North Penn illuminates the forgotten past of the Radium Girls

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Michelle Patelmo

North Penn actors rehearsing a scene of a media event.

North Penn High School presents Radium Girls by D.W. Gregory, a play sharing the story of the US Radium Corporation’s controversy through the eyes of its executives and workers. The corporation provided glow-in-the-dark watches to soldiers in WWI. However, the watches only glowed in the dark due to radium, causing the young girls who worked there to become sick from radiation poisoning. The amount of radium has stayed in their bodies almost a century after their death with their bones glowing a sickening green.

This story holds empathy for all who engaged in the story, including the seemingly heartless executives of the radium plant. The play’s director, Mrs. Andrea Roney, speaks on how she personally connected with the show.

“I have compassion for the young women and their families who were caught up in this horrible situation. But also, having lived for a while, knowing the pressure on leaders in any organization and corporation to make the right and moral decisions about one group of employees which puts at risk the jobs of so many others for whom you are responsible. It’s a terrible balancing game with no easy decisions. A normal person caught up in such chaos and decision-making is in a horrific place. The challenges to people like us are always compelling and force each of us to think about ‘who is responsible?’ and ‘what would I do?’“ Roney said.

Hard work from everyone makes sure the audience is transported back to the years shouted by the reporters in the play. The actors, crew, and staff have sunken a great amount of time creating this world.

“The actors go through auditions, casting, and rehearsals. The staff works on designing the set, costumes, props, lights, and sound that the student crews then build. All of it comes together in the last two weeks to create a unified production. In the midst of the play preparation, marketing and publicity have to go out to sell tickets and then sell the tickets! Other work like a program or preparing to host the audiences at NPHS also are in progress. The whole project involves nearly 100 people to make it happen,” Roney explained.

The show explores the century-long fight for equality in the workplace. Senior, Audrey Keller plays Grace Fryer. Fryer is a radium girl who fought for proper compensation for the onset of illness from radiation poisoning.

With the lack of worker’s rights and women’s rights brought up today, it’s important that this story is told to provide representation and bring awareness to these issues and try to find ways around them. A good example of this is the wage gap. Women have been fighting for equal pay for centuries, and are only now being listened to.”

— Audrey Keller

“With the lack of worker’s rights and women’s rights brought up today, it’s important that this story is told to provide representation and bring awareness to these issues and try to find ways around them. A good example of this is the wage gap. Women have been fighting for equal pay for centuries, and are only now being listened to,” Keller stated.

Keller originally wasn’t going to audition for the show, but after reading through the book, fell in love with the story and Grace’s character. She spoke of the importance of her character as a role model in society.

“I love Grace. I feel awful for her, which I think is the general reaction to her situation. I admire how she doesn’t pity herself and how she stays strong for the rest of the girls who are dying. She puts aside her own need to get rest to bring awareness to the lack of safety for these women,” Keller said.

The show’s thought-provoking character study can be viewed live at North Penn High School on November 17, 18, and 19 at 7:30 pm and November 20 at 2:00 pm. There are also shows online on November 19 and 26 at 7:30 and November 27 at 12 pm. The clock is ticking to get your tickets, find them at npenn.org/theatre!