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A Home for the Arts

October 25th, 2017


It was not your typical subject matter for a work of musical theater. There was the requisite love story. There was mystery. But mainly, the plot centered on ... climate change.

The production, The Great Immensity, began in a 2009–10 atelier class offered in Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts. It was an unusual collaboration, bringing together scientists and artists from the Lewis Center, the Princeton Environmental Institute, and the Civilians, a theater group that would go on to receive a grant of almost $700,000 from the National Science Foundation to show how theater can increase public engagement with scientific issues. Students and faculty came not just from Princeton’s arts programs, but from fields including bioethics, biology, engineering, environmental studies, and geosciences. 

The Great Immensity is about a woman named Phyllis, whose husband, a nature documentary producer, disappears while on assignment on a tropical island. While searching for him, Phyllis discovers a plot to disrupt an upcoming climate summit in Paris. To tell that story, students in the atelier produced inventive work: Andrea Grody ’11 and KC (Wade) Jean-Pierre ’11 co-wrote a song about forest fires, based on their conversation with a North Carolina firefighter. Jackie Hedeman ’11 spent weeks immersed in online chat rooms to research the predatory snakehead fish. Inspired by her interview with an ecologist, Erin Sherman ’11 painted a watercolor that depicted how humans are affected by climate change.

“We were turning statistics into songs,” recalls Grody, who was the show’s music director and is making her debut as a music director on Broadway this fall.

To read more about Princeton's Lewis Center for the Arts, click here.

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