WASHINGTON, PA (Nov. 19, 2014) – The true story of four women struggling to survive and fighting for change in a hazardous work environment comes to life on stage this week at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J).
These Shining Lives, written by Melanie Marnich and directed by W&J Communication Arts Professor William Cameron, runs Thursday, Nov. 20 through Saturday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Olin Fine Arts Center Theatre. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee performance on Nov. 22.
Based on the true story of women – dubbed the “Radium Girls” – who worked in a watch factory in Ottawa, Illinois, the play dramatizes the danger women faced in the workforce in the 1920s, and the lack of concern by companies for protecting the health of its employees.
Although the play is set nearly a century ago, Cameron said the story still raises interesting and important questions about corporate responsibility and the rights of workers.
“The Radium Girls were, like the victims of the Triangle Factory Fire in 1911, martyrs to the cause of workers’ civil rights,” he said. “Their plight, while heartbreaking, changed laws and improved working conditions so that companies could finally be held responsible for the safety of their workers. In this era of denying science in the name of political expediency, the story of the Radium Girls is most relevant.”
Narrated by the character of Catherine Donohue, played by senior Carley Adams of Peters Township, Pa., These Shining Lives chronicles the strength and determination of women considered expendable in their day, exploring their true story and its continued resonance.
Catherine and her friends are dying from exposure to hazardous materials in the factory where they work, but theirs is a story of survival in its most transcendent sense.
The women refuse to allow the company that stole their health to kill their spirits or endanger the lives of those who come after them, an issue still pertinent today.
“It’s important to remember, for women especially, how far we’ve come on the issue of workplace safety,” Adams said. “But really, for men and women, there are still workplaces where this could be an issue. They might be considered safe by legal standards, but the health and wellness of the employees might be at stake.”
The story made headlines in its day, and digital projections of newspaper clipping and photos are part of the set.
“The projections make you feel like you’re flipping though a newspaper and learning about this yourself for the first time,” Adams said. “It really puts you in the time period and helps you feel what’s happening to the characters, and how others reacted to it.”
Adams said the play’s topic has also made her consider her own situation, and that of her graduating peers, as they begin looking for jobs and planning their careers.
“It’s not something I thought of as a student, but it’s something I will look for now as I am applying for jobs,” she said. “In my future workplace situations, whether I’m the employee or the manager, I’ll be asking if my employer is taking care of me.”
Student productions are free and open to the public. Olin Fine Arts Center and the Box Office are located at 285 East Wheeling Street in Washington, Pa. 15301, and can be reached at 724-223-6546.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.
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