Friday, April 24, 2015

Getaways, Broadwayshows highlight GSP Gala auction items

George Street Playhouse’s Annual Gala – “A Starry Night” – is only a week away (Sunday, May 3), and activity in the building is at a fever pitch. Members of the staff and Gala Committee ventured to The Heldrich to taste and decide on the menu and items are flooding in for our silent auction.

The evening honors two outstanding individuals: Stephen K. Jones, President and CEO of the Robert Wood University Hospital and Health System, and actress, author, producer and philanthropist Marlo Thomas. Mr. Jones will be honored with the Thomas H. Kean Arts Advocacy Award (presented by its namesake, Former Governor Thomas Kean), and Ms. Thomas will receive the first-ever Arthur Laurents Award for Distinguished Artistic Achievement.

The silent auction is one of the highlights of the event, offering vacations, jewelry, tickets to hard-to-come-by Broadway shows and more. Some of this year’s highlights include tickets to It’s Only a Play, the hot comedy starring Nathan Lane; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, the new play that has generated much Tony buzz; and Fun Home, the musical that recently transferred from the Public Theatre.

But the play isn’t the only thing – a private VIP tour for up to six people of the Bronx Zoo, valued at $2,500 is offered, as are vacation homes on Long Beach Island and a Manhattan getaway in a Lincoln Center-area apartment. There is literally something for everyone – from wine aficionados (a Napa Valley trip and tasting) to Walking Dead fans (a boxed DVD set).

But you don’t have to wait until the event to bid on these fabulous items, the online bidding actually starts Friday, April 24. All items currently available may be viewed by visiting

So mark your calendars for Sunday May 3.  It is sure to be a “Starry Night” in New Brunswick, and some lucky people will leave with some extraordinary loot – all the while helping ensure another 40 years for George Street Playhouse. For information and tickets, call Steve Barry in the Development Office, at 732-846-2895, ext. 144

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Enduring Legacy of Ernest Shackleton

Lessons in perseverance and leadership learned from explorer’s expedition

Who exactly is the man behind the name in the title Ernest Shackleton Loves Me?

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on February 15, 1874, in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland, and raised in London, England, where he attended Dulwich College before joining the Merchant Navy at 16 years old.

Certified as a Master Mariner in 1898, Shackleton was accepted to join the Robert Scott-led Discovery expedition to Antarctica in 1901. He was selected to accompany Scott on his most southern march towards the South Pole for research purposes, but took ill and was sent home. Meanwhile, Scott’s march-- as planned--ended short of reaching the South Pole.

With explorers continuing the quest to be the first to reach the South Pole, Shackleton led the Nimrod expedition to Antarctica in 1908 and became the closest to ever reach the pole at that time. However, facing starvation, the expedition turned back and made it back to the ship just in time to return to England.

Shackleton was greeted as a hero and knighted by King Edward VII, and honored by the Royal Geographic Society. After Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1912, Shackleton planned one last Antarctic expedition to cross the continent.

After receiving funding from mostly private sources, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set sail from Plymouth on August 8, 1914. The expedition included two boats carrying 28 men each: Shackleton’s boat, the Endurance, captained by Frank Worsley; and the Aurora, captained by Aeneas Mackintosh and later by Joseph Stenhouse when Mackintosh left the ship to lead the ill-fated Ross Sea Party component of the expedition.

The Endurance became fast-frozen in an ice floe on January 19, 1915, and was stuck adrift. Shackleton hoped the ship could break free in the spring, but instead, the shifting and breaking ice began to crush the Endurance, which began taking on water. Shackleton eventually gave the order to abandon ship and the Endurance sank a few weeks later on November 21, 1915.

The crew of the Endurance set up camps on various ice floes in the months that followed, with Shackleton hoping they would eventually drift toward Paulet Island, where he knew relief stores were cached. But when the ice floe they were on split in two in April 1916, Shackleton ordered the men into the lifeboats and to head to the nearest land. After five harrowing days, the crew landed at Elephant Island -- an inhospitable place far from any shipping routes and approximately 346 miles from where the Endurance sank.

At this point, Shackleton decided to risk a 720-nautical-mile, open-boat journey to seek help at the whaling stations on South Georgia Island. He selected five men to join him on the dangerous journey, including Worsley and Endurance’s carpenter, Harry McNish, who retrofitted one of the lifeboats to make it more seaworthy. The lifeboat--christened the James Caird after the expedition’s primary sponsor--was launched on April 24, 1916, and reached the unoccupied side of South Georgia Island on May 9.

After a few days of rest and recuperation, Shackleton, Worsley and second officer Tom Crean began an approximately 30-mile trek over uncharted, mountainous terrain en route to the whaling stations on the island’s northern coast. Thirty-six hours later, the three men reached the whaling station at Stromness on May 20, 1916.

Shackleton immediately sent a boat to pick up the other three crew members of the lifeboat James Caird on the other side of South Georgia Island while he planned the rescue of the remainder of Endurance’s crew at Elephant Island.

