It’s that of year again when many things come colliding together and all these things are urgent! Yup, it’s Christmas City Follies crunch time, which also always coincides with our annual audit, and, because why not keep things interesting, let’s throw in a Board Meeting on the first day of the audit too. Cue stress… now!
Fortunately, I’ve learned some important tips when it comes to time and stress management over the years. One lesson that took me a little while to accept was that taking a “time out” rather than “pushing through” is ultimately more effective. If I feel like I’m hitting a wall and not thinking as clearly I should or just super sleepy, I’ll give my officemates a head’s up that I’m giving myself a time out for 10 minutes. Then, I go do my favorite yoga pose – “legs up the wall” – on the wooden bench outside the rehearsal room in the upper lobby.
“Legs Up the Wall” or Viparita Karani:
It’s amazingly effective for me as a way to refocus and recharge, especially when I pair “legs up the wall” with deep breathing exercises. Plus, since I sit or stand most of the day it helps with circulation to have my legs at a higher point than my heart. It’s also supposed to be great for your nervous and digestive system. Perhaps the most important lesson though is that doing less is more. By simple resting and not running around trying to get a million things done at once, I’m allowing my body to recuperate and am far more effective afterwards than if I would have powered through.
Last week, during the Follies/audit/board trifecta, I did this pose and realized as I came out of it that there are a number of marks on the wall from where the heels of my shoes rest up against it. I’ll need to clean those off before opening night of Follies!
The Network of Ensemble Theaters defines an ensemble as: a group of individuals dedicated to collaborative creation, committed to working together consistently over years to develop a distinctive body of work and practices. Ensemble members, both artists and administrators, are empowered to help shape their theater’s artistic direction and organizational structure.
For Touchstone, this isn’t just a definition; it’s a means of existence. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that the lines between home and work are blurred beyond clear definition. Beyond being our livelihoods, this is our art, our vision, and we’ve decided to create it with each other. It’s a marriage. It’s a battlefield foxhole. It’s a senate. Some might call us exclusionary in the act of Ensemble making; you don’t often find Touchstone (outside of our community-based undertakings) holding open auditions or rapidly bringing new Ensemble Members into the fold. This week, we once again remember, in part, why: because it hurts when someone leaves. It’s the dissolution of the family. It’s the fallen comrade. It’s the nation collapsing in to it’s pieces. Whether on good terms or bad, it hurts either way.
I often tell people the quickest way to become friends with someone is to jam. It’s that simple: pick up an instrument and play… sing a song together. When the music ends, you’ll carry that moment of sublime human harmonic resonance forward. But whenever the best music ceases, there is always a moment of emptiness, something where there was once something. In the mythos of the Greek god Pan, there is a story where Pan and Apollo had a musical competition. Pan played first, and all of the animals and humans came to hear the beautiful music and celebrate in it. When Apollo played, all sat rapt, and when he was finished playing, it’s said that the absence of his music made everyone feel as if they had lost a loved one. Apollo was crowned champion.
This week, Ensemble Associate Josh Neth leaves his post for the greener pastures of sunny California. Josh had been a part of the Ensemble for the last two years and had become not only an invaluable member of the artistic family but a true friend. We will all miss you, Josh. Thanks for jamming.
First a few words about the image above. Matteo on the left, Adele walking center, Scott in the red t-shirt, and Anisa all pregnant, leaning on her elbow, and supervising the rehearsed moment on the far right. I think it’s Alex on sound with the laptop.
It was close to a year ago that Anisa called together a handful of friends – designers, directors, choreographers, actors – to Dan and her home to read a script she’d drafted with her co-workers (There will be important collaborators I fail to mention, but certainly Jaime – eventually to play Chapman – must be named). That’s about when I started getting involved.
Emma has asked me to write a bit about it, but it’s hard for any number of reasons. First of all, I’ve worked with Anisa making theatre since before she could talk, and creating a piece like this with her is a profound life-privilege, if you know what I’m trying to say. It also is a professional gift, as the piece is easily one of the most beautiful works I’ve ever had the good luck of being a part. I am deeply grateful to Touchstone for giving me the permission to do this piece at not great levels of remuneration – which means Touchstone is supporting me a bit.
Anyway, there’s a long but fairly entertaining interview Anisa masterminded about our working together, art within the family, that whole thing. I encourage you to listen.
