USI Theatre presents student-directed show, “These Shining Lives”


Photo courtesy of USI Media

(Left to right) Frances O’Connell (Rayn Miller), Pearl Paine (Avery Yates), a radio announcer (Noah Harrison) and Charlotte Purcell (Haley Boyd) strike a pose during a scene in “These Shining Lives.”

Bryce West, Staff Writer

The USI Theatre department released their student-directed production, “These Shining Lives,” Nov. 17-20. The play was directed by Amelia Schmitz, senior theatre performance major.

Around 40 students were involved in the production of the play. Many USI staff members advised the students, but it was primarily put on by the students.

“These Shining Lives” is based on a true story about women who were working at a watch company known as Radium Dial. It is discovered the women working at the company were receiving radium poisoning from working with the products. The women sued the company for their negligence.

Schmitz said this was her first time directing a college production, but she wrote, produced and directed a play titled “The Light at the End of the Tunnel” while she was in high school.

“I came here as a freshman as a theater major starting off and stuck with it ever since,” Schmitz said. “So, I wrote and directed a play in high school over the summer and I had always wanted to learn to direct more.”

Schmitz said she took a directing class with Elliot Wasserman, chair of the Performing Arts Department, to prepare for “These Shining Lives.” She said the class isn’t required to direct a show, but most students take the class. 

Schmitz said, “It’s helped me, being an actor directing. Just to know my actors needs to know what I would like as a performer and the direction I like to be given and kind of using that to help direct my cast.”

She was the right person to put into that position because we knew that the cast would listen to her and follow her as a leader.

— Eric Altheide

She also said having a prior relationship with the actors in “These Shining Lives” helped her direct the show because she knew where they were coming from and how she could help improve their work.

“These Shining Lives” was entered into the American College Theatre Festival. Judges from the festival came opening night to watch the show and give feedback to Schmitz and the performers.

“They liked it, I think. It sounds like they loved it,” Schmitz said. “It was nice even hearing their feedback as well because this is all just, like, learning and growing for me as well. So to hear the notes they even gave to the costume designer, because we have a student costume designer and a student sound designer. So it was very beneficial.”

Schmitz said she was not alone directing the show. She said Eric Altheide, associate professor of theatre and the head of the acting program, served as her mentor for the production.

“He didn’t come to every rehearsal or anything, but anytime that I needed him to come look at something, he sat in for a few rehearsals and gave me some feedback as another set of eyes, so he was very helpful,” Schmitz said.

“I think she’s a very intelligent young woman, very creative,” Altheide said. “I think she also is one of those people that her peers kind of look up to her and respect her. So she was the right person to put into that position because we knew that the cast would listen to her and follow her as a leader.”

“When Amelia first came in, she was kind of quiet and reserved,” Altheide said. “She has really blossomed as an actress over the years, but she also has a really strong intelligence in the way that she approaches her work.” 

Schmitz said she wanted to choose a show that “makes people think.” 

Tom Donohue (Gavin Carter) confronts Mr. Reed (Noah Harrison) after his wife dies of radium poisoning due to Radium Dials' negligence in "These Shining Lives." (Photo courtesy of USI Media)
Tom Donohue (Gavin Carter) confronts Mr. Reed (Noah Harrison) after his wife dies of radium poisoning due to Radium Dials’ negligence in “These Shining Lives.” (Photo courtesy of USI Media )

“I wanted to learn and grow and see different aspects of performance. I think I’ve definitely learned and grown in the show in general,” She said. “My goal was really just that number one, the show glorifies God and that it was a positive thing for the actors and the crew.”

Schmitz said she is proud of USI’s production of “These Shining Lives.”

“I think it’s one of the most challenging things I’ve had so far, just because some roles I played in the past were very challenging as well, but this was like a whole new different side of things,” Schmitz said. “It was everything I’ve always known, plus more stuff. So yeah, I would say this is one of the big things that I am excited about and that I’m proud of.”

USI Theatre has two remaining shows in Spring 2023, “Fun House” by Lisa Kron and “USI Theatre’s Devised Show,” where students, faculty and staff are invited to include their original projects.

Read Shield staff member Sydney Lawson’s review of “These Shining Lives” here.