Monday, September 17, 2018

George Street Playhouse’s Educational Touring Theatre Musical about the Opioid Crisis premieres at Spotlight Conference



WHEN: September 25, 2018
George Street Playhouse, 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick
For more information and to book Anytown for a performance at a school or organization, please visit or call 732-846-2895, extension 117.

George Street Playhouse’s Educational Touring Theatre, courtesy of support from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, will premiere a new musical about the opioid crisis and its impact on teens and families. This original musical was developed in response to the devastating impact prescription opioid misuse, heroin, and fentanyl have had on communities throughout New Jersey.

Anytown will premiere as part of a special Spotlight Conference on Opioid Abuse. The Spotlight Conference will feature a keynote address from New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal along with workshops for educators, school administrators, and public health professionals conducted by experts in the field from RWJBarnabas Health’s Institute for Prevention and Recovery. 

“Opioid abuse and misuse is a public health crisis that is destroying families across New Jersey.  George Street Playhouse is grateful to partner with The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health on the commission and development of Anytown,” said Jim Jack, Director of Education and Outreach for George Street Playhouse. “This musical will tour middle and high schools across New Jersey help raise awareness about the dangers of opioid abuse and help prevent further impact on teens and families.”

“It takes a comprehensive, integrated strategy to tackle an epidemic as complex as opioid addiction,” said Dr. Paul Alexander, Vice President & Chief Medical Officer, Government Programs for Horizon BCBSNJ. “Through Horizon’s work with organizations like the George Street Playhouse, we’ll continue to convene leaders within the state, the healthcare industry and community to identify best practices aimed at preventing opioid misuse and abuse among at-risk populations.”

“Educating our youth about the dangers of heroin and opioid abuse, and the severity of its long-term effects on peers, families and our communities is critical in curtailing the opioid crisis,” said Jen Velez, Executive Vice President of Community and Behavioral Health at RWJBarnabas Health. “This partnership with George Street Playhouse and Horizon is truly a wonderful example of a collaboration that has the potential to make a meaningful impact across our state.”

Anytown explores the story of star athlete Hope Baker who sports a 4.0 GPA and limitless potential.

But when a boy she likes offers her a pill to reduce the pain from a soccer injury, Hope makes a decision that rapidly transforms her dreams into an escalating nightmare. With her future at stake, will Hope be able to confront her opioid abuse and stop feeding the monster that seeks to destroy everything she cares about? 

Anytown focuses on the consequences of opioid abuse and its impact on teens and families.  Presenting the seriousness of this national crisis as a cautionary tale, this musical empowers students with the knowledge to make positive decisions to avoid opioid use and help them understand the dangerous consequences of substance abuse disorder. Working in partnership with the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, this original musical was created from interviews with opioid prevention experts, families with children struggling with this disease, individuals recovering from opioid abuse, doctors, law enforcement officers, students, and educators. Key research and feedback during the development of this musical was provided by RWJBarnabas Health’s Institute for Prevention and Recovery and Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

Specific educational objectives woven into the story include:

  • Promoting an understanding of the legal, physiological and social consequences of drug and opioid use
  • Prioritizing prevention and safe behavior through personal responsibility and knowledge
  • Helping teens understand how opioids make structural and functional changes in the brain that compromise their ability to make positive decisions and consider long-term consequences
  • Demonstrating how best to respond in a situation where a friend or loved one is involved in opioid use, abuse, and/or an overdose

George Street Playhouse Touring Theatre

A troupe of four actors and a stage manager (all recent college graduates with degrees in theatre) travel about 7,000 miles each school year in a van filled with costumes, props and sets performing over 150 shows to schools throughout the state of New Jersey.  Each performance is followed by a post-play discussion with the students to examine and discuss the themes of the show. Our Touring Theatre actors are trained in conflict resolution and peer mediation techniques which enables them to facilitate these important conversations with our young audiences.

The 2018-2019 Touring Theatre company features Akoni Steinmann, Eileen Doan, Emma Wagner, and Joe Piserchio. The Stage Manager is Erica Leigh.

The tour is available from October 1, 2018 through April 6, 2019. 

Anytown was written by Jim Jack with Anna K. Jacobs who composed the music and lyrics. The musical features 10 original songs and is directed by Portia Krieger.

Anytown is targeted to middle and high school students in grades seven through twelve, reaching up to 10,000 students annually. Over the 30 years of GSP’s Educational Touring Theatre, the average run of a commission is five to seven years. The production is expected to reach a total New Jersey audience of 50,000.

