THE BIRTH OF A PHENOMENON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to be in on something, at the beginning, that becomes huge and enduring. My ex-husband, Larry, and I had that opportunity in law school from 1973-1975.

Larry started at Georgetown University Law School (GULC) a year ahead of me. In the spring of 1973, Larry, with a talented guy named Jack Marshall and a few other law students, got together and decided to put on a show. They picked the Gilbert & Sullivan show “Trial By Jury” – very appropriate for a law school. This was unusual. Law schools are not known to have many, if any, extra curricular, non-legal activities. Students are overworked and overwhelmed just trying to keep up with schoolwork.

Jack Marshall

Nonetheless, Jack and Larry’s group forged ahead. Jack was the director. They got a popular professor to star as the Judge. There wasn’t much rehearsal time and no marketing, but everyone involved had a great time. The performance was free, so it was hoped at least a few friends and family members of the cast would show up.

Six hundred people came to see the first show. The auditorium only held 200. People stood sardine-style in the aisles or sat on each other’s laps. The show was a smash! The Dean of the Law School said the show had bound the school community together in a unique way. He asked Jack to continue to produce shows until he graduated.

The next year, my first year in Law School during which I met my future husband, it was decided to try a more sophisticated performance. This show would have full sets, rented costumes and a large cast. Students, teachers and family members were recruited to do everything for the show, which was “The Pirates Of Penzance.” We ended up with a professional set designer and a professional seamstress volunteering their time.

I was in the chorus.

1974 “Pirates of Penzance“. I am in the purple dress, second from the left, second row

Larry was in charge of marketing. He had the brilliant idea to advertise the show in local papers and not just at the law school. Tickets were no longer free.

Jack was a brilliant director and the show was awesome. The cast was as close to professional as amateurs can get. We filled the auditorium for both performances. The cast and crew had a blast. The reviews were fantastic. The audiences were enthusiastic and the law school was thrilled. We made enough money to repay the school for what they had laid out for the production. We even had some money left over to put aside for the next year’s show.

That next show was “Iolanthe” and I was, again, in the chorus. This show became famous at the law school for a strange reason. William Rehnquist, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, loved Gilbert & Sullivan and came to our infamous dress rehearsal. It was an epic, four-and-a-half hour disaster. Everything went wrong. The set caught fire behind where I was sitting on the stage, and yet …

1975 “Iolanthe.” I am second row back, green dress behind the girl in pink dress

The actual performances turned out to be even more polished and well-received than the previous year. We made enough money to be self-supporting. A tradition was born.

Jack was hired by the Law School to stay on after graduation and keep the shows going. These shows have continued for 44 years. This is the only graduate student-operated theater company in the country. It also prides itself in being “America’s Only Theater Company With It’s Own Law School!”

The Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society (GG&SS) is part of the admissions office promotional material used to attract new students. The Company’s success and popularity over the years caused the law school to remodel the Moot Court Room which was being used as the theater. They turned it into a fully equipped, professional theater.

GG&SS logo

Over the years, shows and performances have been added to the repertoire. The GG&SS began producing three shows a year – a Broadway musical in the Fall, a straight play in the winter, and a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in the spring. Each show gives at least four performances. The recruitment of cast and crew expanded to include the entire Washington, D.C. community as well as the law school. The productions are financed by Student Government.

The GG&SS is now an institution with its own history and fan base. Jack and his original crew are like rock stars at the Society. Stories about our first years are like folk-lore to each new batch of legal theater nerds.

In 2013, Jack Marshall came back and wrote and directed a 40th Anniversary alumni performed Gilbert & Sullivan revue. The current students also put on an anniversary production of “Trial By Jury.” A thousand alumni and fans came to see the four performances and celebrate the phenomenon that is GG&SS. Jack said that they were really celebrating that the law was unable to squeeze the humanity and fun out of generations of law students.

2013 40th Anniversary Playbill

It makes me happy and proud that I was there when all this began. I’m even in a photo of the 1975 “Pirates” cast on the website. Something that I was a part of has made a difference in people’s lives for more than four decades.

It’s still going strong. That says a lot.

7 thoughts on “THE BIRTH OF A PHENOMENON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • Yes, Ellin, it must be neat to know you were there when it all started. As slmret says, it’s a boffo way to show lawyers are real people. Is there a video of one of the shows?

      I have a secret passion for pretty women in green dresses.

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      • I know that the Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society has videos. You can call them and ask if there is any way that you could see any of them.
        I have always known that lawyers can be really cool people. They are often sharp and intelligent and they know how to make a good argument. That makes them interesting to talk to. I think we just have bad PR.

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    • This story would be amazing at any graduate school, but that is particularly true of a law school. I don’t think other law schools have copied us though. So it may just be an isolated incident. Maybe another reason it caught on so well was that it was in Washington, D.C. WHo knows but the whole thing is quite remarkable!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It really is amazing that this school play from 40 years ago has turned into a thriving theatrical tradition that involves both school and local communities. It’s unusual for anything to last over 40 years these days. So this is beyond awesome. I’m so proud to have been part of its inception.

      Liked by 1 person

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