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Golden Chain Theatre keeping history alive in Oakhurst

Performances of ‘Silent Sky’ are scheduled every weekend between Sept. 2 and Sept. 25 at the Golden Chain Theatre in Oakhurst.
Performances of ‘Silent Sky’ are scheduled every weekend between Sept. 2 and Sept. 25 at the Golden Chain Theatre in Oakhurst.

In 1967, a group of Oakhurst community members decided that Oakhurst needed something to get tourists driving through town on their way to Yosemite – a reason to stop and spend money.

With the help of the Chamber of Commerce, the “Golden Chain Theatre” was born. Performances were held at the Oakhurst Community Center, with a theme of 19th Century Historical Theatre and Melodrama. It was soon obvious that the troupe needed their own facility.

In 1972, the founding board members took a big chance each putting their own houses up as collateral to purchase the Snowline Bowling Alley and convert it into a theatre. This dedicated group revamped the old bowling alley, converted the lanes to an auditorium, “downdated” the Saloon, installed a few gift shops, and opened the doors.

The debt was fully paid in 1999, and the theatre thrives today. In its 55th season, they are keeping their tradition of both summer melodrama and historical shows alive. I must admit we have not seen any historical shows but loved many melodramas there – booing and hissing at the villains and cheering the hero, all while throwing peanut shells or popcorn.

Next month, they will turn the page to a beautiful, poignant, historical piece with a smaller cast, “Silent Sky,” a story about the plight of women in the last century.

When Henrietta Leavitt begins work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea. Instead, she joins a group of women “computers,” charting the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has no time for the women’s probing theories. As Henrietta, in her free time, attempts to measure the light and distance of stars, she must also take measure of her life on Earth, trying to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love.

The true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications; Henrietta Leavitt and her female peers believe in both, and their dedication changed the way we understand both the heavens and Earth.

One result of her work on stellar magnitudes was her discovery of four novas and some 2,400 variable stars, the latter figure comprising more than half of all those known even by 1930. Leavitt continued her work at the Harvard Observatory until her death. The subsequent calibration of the period-luminosity curve allowed American astronomers Edwin Hubble, Harlow Shapley, and others to determine the distances of many Cepheid stars and consequently of the star clusters and galaxies in which they were observed. The most dramatic application was Hubble’s use in 1924 of a Cepheid variable to determine the distance to the great nebula in Andromeda, which was the first distance measurement for a galaxy outside the Milky Way. Although it was later discovered that there are two different types of Cepheid variable, the same method can still be applied separately to each type.

Performances will be every weekend between Sept. 2 – Sept. 25. Address: 42130 CA-41, Oakhurst, CA 93644 Phone: (559) 683-7112.

The Golden Chain Saloon is a full-service bar and offers a variety of informal food and snack options. It is open before showtime and during intermission. Drink specials are available for all shows.

Meanwhile, back in Merced, Playhouse Merced’s Annual Gala is back for an evening of fine dining and live Swing band entertainment. The evening will be held at the historic Women’s Club in downtown Merced for a lively and lovely evening celebrating the Playhouse Merced’s ongoing success in bringing live theater to our community and fine arts and theater education to our community’s youth.

Indulge in delicious light appetizers, a catered fine dining experience including dessert, no-host bar, silent dessert auction, and a live Swing band with singers from our Playhouse community for your dancing and entertainment. This evening is sure to not disappoint!

Merced Women’s Club House 707 West 22nd Street, Merced, CA 95340

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