In working to produce an engaging musical that effectively educates students about the dangers of opioid abuse, George Street Playhouse has partnered with the RWJBarnabas Health’s Institute for Prevention and Recovery and Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, aligning statewide opioid addiction prevention objectives with the story content, post-play discussion protocols, and study guide materials.

About GSP’s Educational Touring Theatre
George Street Playhouse’s Educational Touring Theatre is the centerpiece of the New Brunswick, N.J.-based theatre’s educational programming. The program commissions and produces first-class productions with relevant themes for young audiences, such as respect, conflict resolution, and health and wellness. Each play is followed by a post-play discussion providing excellent starting points for engaging classroom conversations that can be used to fulfill New Jersey Common Core State Standards. The Touring Theatre visits hundreds of schools in the tri-state area and beyond, and are seen by more than 35,000 students annually. For the 2018-19 season, the Touring Theatre will present two plays. Anytown, a new musical about a star high school student whose struggles with opioid abuse disorder impacts every aspect of her life.  The other play, New Kid remains the Touring Theatre's most successful program, addressing racism, prejudice, peer pressure, and conflict resolution. New Kid also asks students to explore issues of: moving to a new place, being the outsider, making and keeping friends. Visit for more information, or contact The Playhouse Education Department at, or 732-846-2895, extension 117.

About George Street Playhouse

George Street Playhouse is a nationally recognized theatre, presenting an acclaimed mainstage season to nearly 30,000 patrons annually, while providing an artistic home for established and emerging theatre artists. Its leadership consists of Artistic Director David Saint and Managing Director Kelly Ryman. Currently located on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University, George Street Playhouse will take residence in a new performing arts center scheduled to open for the 2019-20 season. Founded in 1974, the Playhouse has been well represented by numerous productions both on and off-Broadway, including the Outer Critics’ Circle Best Musical Award-winner The Toxic Avenger; the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Drama League nominated production of The Spitfire Grill; and the Broadway hit and Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play Proof by David Auburn, which was developed at GSP during the 1999 Next Stage Series of new plays. In 2015, George Street Playhouse was represented by two productions in New York with the Broadway production of It Shoulda Been You and Joe DiPietro’s Clever Little Lies, which opened off-Broadway that same year. Both shows received their premieres at the Playhouse. Gettin’ the Band Back Together, which premiered at GSP in 2013, opened on Broadway in Summer 2018. In addition to its mainstage season, GSP’s Touring Educational Theatre features issue-oriented productions that are seen by more than 35,000 students annually.

Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.

George Street Playhouse programming is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

About Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state's oldest and largest health insurer is a tax-paying, not-for-profit health service corporation, provides a wide array of medical, dental, vision and prescription insurance products and services. Horizon BCBSNJ is leading the transformation of health care in New Jersey by working with doctors and hospitals to deliver innovative, patient-centered programs that reward the quality, not quantity, of care patients receive. Learn more at Horizon BCBSNJ is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association serving more than 3.8 million members.

About RWJBarnabas Health

RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH) and Rutgers University are forming New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive academic health system.  The public-private partnership is dedicated to providing high quality patient care, leading-edge research, and world-class health and medical education to transform and advance health care in New Jersey.  The partnership aligns RWJBH, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and Rutgers Health, the clinical arm and brand of Rutgers University. This alliance will result in a multi-specialty group comprised of more than 2,500 practitioners – one of the largest medical groups in the country.  The partnership also aligns RWJBH with Rutgers’ education, research and clinical activities, including those at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only NCI-designated cancer center, and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.

RWJBarnabas Health covers a service area of nine counties with five million people and is the state’s largest private employer. The system includes eleven acute care hospitals, three acute care children’s hospitals and a leading pediatric rehabilitation hospital with its multiple outpatient centers, a freestanding 100-bed behavioral health center, two trauma centers, a satellite emergency department, ambulatory care centers, geriatric centers, the state’s largest behavioral health network, comprehensive home care and hospice programs, fitness and wellness centers, retail pharmacy services, a medical group, multi-site imaging centers and two accountable care organizations.


Jim Jack, book writer of Anytown, is a producer, director, and deviser of original plays and musicals.  As the Director of Education and Outreach for George Street Playhouse, Jim leads GSP's Academy, School-based Residency Programs, Educational Touring Theatre, and Mainstage Audience Engagement Initiatives that serve over 40,000 students and patrons annually. As recognition for his leadership in the field of arts education, Jim received the 2017 New Jersey Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service in Theatre Arts Education.

