Posts Tagged maria mitchell

Photos from “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” in Orlando

My full-length script MISS MITCHELL’S COMET — based on the true story of Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer — had a staged reading in Orlando Dec. 13, 2017 by the Playwright’s Roundtable at the Orlando Shakespeare Center.

From left: playwright Dwayne Yancey, actors Susan Potrock and David Strauss, and director Celestino Maria DeCicco.

The reading itself. Photo by Chuck Dent.

I was honored to have two classmates from Montevideo High School join me — Mitch Percival and Linda Kelly Elkins. Both now live in Florida. Photo by Keith Yancey.

MISS MITCHELL’S COMET
Based on the life of Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer. She grew up on Nantucket Island during the whaling era, where she learned the stars at a young age from her father, who worked on navigational instruments for the sailors. In 1847, she became the first American to discover a comet, and went on to win fame as the first woman in a variety of scientific accomplishments, ending her career as a professor at Vassar College. Along the way, she faced opposition from men and women alike who frowned on a woman being a scientist. At Vassar, she was a hard taskmistress, insisting her students learn complicated mathematical formula to understand the orbits of the planets. Deeply religious, Maria Mitchell insisted that these formula were nothing less than a hymn to God’s grand design. Yet she also clashed with authorities, who were often exasperated by her disregard for school rules. She roused students in the middle of the night to look at the sky, once ordered a tree chopped down because it blocked her view of a comet, and even asked a minister to cut short his prayer at evening chapel so she could go observe Saturn. Cast: Two — one woman in her 50s and a man to play various other parts. This is basically a one-woman show with some incidental parts played by a man. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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“Miss Mitchell’s Comet” one of three finalists in Orlando

I am one of three finalists in an annual competition run by a major theatre in Orlando. My full-length script MISS MITCHELL’S COMET will have a staged reading sometime in December; based on the feedback there, one of those three plays will then get a full production in April 2018 by the Playwrights’ Round Table at the Orlando Shakespeare Center. Sharp-eyed fans will notice that April 2018 is also when I have another full-length play making an international debut in Melbourne, Australia. MISS MITCHELL’S COMET is based on the true story of Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer — and the first American of any gender to discover a comet. Her discovery in the 1840s sparked an international controversy. At the time, there was a competition sponsored by the King of Denmark that would give a prize to the first astronomer to discover a comet with a telescope — as opposed to the naked eye. All the big observatories of Europe were keen to claim the honor. No one envisioned that instead it would be an American — and not just any American, but an amateur at that who wasn’t affiliated with any observatory. And a woman! This was news that some in Europe simply could not believe.

The 29-year-old Mitchell was the daughter of a Nantucket Island merchant who grew up in a sailing and whaling community where keeping an eye on the stars was part of business. In time, the unknown Mitchell was awarded the prize . . . and went on to become a major figure in American astronomy and the women’s rights movement. This play is set many years later, when she’s in her 50s and 60s and is teaching at Vassar College. I am indebted to Todd William Ristau of Hollins University. Some years ago, he gave me advice on how to write a one-person script. At the time, I had two sprawling, multi-character scripts about science figures. I took RED MOON RISING IN THE EAST, about the father of the Soviet space program, and re-wrote it into a one-man play. It’s gone on to become my most-frequently produced full-length script — produced in Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota (and might be produced again in May 2018, awaiting details). I took MISS MITCHELL’S COMET and re-wrote it as a two-person script, although the Mitchell character has 95 percent of the lines, so I think of it as a one-woman play with some incidental parts for a man. It’s come close several things before in other competitions, but now will at least get a stage reading an a 1-in-3 chance of a full production.

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