After a few attempts to reach Elephant Island were again thwarted by sea ice, Shackleton persuaded the Chilean government to offer the use of a small, seagoing tug boat called the Yelcho in the operation. The Yelcho and a British whaling boat, the SS Southern Sky, reached Elephant Island on August 30, 1916, and all 22 crew members of the Endurance were finally evacuated--after nearly 4 ½ months in isolation on Elephant Island.

Shackleton later traveled to New Zealand to join the Aurora, which had returned there after many months adrift attached to an ice floe, to set about rescuing members of the Ross Sea Party. That group was charged with laying out supply depots for Shackleton’s planned cross-continent march that never happened. Despite the many hardships and the loss of three crew members--including commander Mackintosh--the Ross Sea Party successfully completed its mission. The seven survivors of the group were finally picked up by the Aurora on January 10, 1917.

Upon his return to civilization, Shackleton embarked on the lecture circuit and published South, his personal account of the Endurance expedition. But he was in poor health and failed business ventures left him greatly in debt.

In September 1921, Shackleton partnered with former schoolmate John Quiller Rowett on one last expedition to the Antarctic region, the Shackleton-Rowett expedition, which was funded entirely by Rowett. On September 16, 1921--just days before the expedition left, Shackleton recorded a farewell address via an “optical sound track” via a system developed by Harry Grindell Matthews, who claimed it was the world’s first “talking picture.”

With the expedition in South Georgia, Shackleton suffered a heart attack and died January 5, 1922. He was buried at Grytviken cemetery in South Georgia.

Legacy lost...and rediscovered

Despite his achievements, Shackleton was largely overshadowed by other explorers, most notably Robert Scott, into the middle part of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1959, when Alfred Lansing published Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage that Shackleton began gaining popularity among the masses. Other books on Shackleton appeared and, at the same time, accounts about Scott’s exploits began to show him in a more negative light.

In 2001, Margaret Morrell and Stephanie Capparell used Shackleton as a model for corporate leadership in their book Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer. Other similar books followed and, soon, business and leadership courses and schools incorporating Shackleton’s name were popping up in his native United Kingdom as well as in the United States.

In fact, an Irish Times article posted March 30 discusses how a Harvard business professor uses Shackleton to teach her MBA students about success.

Shackleton’s surge in popularity among the masses was confirmed in a 2002 poll conducted by the BBC to determine the “100 Greatest Britons.” Shackleton was ranked 11th, while Scott dropped all the way down to No. 54.

A banjo...and a violin! 

Kat, the heroine of Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is a composer who plays an electric violin. When Ernest Shackleton arrives in her apartment, he brings a banjo along with him.

As it so happens, both instruments were important to the crew of the Endurance. Leonard Hussey, Shackleton’s meteorologist, brought his banjo with him on the journey. While not an expert on the instrument, he claimed he played just “well enough to annoy the neighbors.”

Leonard Hussey's Banjo

Windsor, A.O. 
before 1913 
© National Maritime Museum Collections

During the expedition, Hussey’s playing of a banjo -- as well as a one-string violin he made out of vanasta wood from packing cases -- and his jovial nature proved important to raising the morale of the Endurance’s crew. In fact, even though Shackleton allowed his crew to take only two pounds worth of personal belongings with them when they abandoned the endurance, he made a last-minute decision to retrieve Hussey’s banjo from the Endurance just before it sank.

Hussey’s account of this moment is captured in 1957 book Shackleton by Margery and James Fisher, in which he is quoted as saying, “Sir Ernest saved the banjo just before the ship sank saying that, ‘we must have that banjo if we lose all our food, it’s vital mental medicine.’”

After most of the crew were left stranded on Elephant Island, Hussey would play songs to celebrate the capture of food and perform Saturday evening concerts.

And a century later, the music of Ernest Shackleton Loves Me serves as a celebration of the spirit of perseverance and romance of Shackleton’s era of exploration. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Climate change, Gabi Goes Green! take center stage at GSP

L to R: Lee Ballin, Head of Sustainable Business Programs, Bloomberg Global Sustainability Group; Jim Jack, Director of Education and Outreach, George Street Playhouse; Barry Wyner, Writer, Gabi Goes Green!; Sarah Cassell, GSP Education Touring Theatre Company; Kelly Kirkley, GSP Education Touring Theatre Company; Brittany Sambogna, GSP Education Touring Theatre Company; Adam McDowell, GSP Education Touring Theatre Company; Monica Hilliard, Bloomberg; Frederick Egenolf, Director of Community Affairs, Bristol-Myers Squibb; Andrew Miller, Bloomberg; Nanette Smith, Manager of Global Philanthropy and Engagement, Bloomberg; and Helen Ritchie, Bloomberg. (Photo by Brian Kelley/GSP)

Click for additional photos from this event

By Brian Kelley

GSP Marketing & PR Associate

New Jersey is a “hotspot” when it comes to climate change, Dr. Anthony Broccoli, professor and chair of the department of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, told a crowd of educators and colleagues during his keynote at a Spotlight on Environmental Education conference held at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., on Wednesday, April 1.

