Actor portraying Henrietta Leavitt in Silent Sky

Silent Sky NEWS

February 22 - March 8

The Bell Museum Teams Up with Theater Pro Rata on “Silent Sky” Live Theatre Production to be Held Inside the Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium


Production marks the museum’s first artistic collaboration with its planetarium

ST PAUL, MN. (Feb. 4, 2020) – The Bell Museum, Minnesota’s official natural history museum, is teaming up with Theatre Pro Rata to present Silent Sky, which will be held inside the museum’s Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium from Feb. 22 through March 8. The Bell hosts arts programs throughout the year in its galleries, but this will be its first theatrical arts collaboration in the planetarium.

Written by Lauren Gunderson, 38, the country’s most produced living playwright whose stories typically center around women in history, science and literature, Silent Sky is a play based on the life of early 1900s Harvard College Observatory astronomical researcher Henrietta Leavitt.

“The Bell’s Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium is a perfect setting for Silent Sky, which focuses on the life and work on an important female astronomical researcher,” said Holly Menninger, Director of Public Engagement & Science Learning at the Bell. “This state-of-the-art facility that not only showcases the science and astronomy work being done by University of Minnesota students and researchers, and others in the field, but also helps foster those interests and passions in visitors of all ages.”

She continued, “The subject also dovetails nicely with our recent spotlight on women in space science, which was the theme for our second annual Space Fest events in early February, and it’s a great way to usher in Women’s History Month in March. This year is especially fitting as it marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which opened the door for many new opportunities for women.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with The Bell on this exciting project”, Theatre Pro Rata’s Artistic Director Carin Bratlie Wethern said. “We have a history of doing site-specific work chosen especially for the pairing of venue and play, and this show is no different. It is also part of our participation in the 2020 Jubilee Year, a national initiative for theater companies to produce a season full or shows written entirely by women and/or people of color. Pro Rata has committed to programing both our 19/20 season and 20/20 season to fit within this criteria, as well as hiring female-identifying directors for all of our productions.”

Background on Henrietta Leavitt

Born in Lancaster, Mass. in 1868, Henrietta Leavitt attended Oberlin College and the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women (later Radcliffe College), where she discovered astronomy as a senior in 1892. Following graduation, she worked for the Harvard College Observatory as a graduate student and volunteer, and spent some time away from the observatory traveling. During that time, she spent several years at home when she suffered a serious illness that left her with hearing loss.  She returned to the observatory in 1902, appointed to the permanent staff (paid 30 cents an hour) by director Charles Pickering.

Despite showing a brilliant mind for astronomy, she was not allowed to pursue her own topics of study and was limited to researching what the head of the observatory assigned due to gender prejudices and limited opportunities for women at that time. However, she did become head of the photographic photometry department, which studied photo images of stars to determine their magnitude.

Leavitt discovered more than 2,400 variable stars, about half of the known total in her day. Her variable stars work led to her most important contribution to the field, the cepheid variable period-luminosity relationship, which paved the way for other astronomers such as Edwin Hubble to make their groundbreaking discoveries. She also developed a standard of photographic measurements, called the Harvard Standard, that was accepted by the International Committee on Photographic Magnitudes in 1913.

Background on the Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium

The Bell’s Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium debuted in July 2018 when the museum celebrated its grand re-opening at its new location in St. Paul. Previously, the Twin Cities metro area had been without a public planetarium of this scale since the Minneapolis Planetarium closed in 2002. The planetarium’s state-of-the-art design and technology places among the top national planetarium presenters and a leader in accessible planetarium shows. Bell also spearheads a network of 10 regional planetariums located throughout Minnesota, as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

About Theatre Pro Rata

Since 2001 Pro Rata, Latin for “in proportion,” has produced smart, vivid, varied, and gutsy theater in the Twin Cities. Focusing on the text of the play, the company offers performers and audiences the chance to engage with the characters, themes, and language more completely. Over the past 18 years Pro Rata’s reputation for consistent, high quality, artistically fulfilling, and meaningful theater has made it a company that artists want to work with and audiences want to see. Ranging from classic dramas to modern black comedies, Theatre Pro Rata produces scripts that bring visceral theatrical experiences to the stage.

We are Pro Rata: we create smart, vivid, varied, and gutsy programming. As an audience member, you’ll be part of moving, thought-provoking theatre.

About Bell Museum

Bell Museum is Minnesota’s official natural history museum, established by the state’s legislature in 1872 and held in trust by the University of Minnesota. For over a century, the museum has preserved and interpreted the state’s rich natural history and served learners of all ages. Additionally, its scientific collections contain over a million specimens, representing every county in Minnesota and various locales around the globe. Located on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, the museum features a state-of-the art digital planetarium, high-tech exhibits, famous wildlife dioramas, outdoor learning experiences and more.  Bell Museum’s University of Minnesota organizational home is within the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, which is comprised of 13 academic departments and 10 research and outreach centers, along with the Bell Museum, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and dozens of interdisciplinary centers. For more information, visit


Full List of Performances

Saturday, February 22, 7:30 pm

Sunday, February 23, 3:30 pm

Friday, February 28, 7:30 pm* (Open Captioned)

* If skies are clear, the Friday, February 28 performance will be followed by telescope observation

Saturday, February 29, 7:30 pm

Sunday, March 1, 3:30 pm

Friday, March 6, 7:30 pm

Saturday, March 7, 7:30 pm

Sunday, March 8, 3:30 pm (ASL and Audio Description)


General admission tickets:

$30 Adults ($25 Bell members)

$15 Students, ages 10–21  ($12 student members)