Cast shines amid social distancing restrictions in production of “These Shining Lives”

Jonathan Fonseca has been at Elgin Community College since 2017 and been part of various campus productions, but being part of the cast of “These Shining Lives”, written by Melanie Marnich and directed by Susan Robinson, was different from anything he had done before.

“I’ve seen bits of the show when we run it from the wings or my seat,” Fonseca said. “The costumes look so good especially with the scenery and music it is so immersive that when I look upon the stage I almost can’t believe I am going on for the next scene because everything looks from a different world.”

“These Shining Lives” is based on true events that took place in Ottawa, Illinois, where Catherine Donohue beginning in 1922 is hired by the Radium Dial Company to paint watch faces using paint containing radium. 

“[These Shining Lives] is about 4 workers who are lied to, who are misled, who are told everything is fine, and who are told the [supplies] they are using [at work] are medicinal,” Fonseca said. “They were put in harm’s way when they should not have been. People, unfortunately, do that for money.”

Because of social distancing to keep the cast safe, rehearsals, until the last week where filming would be conducted, were held virtually over Zoom. The performance can be viewed until May 19.  

“These Shining Lives” touches on themes of corporate negligence and the value of human life. To Fonseca, greed plays an active role in society even 100 years after the story of Catherine Donohue. Fonseca feels due to the present-day connections the play will feel both relevant and disturbing to the audience.

“We are portraying this really visceral, human experience, right in front of your eyes,” Fonseca said. “I feel like [These Shining Lives] can help people see that when it’s 5, 10, or 15 people that pass away over the oversight of their managers, or whoever it is on top that’s not looking out for the workers that it doesn’t matter the number. A lot of the scenes are focused on Catherine, [the protagonist], you see her world crumble. It’s so sad and there is so much despair. When you read on the news that 5 people passed away because of unsafe working conditions. 5 might not seem like a lot, but when you realize that one person has a whole world with lives and families, I think it will bring to attention that these people are not just a number.”

Jessica Falco, an ECC student who has been involved in many plays and musicals at ECC, is graduating this semester to pursue a degree in early childhood education. Falco plays Charlotte Purcell in “These Shining Lives,”,a good friend of Catherine’s and fellow victim of radium poisoning.

Falco had been involved in a production of “These Shining Lives” in high school as a freshman. The production at Falco’s high school was a senior showcase so no auditions were held. Instead, parts were assigned by the student director and Falco didn’t get a part.

“I still went to see the show and I loved it,” Falco said. “So when I learned that ECC was doing These Shining Lives, I thought this could be my chance. I am so happy I went for it and I am so excited to be part of the show.”

Falco would prefer rehearsal to be in person but thinks a lot of the work needed for the production was still accomplished well virtually.

“Rehearsing online has still allowed the cast to get close really quickly and we felt comfortable with each other for the most part,” Falco said. “But there are still delays and the atmosphere is nothing like it is when you’re in person.”

Costume fittings were adapted for a virtual setting as well.

“We had to do extra work to do costumes safely,” Falco said. “We had our customer get all the costumes from a rental place and divide them out and each of us got a bag of costumes to take home. My bag was literally 35 to 40 pounds.”

Across numerous interviews, the cast of “These Shining Lives” continued to remark on the similarities between the character Catherine Donehue and the actor who plays the role, Caitlin Hurley.

Hurley had never been involved in theatre before, but the director, Robinson, convinced her to audition after Hurley was enrolled in a theatre class this semester.

“At first I was not too sure about it,” Hurley said. “I knew These Shining Lives was an older piece and I thought I would like something more modern, but then I read the play and I thought wow all of this in the play is still really present today. So many of the relationships are unique and I saw this woman Catherine was amazing to fight in court for something she didn’t know if she was going to win.”

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