The event also featured the world premiere of the GSP Educational Touring Theatre's latest musical, Gabi Goes Green! -- a show that explores how individual choices impact the environment and global climate, and what we can do to ensure a more sustainable future.  Approximately 90 area fourth- and fifth-graders joined the crowd for the performance and had an opportunity to participate in a post-play discussion with the cast.

Broccoli shared with the crowd images produced by computer models showing projected future climate change that indicated a “dramatically warmer climate” by the year 2100.

“Climate especially important to us in New Jersey,” said Broccoli.  “Sea level along the New Jersey coast has increased 16 inches over the last 100 years, and it’s rising more rapidly here than the global average because the land is sinking.”

Broccoli added that research conducted by Rutgers and Tufts University shows sea level increasing 7 to 16 inches by 2030.  By the end of the 21st century, models show a 30-71 inch rise in sea level, with a best estimate of 42 inches.

In addition to flooding anticipated in a warmer world due to rising seas and more-intense storms, many locations--especially those in the sub tropics and middle latitudes--will experience prolonged dry spells, according to Broccoli.

While the news isn’t exactly promising, there is hope...and that’s where Gabi Goes Green! comes in.

The titular heroine of Gabi Goes Green! knows first-hand the effects of climate change. Gabi is a 14-year old who must get used to a new home and school after her former home--in her family for three generations--is destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.  A wish to return home transforms Gabi into the Green Hero. Armed with clean energy and sustainable choices, the Green Hero takes on Captain Carbon in a battle for the planet’s survival.

With book and lyrics by Barry Wyner and music by Daniel Israel, the same creative duo behind the touring company’s Austin the Unstoppable, the upbeat musical comedy is sure to entertain student audiences, while also stressing the seriousness of climate change and the positive choices each of us can make to ensure a sustainable future.  The play was commissioned by George Street Playhouse through the Victoria J. Mastrobuono New Work Development Program and a grant from Bloomberg. Funding was also provided by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Betty Wold Johnson and the Merrill G. & Emita E. Hastings Foundation. Additional support was provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

“We want Gabi Goes Green! to inspire students to make positive environmental choices in regard to energy efficiency and sustainability,” said Jim Jack, director of the production and GSP’s Director of Education and Outreach. “And Barry and Daniel have once again created something for us that is entertaining as well as engaging.

“We also wanted to stress the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and generate interest in these areas of study among student audiences,” added Jack.

In order to produce content that is scientifically accurate, GSP worked with a number of environmental organizations and educational institutions, including Rutgers Climate Institute, Sustainable Jersey for Schools, Clean Ocean Action, NJ Recovery Fund and New Jersey Future, to provide valuable research for the project and to align statewide environmental education objectives with the story content, post-play discussion protocols and study guide materials.

Gabi Goes Green! is aimed at elementary and middle-school students in grades 3 through 8, reaching approximately 10,000 students annually.  Anticipating a lifetime run of five to seven years, the production is expected to be staged in front of a total 60,000-70,000 young people.

The schoolchildren watching the Spotlight performance of Gabi Goes Green! responded with overwhelming applause and asked a number of great questions during the post-show discussion.

“Congratulations on what was a banner day for George Street Playhouse in every way,” said Jim Heston, President of GSP’s Board of Trustees.  “Gabi Goes Green! is an impactful and entertaining production on a very important global issue.

“Having Anthony Broccoli set the stage with a wonderful presentation on climate change and its implications and impacts was terrific,” added Heston.  “But the true ‘treasure moment’ of the day was the children’s responses and their strong interest in asking questions. They are the audience for Gabi and they not only enjoyed it, but they were engaged as well.  It made them think.”

Robert Carr, the New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s director of programs and services/ADA coordinator, echoed Heston’s sentiments.  “The day was quite a triumph for you all,” Carr said.  “It also proved the point that theater is a great conduit for learning and understanding.  The show is a delight as well -- entertaining, thoughtful and poignant. Great work!”

Gail Winar, professor of theatre and teaching artist, also offered praise for the show.  “Bravo to the director, creative team, designers and cast of Gabi Goes Green!  It was a delightful, entertaining and sneakily educational green valentine of musical theater.”

The Spotlight event also included workshops conducted by representatives of New Jersey Future, Rutgers Climate Institute and Sustainable Jersey for Schools.

New Jersey Future is working with a number of municipalities along the state’s coastline to help them better understand and communicate local risks and vulnerabilities -- with educators, parents and students being essential to their efforts.

The Rutgers Climate Institute presentation was geared toward educating students on the differences between climate and weather, while Sustainable Jersey for Schools discussed its free and voluntary certification program for the state’s PreK-12 public and charter schools as well as the training, grants and resources available to participating schools.

Attendees were treated to an amazing, vegetarian lunch catered by Elijah’s Promise, the New Brunswick-based community soup kitchen/culinary school/catering service, which provided biodegradable napkins and plates.