through Feb. 2 at 108 East St. in Annapolis. Tickets are $23, with discounts for military, seniors and students.
The performance on Jan. 20 and the postshow forum will be American Sign Language-interpreted. To purchase tickets in view of the ASL interpreters, visit thecolonialplayers.org and select any of the seats designated with an “A.” Reservations can also be arranged by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.