Social justice themes ring throughout theater production


Sidney Ovrom

Loyola students portray the Radium Girls who were exposed to radium in workplace, “These Shining Lives.” “These Shining Lives,” tells the true story of a feminist victory when women took their fight for equality in the workplace to the Supreme Court. Photo credit: Sidney Ovrom

Emma Ruby

“Believe women.” That was the message that Shelbi Copain, mass communication and musical theatre sophomore, hopes students took away from the Loyola theater department production These Shining Lives.

The show tells the true story of four women in the late 1920’s who were exposed to radium in the workplace, their resulting ailments that were ignored by employers and doctors alike and their legal fight against their employers.

A press release about the show described it as a “quest for social justice,” and a tribute to “feminist victory and personal resilience.” Copain said that her character, Charlotte, was the sarcastic and sassy woman in the group known as the Radium Girls.

“She’s a very strong female character in the show, and she presents herself as someone who doesn’t take any crap from anybody,” Copain said. “I think that’s a particularly important character trait to point out because she still ends up being a victim in this story just like everyone else.”

The show was selected at the end of the 2018 spring semester by Dr. Laura Hope, director of Loyola theater.

In a press release about the play, Dr. Hope said “I hope their story will inspire a new generation- and, in fact, all of us- to work together for the greater good.”

Connections between the stories of the Radium Girls and modern-day feminism movements became evident to students almost immediately.

“Dr. Hope picked the show last year in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and because issues like the wage gap and sexual assault are so big right now,” theatre sophomore Abby Trahant, who played Pearl Payne in the show, said. “Who would have known that the Kavanaugh thing would have happened at almost the same time that we put the show on?”

It was those connections to current events that gave students a sense of urgency and importance about the story they portrayed.

“The thing we talked about the most with the show is that the only way we change these kinds of things is by staging them and talking about them,” Trahant said.

The themes in the play also aligned with the emphasis on social justice that is valued by the Jesuits.

For Dr. Patricia Boyett, director of Loyola’s women’s resource center, it is the struggle for equality and justice depicted in These Shining Lives that is deeply ingrained in the American story.

“It is important that we understand both the promise of the American creed and the gap that has existed and still exists between the promise and the reality,” Boyett said. “When we understand that, we are better able to put into practice the Jesuit mission of creating a more just world and connecting struggles in this nation to those across the globe.”

Both Boyett and Copain shared the view that the theater department’s commitment to telling the stories of women is inspiring. Copain felt that being involved in the show gave her a voice to tell the story of the Radium Girls and the disenfranchisement of women.

“If you really want women to be future leaders and to have their rightful place in society, it doesn’t start with the future,” Copain said. “It starts with looking for their stories in history, and looking for their stories where we have already ignored them and making sure that they have a place.”