ArtsView Children’s Theatre’s upcoming show, “Radium Girls,” takes on a serious tone.
The production, which opens Thursday, deals with illness and the effects of radium exposure.
ArtsView Executive Director Nathaniel Olson said the production is based on the true story of the women who worked in a radium factory in the 1920s.
“It’s not a happy story and it’s not our typical Disney princess type situation,” he said. “It’s based on these girls and how they’re fighting the Radium Corporation in court and they’re trying to get justice for all the horrible things that have happened to them.”
“The story follows a young woman named Grace and a couple of her co-workers … who worked in the U.S. Radium Corporation factory and they painted watch dials,” Olson said. “The girls would just sit there and they would have to paint the glow-in-the-dark radium paint onto the numbers on the watch dial. Then they would lick the brush tip in order to get a fine point tip and then dip it in paint again.”
At that time, Olson said, radium was a newly discovered element.
“It was kind of the new miracle drug, basically — they drank it, they put it in their water, they thought it cured cancer,” he said. “They thought this was going to be the drug that saved everyone’s lives. But ultimately, it killed many, many people.”
The young women in the factory ingested massive quantities of radium and most of them died or had severe illnesses, Olson said.
“After these girls passed away, their bodies had to be buried in special graves because of the radiation that still emanated from their bodies,” he said.
Olson said the end of the school year is when ArtsView puts on its teen show.
“This show is specifically for teens and we only have teens acting in the show. Normally with our musicals we start as young as 10 years old but with this show we wanted to specifically work with teens, partially because of the story of the show,” he said. “We’re using this time slot in the year to kind of push our teens … and give them a little bit more opportunity to develop their acting skills.”
“Radium Girls” doesn’t include music or dancing.
“It’s not a fun, happy show but it’s giving the kids the opportunity to really push themselves,” Olson said.
ArtsView’s youth council also is involved in the show.
“We have a youth council here that’s made up of kids who have been involved for quite a while and we’re getting them involved on the production side of the show,” Olson said. “And some of the youth council members are helping to direct the show, so they’re working with me and we’re giving them the opportunity to do more than just acting.”
“Radium Girls” is ArtsView’s first performance since major renovations wrapped up at the theater.
“The renovation is all done and we have amazing working restrooms again,” Olson said. “We’re working on other small projects now but the ADA ramp and the signage and restrooms were our big projects and thankfully, that is all finished now.”