Monday, February 9, 2015

Save the Date for A Starry Night

Members of the Development staff are busy stuffing, sealing, addressing and stamping envelopes.  Colorful cards are in stacks, committees are forming and meeting -- it’s Gala time once again at George Street Playhouse! Each season, the Playhouse offers what many in the area believe is the social event of the season – our Annual Gala Benefit.  This year’s fĂȘte will be held on Sunday, May 3, in the main ballroom of The Heldrich, the beautiful hotel directly across the street from the Playhouse.  The event begins at 5 pm with a cocktail hour and silent auction, followed by a sit-down dinner for 300 of our closest friends and supporters, and ending with a special cabaret performance featuring many of the stars you have seen on the GSP stage.

Each year at the Gala, a community leader who has demonstrated a commitment to the arts in New Jersey is awarded the Thomas H. Kean Arts Advocacy Award, named after its first recipient.  This year, the Award goes to Stephen K. Jones, the CEO of Robert Wood University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson Health System.   In addition, this year the Board of Trustees of the Playhouse has established The Arthur Laurents Award for Distinguished Artistic Achievement, to be given to the theatre artist who embodies the level of talent and excellence that our good friend and mentor demonstrated in his lifetime.  The inaugural award will go to actress, producer and philanthropist Marlo Thomas.

Many of our trustees and friends give of their time and energy to make this event a success, starting with this year’s Chairman, Ken Fisher.  Soliciting ads for the commemorative journal will be long-time trustees Lora Tremayne and Jocelyn Schwartzman, sponsorships are headed up by trustee Dr. Penelope Lattimer, tickets and tables chair is trustee Janice Stolar and this year’s auction chairs are Janice Haggerty and Gabriella Vajtay.  Our silent auction is one of the evening’s highlights, featuring exclusive vacations, hard-to-get Broadway tickets, fine jewelry and many other wonderful and beautiful items.  

As the saying goes, it takes a village to put on a Gala, and we are thrilled and grateful for the extraordinary efforts of the dedicated people listed above.

So – save the date!!!  Sunday, May 3, at 5 pm!  Be there for this very special event – and bid early and often!!

Staff Spotlight: Danielle Kline, Director of Development

The administration of George Street Playhouse, beyond our Artistic Director David Saint, and Managing Director Kelly Ryman, is divided into five main departments: Artistic, which is charged with selecting, casting and staffing each season’s shows; Production, which not only facilitates our mainstage productions, but also provides support for our education department and the facilities needs of our public spaces and offices; Marketing, which as the name implies, is responsible for getting the word about the Playhouse out to the public, and also responsible for producing most of the Playhouse's publications; Education, which is comprised of our Educational Touring Theatre, our Academy (which offers classes to children and adults) and in-school residencies; and Development, which is charged with raising an enormous part of our operating budget each season (ticket sales only raise about 45% of our total budget).

New Jersey native Danielle Kline was recently named Director of Development at George Street Playhouse. She comes to us with a wealth of experience, most recently as Associate Director of Development of the Big Apple Circus. Prior to joining the Circus (in a manner of speaking), she spent a considerable amount of time in Washington, DC, working with former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on arts and economic development issues, and later moving to an advisory role in Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 Presidential Campaign.

Internationally, Danielle has directed projects in Afghanistan and Liberia and most recently with the U.S. Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan, where she provided fundraising, strategic planning, and communications expertise to woman-owned businesses in the local Kyrgyz and Russian languages. While living in Central Asia, she also worked with a Kyrgyz theatre company dedicated to raising awareness of pressing social issues like civic engagement, domestic violence, bride kidnapping, and teen suicide.

