Brothers take escape stunt to U. streets
With his red fedora outstretched to the crowd, Griffin Hennelly encouraged students to drop in spare dollars as his older brother, Austin Hennelly, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, stood with his arms strapped tightly to his body by a straightjacket.
"We sort of started it for the hell of it," Austin Hennelly said. "[My brother] was coming down to visit me and brought a straightjacket."
A spur of the moment trip turned into a plan to take the act to University streets Wednesday on Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus when the brothers realized they needed enough money for Griffin Hennelly, a first-year student at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting School in New York, to return home.
"The straightjacket gets the most visceral reaction from the crowd because it's associated with such great stuff in the past," he said. "Mental patients first off and, of course, Harry Houdini. This is a big feeling. It's better than just shackles."
The unusual sight of a man wriggling to free himself attracted more than 100 students chanting and clapping to a countdown when the two brothers struck up three impromptu street acts.
The brothers traded places as performer and promoter after each act.
Money donated shaved seconds off a two-minute deadline for escape, with the threat of a painful consequence for not breaking out in time.
"Each dollar given gets a second taken off [and] the time gets smaller and smaller," Griffin Hennelly said. "If we can't get out in time, we allow a volunteer from the audience to kick us in the testicles."
The brothers enlisted randomly selected students to be "the kickers," although none had the chance to fulfill the job description.
The Hennellys collected more than $30 and four cigarettes in Griffin Hennelly's fedora by the end of their three performances, and every act ended with cheers from the crowds as one of the brothers wrenched free before time expired.
"When the crowd is loving it, we're happy," said Austin Hennelly, who managed to break free in 39 seconds during the final act.
The last kicker chosen was Iman Abdelhady, an Ocean County College student visiting University friends.
"I feel quite disappointed that I didn't get to kick the man in the nuts, but he was out of the straightjacket in less than 39 seconds. He did it," Abdelhady said.
The act was almost as unplanned to the brothers as it was to the students, Austin Hennelly said.
"We started practicing it together two days [before Wednesday]," Griffin Hennelly said. "But we had done it a lot when we were little."
Growing up with a professional magician for a father, the Hennellys had years of experience with breaking out of restraints.
"We've been doing stuff like this since we were little, escaping out of most things — ropes, chains, straightjackets," Griffin Hennelly said. "I've known how to do this since I was seven. It's just kind of been a family thing for a while."
The reactions the Hennellys received from University students ranged, Austin Hennelly said.
"Anything between complete skepticism and delight at the prospect of someone being hurt — that's sort of what motivates the whole thing," he said. "And then also excitement when it works out."
The impromptu acts sparked a desire to bring more performances to the University, said Griffin Hennelly, whose ensemble of a polka-dotted button up underneath a plaid blazer showcased his flair for vibrancy.
"We're hoping to start reviving vaudevillian kind of live entertainment performances and exciting, interesting new stuff that hasn't been done in a while," he said.
The brothers' act received support from Austin Hennelly's roommate Gidon Weisberg, who donated money and motivated other students to follow.
"I feel that there should be more danger involved, but it's a pretty decent amount," said Weisberg, a Graduate School of Education student. "We're almost to the threshold of people paying five bucks to see it."
School of Engineering sophomore Eric Vergara was pleased with the performance.
"[It was] pretty funny. It was great entertainment," he said. "They've got a pretty good act."
Vergara was also impressed by the brothers' ability to escape the straightjacket.
"I am not as flexible as I used to be, so there's no way I could pull myself out of a straightjacket," he said.
The Hennelly brothers want to develop and lengthen their acts, Griffin Hennelly said.
"Hopefully we're bringing back live entertainment," he said.
The brothers hope to have more acts for the summer and plan to perform later this month at Tent State University, a weeklong camp-out on Voorhees Lawn on the College Avenue campus to protest state budget cuts to the University.
"We will have more performances next week," Austin Hennelly said. "Different illusions, higher stakes."
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