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"Endurance" Play Links Shackleton Journey to Financial Crisis

Three men transform from insurance agents in a cubicle to Shackleton and his crew in the unforgiving South Pole.

In 1914, the great British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton managed to keep 27 men alive for two years in possibly the most inhospitable climate on earth, Antarctica. The explorer has been hailed as one of the greatest leaders of all time, about whom many books have been written

The Shackleton story is now the inspiration for a play at Long Wharf Theatre, "Endurance." The performance links the famed explorer with a nerdy insurance agent, Walter Spivey, who gets promoted during the 2009 economic collapse. Struggling to justify his promotion amidst great downsizing, Spivey turns to a book on Shackleton's leadership lessons, and strives to implement them in his insurance office. 

The play was created by Split Knuckle Theatre, a company that originated in London, but is now based in Storrs. They use few props, but lots of physicality. Artistic Director Greg Webster joined WNPR's Where We Live to talk about the creation of the play. He said, "A big part of our training is transforming simple objects into what can become multiple things. So at one moment you’re standing on top of a table, and the table, well, can the table turn over? Can the table spin on its end? Maybe that could be an iceberg."  

Throughout the comedic performance, three men transform from insurance agents in a cubicle to Shackleton and his crew in the unforgiving South Pole. 

Webster, who is also a professor of Movement Theater at UConn, said, "One of the things that we were really interested in was kind of examining the twentieth century man versus the twenty-first century man."  He said he personally wouldn't have lasted long in the Antarctic, and was inspired by Shackleton's story. "The fact that we are capable as human beings of doing incredible things and being really good to each other in the face of adversity. And we can choose to collapse. We can choose to let it all bog down," he said. "Because life is hard. Or we can make another choice, and say that, ya know, being here in this moment is really important, and we will persevere." 

You can see "Endurance" at Long Wharf Theatre from June 17 to 29.

Listen to the entire interview below: 

Catie Talarski is Senior Director of Storytelling and Radio Programming at Connecticut Public.
Jonathan is a producer for ‘The Colin McEnroe Show.’ His work has been heard nationally on NPR and locally on Connecticut Public’s talk shows and news magazines. He’s as likely to host a podcast on minor league baseball as he is to cover a presidential debate almost by accident.
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