What would you do if you found out your job was slowly killing you and those in charge were consciously doing nothing about it? The aptly named Radium Girls of the Radium Dial company lived this nightmarish situation.
The BYU-Idaho Theatre Department opened its doors to the public for their production of “These Shining Lives,” directed by Justin Bates, the department chair for BYU-Idaho’s Theatre and Dance Department.
“These Shining Lives” was originally supposed to be performed this time last year. Both Bates and Nixon have been working with the show for nearly two years and are finally seeing the fruit of their labors.
“These Shining Lives” follows the story of four Radium Girls: Catherine Donohue, Charlotte Purcell, Frances O’Connell and Pearl Payne, in Ottawa, Illinois, during the Great Depression as they navigate the legal obstacles of finding retribution for the radium poisoning, they all feel to different extents.
I spoke with Bates and with stage manager Emily Nixon about the show and some of the difficulties that have come with producing this show.
Nixon, who is in her final semester as an Early Childhood Special Education major, said with COVID-19 and other obstacles this show has had its share of triumphs and difficulties for her as a stage manager during this, her 12th and final show on campus.
She said that as the “middleman” for the production she is in charge of interfacing with designers, actors, the director, and other members of the production team and covid presented a new array of duties for her.
“Because of covid, we make sure everyone’s temperature has been checked and checking vaccinations,” Nixon said. “We go through a checklist of sanitization of props, laundry, masks, all those additional items. And making sure we’re social distancing.”
Bates said work on this production began in 2019 and COVID-19 has caused everyone involved to adapt and adjust to keep everyone safe while also telling the story honestly.
“We are still performing the show with the actors wearing masks and with the actors socially distancing,” Bates said. “But I think the actors have met the challenge and I think we’ve approached the play in a really interesting way.”
“These Shining Lives” is based on a true story and each of the characters were real people involved in the Radium Dial lawsuits. The show is narrated by Catherine Donohue who is also the main protagonist. One of this show’s advantages is that it focuses on its female characters. Bates was thrilled to find such a wonderful script that allowed female actors to “sink their teeth into.”
“It is a true story about these courageous, young women who forge this friendship in the midst of great trial and hardship,” he said.
Nixon spoke about the powerful visuals that the lighting, sound and scenic designers worked hard to achieve.
“It’s such an incredible story and the script itself is beautiful but it’s being brought to life in such an elite, and magical and flawless way. It’s pleasing to watch and it’s such a heart-warming, important story to hear,” Nixon said.
Because of the Radium Girls, more worker safety protocols were put into place and they became champions for workers’ rights. And especially for female workers during a time when women were just starting to work away from the home and become more independent.
Bates said that while the subject matter of the show might seem sad it’s not a sad play.
“In fact, the protagonist of the story says, at the beginning of the play, this play is not a tragedy. It’s not a tragedy. It ends with hope,” Bates said.
“These Shining Lives” opened on May 26 and closes Saturday, June 5. Only 50 seats are available per performance. Any BYU-Idaho students who are interested in seeing the show can reserve their free ticket by visiting Snow 126, calling (208) 496-4820 or by emailing Judy Wilkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.