Bibianna Torres

Last weekend, a cast of 14 first-year students performed “Radium Girls” by D.W. Gregory in the Yale Dramatic Association’s annual Froshow — a play produced, directed and acted entirely by first years.

“Radium Girls,” which was presented in the Yale Repertory Theater, tells the true story of Grace Fryer and other workers at the U.S. Radium Corporation in the 1920s. The Corporation’s factory employees, most of whom were women, worked with radium paint to produce glow-in-the-dark watch dials. The workers, who ingested the radioactive paint by licking their paintbrushes to keep them pointed, experienced severe health complications. Though the workers were told by their employers that the paint was harmless, many died as a result of radiation exposure.

Fryer and other workers sued the company for damages in the short time they had left to live.

“For us to be telling a story about all these girls who died really young and weren’t able to tell their stories — being able to do that for them was such an honor,” said Emily Li ’22, who played Fryer in this weekend’s production.

Bibiana Torres ’22 selected the play and pitched it to the Dramat executive board. Torres worked on “Radium Girls” in high school but said that she directed it “in a classroom, with $100.” She was excited to tap into the Dramat’s resources and bring the story to life in the Yale Repertory Theater. Torres added that the play was perfect for the Froshow because it has a large ensemble that plays an important role in the story.

Torres explained that the play remains relevant to a modern audience, dealing with issues related to “how we consume news and tragedy” and science denial.

“I hope that audience members were able to appreciate how ‘Radium Girls’ is as much a show about the past as it is about the present,” said Julian Hornos Kohl ’22, who played Arthur Roeder, the girls’ boss at the Corporation. “Fighting for justice when the rest of the world looks the other way is a struggle that countless people still face every day.”

Kohl added that he believes it is important to “acknowledge this brutal history instead of ignoring it.”

The girls slowly become weaker throughout the play as the symptoms of radium poisoning began to present themselves. Li said that they approached the heavy subject matter by first focusing on the characters’ personalities.

According to Li, Torres did not ask the actors to embody the physicalities of dying girls and women until the penultimate week of production. By that point, the cast had gotten to know their respective characters without regard for the physical deterioration that the radium poisoning caused.

One of the main objectives of the Froshow is to allow first-year students interested in the arts to meet and collaborate. Members of the cast and crew said that the community formed through “Radium Girls” was tight-knit and has endured even after the production.

“This may sound cliche, but my favorite part of the production process was getting to bond with the cast over the final week of rehearsals,” Kohl said.

The Yale Dramatic Association was founded in 1900.

Lindsay Daugherty | lindsay.daugherty@yale.edu