As a director, recent credits include Trying, My Name is Asher Lev (*The Star Ledger’s Best Production of 2016) and Terra Incognita for George Street Playhouse.  Jim produced, devised and directed Our Town Now, a play based on fifty oral interviews with people who live and work in New Brunswick.  For GSP's Educational Touring Theatre, Jim has commissioned and produced Anytown, Gabi Goes Green! and Austin the Unstoppable. Jim will direct The Immigrant for GSP’s mainstage in March 2019.

Anna K. Jacobs, the composer and lyricist of Anytown, is a Brooklyn-based composer/lyricist and sometimes-librettist. Her musicals include Pop!, Harmony Kansas ), Teeth Echo(The Gallery Players), Stella and the Moon , and the short musicals Cage Match and Magic 8 Ball . She also wrote music and lyrics for Kaya: Taste of Paradise, a movie musical commissioned by the New York Film Academy. Currently, she and playwright Anna Ziegler are collaborating on a new musical for Barbara Whitman Productions and Grove Entertainment about catfishing. She is a former Sundance Fellow and Dramatists Guild Fellow, and has been an Artist in Residence at Ars Nova, New Dramatists, Musical Theatre Factory, Goodspeed, and Barrington Stage Company.

Portia Krieger, the director of Anytown, is a New York-based theater director who works on new plays and musicals. Favorite productions include Olivia Dufault’s The Tomb of King Tot, Deborah Zoe Laufer's Be Here Now , Sofia Alvarez’s Friend Art , Sarah Einspanier's The Convent of Pleasure , Caroline V. McGraw's The Bachelors, Clare Barron's Baby Screams Miracle, and Eager to Lose. Portia is an inaugural National Directors Fellow, an alumna of the Drama League Directors Project and the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, a former Ars Nova Director-in Residence, a Clubbed Thumb Affiliated Artist, and a co-founder of the New Georges Jam. She was also the Associate Director of Fun Home on Broadway. 

The team of Matt Castle & Frank Galgano provide musical direction and orchestrations.  They celebrate 10 years of collaboration this fall with the world premiere of Anytown, the third new musical they have orchestrated for The Playhouse. .  They have designed orchestrations for 30 musicals, including Disney Beauty and the Beast for Disney Cruise Line, Found, Once Upon a Mattress, Into the Woods, and many new works for regional theaters and touring companies such as Theatreworks/USA, Kennedy Center, and Pioneer Drama Service.  They have written concert orchestrations for a diverse range of performers, from Carole King, Aloe Blacc,and Randy Newman, to Broadway stars Beth Leavel, Cynthia Erivo, and Kristin Chenoweth.  Currently, they are working on American Girl Live, Chick Flick, the Musical, and Kris Kringle, the Musical airing this holiday season on NJTV.

Native New Yorker Ani Taj is the choreographer, and is the artistic director of The Dance Cartel. With the Cartel she has received support from LMCC, NYLA, The Orchard Project and BAX, and she has choreographed videos for Yoko Ono, Reggie Watts and Vic Mensa. Recently, she was a featured dancer in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway. Theater choreography highlights include Runaways, Good Men Wanted, The Convent of Pleasure, Jesse Eisenberg’s Asuncion (Rattlestick).


Akoni Steinmann (Adam/Monster) is a recent graduate of the BFA Acting program at Marymount Manhattan college performing in The Skin of Our Teeth, Tartuffe, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and An Enemy of the People. He was recently apart of Hip to Hip Theatre Company performing in All's Well That Ends Well and King Lear.

Eileen Doan (Robyn/Monster) is an actor-musician from Kentucky who's done theatre regionally in New York, North Carolina, and Florida, as well as abroad in England. She has a dual degree in political science and psychology from the University of Kentucky. She is also a singer-songwriter who has previously released three independent albums and has written the music and score for a one-act musical. Credits include Once, American Idiot and Stop Kiss.

Emma Wagner (Hope) is a graduate of Montclair State University's BFA Acting Program. Her credits include Iphigenia in Aulis, Misalliance, Michigan Murders, and Tartuffe. She recently worked as a Performer at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and appeared as a dancer in their Christmas Parade.

Joe Piserchio (Joey/Doctor/Monster) originated the roles of Joey, Doctor and Monster 2 in "Anytown". Other credits include Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, Andrew Carnes Oklahoma! and Doody Grease.