These Shining Lives: An interview with director Sarah Butts

Director Sarah Butts

What about this play excites you the most?

Getting to bring to life a story that draws attention to a particular event in American history that is widely unknown. Before reading this play I had never heard of radium women and I find that many of the people I talk to about the play also are unfamiliar. I love getting to explore the world of the 1920s. It is such a fascinating time in American history, specifically for women.


What do you think is the most salient point of the story?

The drive for profit and progress over the health and wellness of human beings. The play illuminates the ugly side of capitalism, the side that can lead us to view and treat human life, especially the lives of marginalized populations, as expendable.


How does the historical story have resonances for our contemporary time?

We live in a country where we assign corporations “personhood.” Starting in the 1800s we have continuously been handing the rights reserved for human beings over to corporations. Corporate power has continued to grow since the 1920s and so have the number of incidents of people getting hurt or killed at work where risks were either understated or completely withheld from employees’ knowledge.


Do you think this is more a piece about workers’ rights, or women’s rights?

While I love that this is a story that focuses on something that happened specifically to these women in a fascinating time in American history, it relates to a larger and more universal theme. It is sadly not an isolated incident. It is one hidden story among millions. In this way if I have to choose one or the other I would say it is about workers’ rights, and I would add human rights.


Is there any unique “take” on the play that our audiences would be excited to know?

It has been a goal of the design team and myself from the beginning to both honor the specific story of the women working at Radium Dial in the 1920s and also allow this story from our past to illuminate the present. To help bring the play to the present we are exploring a heightened and stylized sense of theatricality, one that fully embraces and I would say celebrates the conventions of theatre. The themes and injustices revealed in the story are unfortunately not behind us, nor is the human cost which is felt by people across the globe. In this way it is a universal story. It is OUR story and does not just live in the past.


Is there anything else you would like to tell our audience before they see the show?

While this play focuses on something tragic, playwright Melanie Marnich has written a play that is truly a roller coaster ride. With the expected moments of sadness also come many moments of laughter, beauty and fun. Marnich’s play captures the best and worst of humanity, our idealism, our resilience, our generosity and our determination. She also reminds us of the importance of community, friendship and family.


21 November – 6 December, Humanities Hall Little Theatre. For tickets: (949) 824-2787 or