Danielle is a member of the American Democracy Institute and formerly a member of the Arts Industries Policy Forum, developed by the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. Danielle graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Performance from Northeastern University, where she was a Matthews Distinguished Honors Scholar for critical undergraduate research and a recipient of the President’s Award for Diversity. Danielle received her M.A. degree in Arts Politics from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Danielle took a few moments out of her busy schedule to chat with us:

What was your first exposure to the arts?
Without a doubt, I had a rich childhood filled with visits to museums, dance performances, and plays and musicals, among many other arts and cultural experiences. At the time, those moments seemed special to me, as I'm certain they are to many children. Now, as an adult, I know how fortunate I was to have parents who valued the arts and ensured that cultural experiences were a defining piece of my childhood. Perhaps my first fondest exposure to the arts was in fourth grade when I starred in Ming Lee and the Magic Tree, a play that I would love to see performed again.

Your background is extremely impressive -- what made you decide to enter the Peace Corps?
The through line of my entire professional career has been social justice and the more I learned about myself, the more I realized that I had more to learn with regard to selflessness and humility. I joined the Peace Corps to give of myself; however, I came home grateful for the privilege of living abroad in a second-world country, the privilege to learn Kyrgyz and Russian, and the privilege to live and learn from the generous people of Kyrgyzstan.

Someone with your background and experience could certainly work anywhere - what drew you to George Street Playhouse?First, I wanted to work in a theatre that values smart, engaging, sophisticated work. Secondly, I am a New Jersey native and this opportunity presented itself as the first I've ever had to work professionally in my home state. I couldn't turn that down.

You have a long weekend with no commitments -- what would you do?
With 6- and 7-year-old boys at home, I haven't seen a long weekend with no commitments in a very long time. However, a perfect long weekend would involve the opportunity to stay in bed for hours with a cafe au lait and the chance to read my beloved New York Times cover to cover. And yet, good conversation with little boys about planets and turtles while making endless batches of pancakes is equally as perfect.

We are thrilled that Danielle has joined the George Street Playhouse family – please join us in offering her a warm welcome!!!

Q & A With Seret Scott, Director of The Whipping Man

If the world of theatre is still a boys club, primarily when it comes to directing, someone forgot to tell Seret Scott.

She is an accomplished, Drama Desk Award-winning actress and Helen Hayes Award-nominated director, as well as a vocal supporter of African American advancement in the arts.  Now, she’s at the helm of the latest George Street production, tackling the tough issues of both race and religion in the searing all-male drama, The Whipping Man.

Q:  What initially attracted you to directing this show and why is it important to you?
A:  I'm a history buff. I love reading about historical events and individuals.  The story of black Jews and slavery has not been explored in theatre.  It's rich.

Q:  How has your acting experience affected the way you direct?
A:  I'm often told I direct from an actor's head (whatever that means).  I still have an actor's perspective and I love character work; rehearsal is my favorite time. 

Q:  How has being a female director of an all-male cast affected the rehearsal process?
A:  For some reason, most of the shows I've directed over the years have heavily male characters.  I'm very comfortable working with strong men actors -- they inspire me. If news reports are any indication, male actors don't have as much trouble with women directors, it seems, as men in the outside world have with women supervisors.

Q:  What is an average rehearsal day like for you and the actors/creative team?
A:  Rehearsal days are concentrated and intense.  Often, personal information is revealed in the course of developing characters.  It's understood that all statements are confidential.

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge with this piece thus far?
A:  The play has several very physical movement areas; we've had to spend a fair amount of time on those sections.

Q:  What other creative works (literature, theater, film, etc.) inspire you?
A:  I enjoy watching documentaries on just about any subject.  People have so many interests and concerns that you may never have thought about.  I learn so much.

Q:  What overall feeling or message do you hope to impart to the audience?
Luke Forbes, Ron Canada, and Adam Gerber, photo by T. Charles Erickson
A:  I hope the audience will want more information about all aspects of the Civil War and perhaps recognize how much all wars have in common.

Q:  In an interview, Lopez, who is neither black nor Jewish, commented, “I don’t know if you have to be in a certain group to tell a story…”  However, GSP Artistic Director David Saint felt it was essential to have an African American direct this piece. Do you feel as though being African American has influenced your direction or given you a deeper understanding to this play?
A:  There have been few stories about the Civil War told from an African-American perspective, and even fewer Civil War stories told from an African-American woman's perspective.  David's decision to use an African-American woman, I think, gives the work another dimension.