On March 3 and 4, the celebrated playwright of “Radium Girls,” DW Gregory is coming to Millersville University for a post-show talkback with the audience. She is also giving a workshop on playwriting. Her show “Radium Girls” has been done at countless schools, but the idea all started with a drive and desire to tell the girls’ story.
Gregory first was introduced to the story of these girls in elementary school. She never forgot it and was always curious about their case. After seeing a documentary called “Radium City” that chronicled the lives of women in Illinois who died of radium poisoning, Gregory felt there was more to their story and wanted to know what happened to these women. After getting the internet in her office, she instantly had a desire to learn about the Radium Girls, and eventually she found a reading from a college textbook about the New Jersey radium case. This was a breakthrough moment as Gregory discovered there was a radium factory in New Jersey. She was enthralled by the reading and instantly saw a play in this story.
She luckily had a relationship with a theatre that is now called The Writers Theatre of New Jersey. Interestingly enough, this theatre was only 10 minutes away from the courthouse where the trial of the Radium Girls took place. Soon enough, a production was put on and it was a great success. Since that initial equity production in New Jersey, the play has been done by high schools and colleges all over the country.
Although this play is currently over 18 years old, it is done in more high schools and universities than ever. Last year alone, there were over 100 productions of her show done. Gregory believes that one reason this play still resonates is because ultimately, “human nature hasn’t changed.” The story is also incredibly timely with what we see in the news today. As a society, we are sadly still struggling with the women’s rights and corporate responsibility issues faced by these characters.
It’s funny, Gregory didn’t originally imagine the show being performed at high schools. Over the years, Gregory has seen her play done with a cast of 10, as it is in Millersville’s production, and at one particular high school, a cast of 40 kids. Gregory believes the reason it is done in schools is because “It tells a good story and there are strong parts for girls.” Even in our own time, strongly developed roles for women are far and between, and this particular play is revolutionary and heroic in its honest and raw portrayal of these women.
“Radium Girls” is considered to be historical fiction, but Gregory’s complex portrayals of these people transcend the traditional biopic cutout. Gregory purposefully wrote the character of Arthur Roeder with the intention of leading the audience to question whether he is a good or bad person. She believes “He is a protagonist in his own story, and that we are really following two storylines: the story of Grace and Roeder.” This framing device gives the play a focus, and truly gets the audience engaged by crafting and posing moral arguments and questions.
“Radium Girls” takes place in the early 1900s, and at its heart is an incredibly human story that provokes discussions from audience members lasting far after the play’s devastating and haunting conclusion. When Gregory visits the university on March 3 and 4, it will be a welcome opportunity for audience members to hear insight on this miraculous and truly revolutionary piece of theatre. This will be an event that will not only enrich Millersville but the Lancaster theatre community as well. Tickets are sold out for the third and fourth, but students and members of the public can still purchase tickets at the Student Memorial Center ticket office, and online for the performances on March 1 and 2. This is a show audiences will not want to miss