The whole question of why do this stuff always bounces around, sometimes hitting me in the face and at others just…bouncing, never to go away I guess. After all, Holden will see, after so much plain ol’ grunt work, anxiety, hope, and assiduous loving labor, at best, a thousand people. The kind of dedication required is profound, the remuneration that results pitiful. It’s a cliché that isn’t very funny and it speaks to the values of our culture in ways that can’t be dealt with here. I simply wish to say, I’m grateful.
I was lying up stage of Salinger’s cot on the set at Fringe Arts as pregnant Anisa, hardly able to move (she’s due in just three weeks), worked with Scott (again and again) on a particular movement phrase; I decided to sneak out my phone to take a little video.
The stage: it’s a magic and even holy place when enchanted by a loving and honest act of dedicated creation. I thank God I am permitted to express my gratitude for the gift of life through this act of collective creation.
Closing performance tonight! Come see us!
The community-based Dear Tamaqua project came to its epic finale last night, with fireworks, chiming bells, and Jp and Anna rocking out with Tamaqua’s mayor. We even had a train participate in festivities!
(No joke – we had been trying for months to try and figure out if there would be a train running during the performance, which they were not allowed to tell us for security reasons, and right before the finale, a slow train chugged through town. Kids put pennies on the rail, and everyone waved to the conductor, and it couldn’t have been timed more perfectly if we’d tried!)
Setup efforts included traipsing through the woods to place lighting units, neighbors decorating their front porches as parade “floats,” graffiti art summarizing the varying attitudes of Tamaqua locals on their hometown, and massive paths of white cloth guiding the audience.
It was also a rare opportunity for Touchstone personnel; usually, we got a year or two (or more) in between large-scale, outdoor, community-based productions, and to have two in the same year meant that we were in much better practice for what a performance like this takes. In performing outdoor work (let alone large-scale outdoor work, let alone traveling large-scale outdoor work), there is so much that depends on proper prep getting done (large crews available at the right time, reminders for the hundreds of people involved to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated, anticipating the sound and light in a space, putting together remarkable new set pieces for the first time, and more). Major props to Mr. Jp as the production’s director/designer/co-conceiver and Miss Amber as badass stage managerette for the staggering amount of logistical prep!
For the show itself, I got to hang out with and assistant stage manage a collection of performers, ranging from local dance and vocal talent from the performing arts academy to cheerleaders from the high school to a local belly dance teacher and two of her students. It was wonderful to be able to watch these talented folks perform for their friends and family, as well as people who might have never seen them perform otherwise.
And now – at the end of it all, the morning after the show, there’s that familiar post-outdoor-community-based-epic-theatre feeling of aching muscles, slow rehydration, blur of memories from the day before, and immense satisfaction at having helped create something important to a lot of people.
We’re proud to have been involved in this incredible project. Thanks, Tamaqua!
This past weekend, in preparation for an 80’s party coming up on Friday night, I raided the Touchstone costume shop (Not the first time I’ve done this, nor will it be the last, I’m sure!). This is a pretty nice perk for all of us working at Touchstone that can come in handy for Halloween, theme parties, etc. My guess is most of us have done this for one reason or another over the years. The unspoken rule is return it clean, and if you damaged or lost it, then replace it. So far, so good with this rule… fingers crossed!
The added perk for me, as one of the costume designers at Touchstone, is that I have a pretty good idea of our costume stock. After pulling any potential 80’s pieces from my home closet and running a little light in the neon, I remembered the costume I bought for a character called the Wire Monster in my Young Playwrights’ Festival play two years ago. The costume was electric yellow, hard-to-even-look-at-bright – perfect for the 80’s. I also remembered the poofy black skirts I bought for the Shopping Cart Ballet in Follies when we did a roller derby themed ballet about five years ago.
After rummaging around, I found a black mesh shirt I knew was donated recently, too. The beginnings of the perfect 80’s costume… see for yourself!
Two years ago, after learning about community-based theatrical work by way of a TED Talk, the Tamaqua Community Arts Center enlisted Touchstone Theatre to help them create a piece of art specific to their community. Since Touchstone began to make community-based work one of its hallmarks in 1999 with the debut of Steelbound, a site-specific epic produced on the recently closed Bethlehem Steel grounds with a cast and crew of nearly one hundred local steel workers, all of our large-scale community work has centered around our home city of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley area.
