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'Radium Girls' requires SHS actors to get serious

Historical play about 1920s true story opens March 5

When you think of the 1920s you think of speakeasies, women’s suffrage and flappers.

But 22 students at Sandy High School are ready to share the knowledge they gained while preparing the school’s newest play. The knowledge that the ‘20s also were a time of lessons learned the hard way.

“Radium Girls,” written by D.W. Gregory, opens at Sandy High School’s Black Box Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 6.

The play, directed at Sandy High by drama instructor Chris Harris, follows the story of Grace Fryer. In the ‘20s, radium was considered a miracle cure. It was used to treat cancer and lupus, but could also be found in a multitude of products including butter, water, cigarettes, beer – even chocolate.

Luminous watches, whose dials and numbers were painted with radium to produce a glowing effect, were all the rage. Eventually, the women in charge of painting them began to fall ill with an unknown sickness.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Junior Dana Logan, senior Hailey Luebbert, and senior Theresa Lehr, who plays leading lady Grace Fryer, portray dial painters in Radium Girls.

Fryer, played by senior Theresa Lehr in Sandy’s version, was a dial painter. “Radium Girls” is based on the true story of Fryer’s fight for her day in court.

“It was this case that made people realize that it was a dangerous substance,” Harris said.

Harris said he fell in love with the one-act version of “Radium Girls” on his search for a serious play.

Sandy High’s last production was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” an outrageous musical comedy, and Harris knew it was time to go a different direction.

“I sometimes find dramas difficult,” Harris said. “Historical plays, for whatever reason, seem to work really well for high school kids.”

Sandy High School students will perform the full-length version of “Radium Girls,”

“It’s nice to be able to do things that are on the opposite range of the spectrum,” said Karlie Kitchens, a senior at Sandy High, adding that the group of drama students have gone from being very non-serious to trying to portray real people. “It helps grow your range; it helps you grow as an actor.”

Kitchens, who plays the ‘sob sister,’ in the production, a female reporter mainly tasked with covering the emotional side of stories, thinks the audience will walk away in shock that Fryer’s story actually happened.

She said it was a learning experience for all of the play’s cast and crew, including Harris.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Radium Girls is based on the true story of dial painters falling ill after using radium in creating watches in the 1920s.

“I didn’t know about it,” Harris said. “How did I miss this? How did I never hear about this?”

“It’s not something I personally learned in history class,” Kitchens said. “It’s very fascinating to learn.”

Crew members decided to go with a simple brown, two-level set and the rest of the staging is achieved through lighting.

“It’s working better than I think any of us expected,” Harris said.

The simplicity of the set also means crew aren’t responsible for too many set changes.

“There’s a certain reward to doing a play like this,” Harris said. “They’re learning this as well.”

For Hailey Luebbert, who plays ‘Katherine,’ the best part of the play so far is Lehr’s performance.

“This is her story,” Luebbert said. “Our lead…she’s just really fun to watch. She does it so much justice.”

Putting together “Radium Girls” hasn’t been without its challenges – including trying to make light, fun 1920’s music fit in with a show about death and dying – Kitchens said the cast have all worked well together.

“Most of us have already worked together,” she said. “But there are some new people. It’s good for them to get to experience this.”

“As an educator, you have to educate,” Harris said. “You can’t just do comedies…And I hope the audience will support us in doing this drama.”POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Sandy High's Radium Girls will present the historical drama through a simple set and dynamic lighting.


“Radium Girls,” can be seen at 7:30 p.m. on March 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14 at Sandy High School’s Black Box Theatre, 37400 Bell Street.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for students and seniors.

For reservations, call 503-668-8011 ext. 7313.