WPI students are all about pushing boundaries and producing breakthroughs, so it’s only fitting that through Silent Sky, WPI Drama/Theatre's fall production, they used their own talents and passions to tell the story of someone who did the same.
A departmental production showcasing a collaboration between faculty mentors and students, Silent Sky tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt and her groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy, highlighting the achievements of women in STEM. Students shared their passions and talents in bringing the production and Leavitt’s accomplishments to life, embracing roles as actors, designers, managers, technicians, and, in the case of Robbie Oleynick ’24, composer.
Kate Moncrief, Paris Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Humanities & Arts Department Head, and director of the production, asked Oleynick to join the creative team following his assistant role in last year’s production of Every Brilliant Thing. After reading the show’s script for the first time, Oleynick knew he wanted to write the original music for Silent Sky. “I knew that the only way for me to capture the ideas I had for the soundscape was to compose an original score that fit every moment of the play,” he explains, adding that Laura Eckelman, associate teaching professor of theatre, was instrumental in helping him find the balance in his work between ambition and practicality.
It was an added bonus that Oleynick’s involvement in the show allowed him to complete his Humanities & Arts Requirement practicum, something he sees as invaluable. “I often found that I was too busy or had other priorities [besides theatre] in high school, but since the HUA Requirement is built into the WPI Plan, I’m now able to have artistic experiences that don’t take away from my academic goals … through art programs like theatre, I can find the intersections of my passions.”
Explore, Have Fun, Make Beautiful Art
That opportunity to take their passions and run with them, nurturing them into something new, is exactly what Moncrief and Eckelman hope students take from their experiences in the theatre. “I absolutely love coaching students through the production process,” says Eckelman. “Whether I’m working with designers or managers, there’s nothing more rewarding than helping them learn the tools that will enable them to achieve their own creative vision. It’s always a treat to watch students develop new skills—especially ones that will serve them across their personal and professional lives.”
Oleynick wasn’t the only one to take his passions and apply them through theatre: seniors Braden Foley and Katie Doucette completed an MQP and a drama/theatre minor, respectively, while working as the show’s scenic designer and by portraying Annie Cannon, who Doucette describes as “one of the strongest female characters that I have had the opportunity to portray.”
“Through art programs like theatre, I can find the intersections of my passions.” -Robbie Oleynick ’24
That chance to tell the story of strong women in STEM while continuing her own journey of becoming one herself is exactly why Doucette chose to complete her minor with Silent Sky. “WPI theatre is [also] where I have found my friends,” she adds. “It’s taught me how to lead and how to tackle new and difficult problems and make a plan forward. Above all, I’ve learned how to advocate for myself. If there’s something I need help with or I need to do for myself, I can express my needs in a professional manner.”
Foley has participated in past theatre productions at WPI as an actor, scenic designer, playwright, and director, and chose to focus on scene design in particular for his MQP because it gave him the chance to showcase all the technical skills he’s learned since arriving at WPI. “It has allowed me to grow and learn about different areas of theatre I hadn’t explored before,” he says. “I loved watching the set come together like one giant puzzle and admired the hard work put into the show by the entire production team.”
Having such a robust theatre program at a tech school may come as a surprise to some, but it’s an integral part of what makes the WPI experience like no other, giving students the chance to take advantage of unique opportunities and infuse them with their own passions and talents.
“It’s a collaborative art,” says Moncrief. “We’re all storytellers, whether you’re a designer, scene painter, director, or performer, we all want to find artistic expression and community. It’s an opportunity for artistic expression, for students to develop their technical skills. We bring arts, science, and technology together to let them explore, have fun, and make some beautiful art in the process.”