This new opportunity in Tamaqua would now allow Touchstone to expand on its practice and evolve battle-tested approaches to community-based work for use in communities other than Bethlehem. Our latest community-based project, Dear Tamaqua… was born.
Just as we do with all our other community-based endeavors, we reached out to the community for the generation of raw material. This project saw that solicitation through the open-ended prompt of ‘Dear Tamaqua…’ The website created for the project instructs:
‘Show your hometown pride by penning a letter to Tamaqua. Your hopes for the future, your fondest memories, “constructive criticism”… a love letter, snail mail, email, a song, a selfie, your art about Tamaqua… T-town is listening and so are we. What’s special, what’s unique… What’s ours! Help us build the community we all want!’
From a community of roughly seven thousand residents, we received over five hundred submissions. After combing through the five hundred submissions and being inspired by the community-based work of Teatro Potlach’s Invisible Cities, a series of site specific works that challenge perception of urban environments, we’ve developed a ‘performance walk’ that leads participants through a mile of borough streets where they will encounter both spectacle and performance meant to transform their normal relationship to the borough as well as encounter content pulled directly from the gathered raw material. (Not only did the fine folks at Potlach inspire us in this project, they will also be Touchstone’s ’15-’16 season opener with their show Fellini’s Dream!)
Now, after two years in the making, Dear Tamaqua… will debut! For one night only! This project has required a huge amount of resources from Touchstone but also the entire borough of Tamaqua and some remarkable people up there who have given their blood, sweat and tears to make their community come to life with this project. Thanks to all our Anthracite Region friends for letting us help them with their project! If any of you Lehigh Valley folks are up for the drive, come see the production on August 4th. You can read more about it at www.deartamaqua.com
Lehigh University is heading towards its 150th Anniversary, and Ricardo Viera, the Curator of Lehigh’s Galleries and a dear and long-time friend of Touchstone, decided to commemorate the event by mounting a photo exhibit from their teaching collection called: Revisiting South Bethlehem: 150 Years of Photography. And he generously asked me to “play the fool”–create a performance using the collection that would dissolve the work into another creation of sorts, but this one dramatic and set to open to the general public at Baker Hall on September 24th at 7 pm. Thanks, Ricardo.
When I came to Lehigh it was all male, which was what I wanted, but then very quickly realized… it wasn’t. Couldn’t seem to get anything right, couldn’t seem to find my footing. My parents were in Argentina; I’d spent most of my high school years in Japan. And at the football games… I wasn’t so much bored as just an outsider, disconnected, like one of Shakespeare’s fools. Folks like me, outside the mainstream, can be useful, comme Jacques in As You Like It or Velasquez hiding in the corner of his painting, Las Meninas – a little melancholic perhaps but a useful perspective.
A fool, a fool! I met a fool i’ the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
I am ambitious for a motley coat.
It is my only suit,
Provided that you weed your better judgments
Of all opinion that grows rank in them
That I am wise. I must have liberty
Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please, for so fools have.
And they that are most gallèd with my folly,
They most must laugh. And why, sir, must they so?
The “why” is plain as way to parish church:
He that a fool doth very wisely hit
Doth very foolishly, although he smart,
Not to seem senseless of the bob. If not,
The wise man’s folly is anatomized
Even by the squand’ring glances of the fool.
Invest me in my motley. Give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of th’ infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.
But there’s no danger here; Shakespeare’s Touchstone has a sharper tongue than I.
Still I must admit I can’t look at a picture like this…
… and keep from thinking of … well, you tell me. What do you see? What do you think? There’s a comments spot at the end of this blog. Write your reactions first, and then read on.
I see the moustaches, the similar hats, the virtually identical three piece suits — in two shades, dark or light — the secret conspiracy of fashion-conformity to keep the feeling of being safe as possible. The car’s pretty neat though, and if we actually knew any of these men, well, everything would change wouldn’t it? We’d see the individuality beneath the surface of generic amiability and desire to fit in.
These are my thoughts: often ungenerous, critical, even angry. Yup, that’s what I’m stuck with as I face the page, and from that soil must I grow this piece of theatre. But there’s more, much more. September 22 at Baker Hall on the Lehigh University Campus. Let’s see how it turns out. Hope to see you there.