Skip to content

From Bill – Remembering Barbara

July 20, 2018
barbara

Bill and Barbara in “Petrushka,” Godfrey Daniels, 1977. Directed & Choreographed by Barbara Pearson

To the Touchstone family,

Allow us a moment, here at Touchstone, to grieve, please.

We lost Barbara Pearson this last week.  As you may know, Barbara was the widow of Professor John Pearson, the inspiration for much of the work that started us off back in the early 70’s and still inspires us here at 321 E. 4th Street (you walk under John’s name whenever you go into our little studio theatre).  After John’s passing in 1976, she was a founder of People’s Theatre Company, the precursor to Touchstone, and at a time when she was still pregnant with her third child (Mary), having just lost her adored husband to a sudden heart attack, she selflessly supported Bridget and myself and the very difficult work that led to the formation of Touchstone Theatre. Those of you who were there to watch know of what I speak.  Her brilliant, funny, creative fire, extraordinary compassion, unrelenting work ethic, and indomitable spirit held us up in those early years, protected us, guided us, challenged us; and today, 42 years later, at her passing, it feels like an impossibly great loss.

There are so many, many memories from all those years until now, full of that dual pain and joy that comes from having loved and lived passionately.

In Barbara’s last days… it was very difficult, certainly for her family as well.  Neighbors circled around to support her and her dear Victor and Mary.  I did not visit but wrote some words we asked Mary to read to her.  A few of those I can share:

My dear and darling Barbara…  know you live inside us … in our hearts and minds.  Your fierce, no nonsense love.  Your passionate burning imagination.  Your courage.

 

_______________________________________

Barbara’s obituary here.

 

From Jp – Goleniów Bound (thank you, TCG!)

July 9, 2018

In June of 2017, in preparation for our soon-to-be-announced community-focused festival, Christopher Shorr and I traveled to Holstebro, Denmark to observe Odin Teatret’s “Holstebro Festuge”, a weeklong festival exploring the intersection of community and art.  For those not in the know – Odin Teatret is considered by many to be a key shared ancestor in the linage of many independent American theatres, including Touchstone’s.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 6.20.23 PM.png

Holstebro Festuge

While in attendance, Touchstone had the opportunity to meet with members of Caravan Next, a European Union funded delegation of some of Europe’s top community-based theatre practitioners and academics. Amongst the Caravan Next member organizations was the Goleniów, Poland-based company Teatr Brama. It quickly became apparent that Touchstone and Brama shared a passion for community-based work, and many of our aesthetic leanings were in line too, e.g. traveling performances, spectacle-driven work, and the integration of music.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 6.25.12 PM.png

Parade held by Teatr Brama

In August of 2017, I briefly visited Brama to discuss how a relationship might grow between the two companies. It was agreed then that an excellent first step would be for Touchstone to come to “Bramat” (Brama’s community festival – August 2018) for an exchange of methodologies and an opportunity to work alongside Brama’s artists by building performances with their community that would be featured in “Bramat”.  It is imagined that this first step would lead to a core understanding of each other’s methodologies and (if successful in the first phase of our collaboration) in August of 2019, Teatr Brama would come to Bethlehem, PA and reverse the experience in our community.

20689551_1786956687988009_2624277648513061065_o.jpg

Me at Brama with Artistic Director Daniel Jacewicz and Company Member Jenny Crissey

We live in an increasingly smaller world, and it is the belief of the artists at Touchstone that in order to operate at our most empathetic capacity, we need to look both locally and globally. For the last seven years, Touchstone Ensemble Members have attended at least one international festival a year. We engage with the international theatre community to experience the world from new points of view, to scout talent to present at our home theatre, as well as to present our own work abroad. When we are able to bring international companies to Touchstone for a residency, these intense periods of time overflow with workshops, practice sharing, and inevitably brainstorming about potential future collaborations.

Luckily, we are not the only ones who hold the importance of international artistic sharing dear. Touchstone is lucky to have received a very competitive grant from the Theater Communication Group (TCG) to fulfill its work in Goleniów! The TCG Global Connections grant (funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) is meant “to foster new relationships with international colleagues that will inspire each other’s work and aesthetics by creating opportunities for cultural exchange.” We could not feel more honored to receive this grant! Thank you to TCG, and to all of the Touchstone community for your ongoing support.

Stayed tuned to our e-newsletter and social media outlets to stay up-to-date on next month’s adventure!

From Emma – The Spirit of Follies in February

January 30, 2018

DSC07108Every year of Christmas City Follies is– somehow, impossibly– really special. No matter who’s in the cast or in the audience, no matter what the jokes/songs/characters are, no matter how much difficulty and drama leads up to the ever-looming deadline of opening, no matter this, no matter that, no matter the other thing– there’s always a sense by showtime that this is a rare and precious gift that we’re sharing with the audience and with each other.

And that “No matter the blah blah blah” is something we don’t just brush off– it’s a lot of work to get Follies together, and there is a lot of absurdity and silliness along the way, but it always, always gets to a point of something heartfelt and loving by the end.

And somehow, our first two events of 2018 are in the exact same line of thinking.

This weekend, we’ve got BrouHaHa, a wonderful little existential, apocalyptic clown musical (words I never expected to string together) by Happenstance Theater. As a theatre company, Happenstance’s background and methodologies are incredibly similar to Touchstone’s (rooted in clown, commedia, music, physicality, and the spirit of communitas with the audience), and a lot of BrouHaHa feels a bit like “What would the clowns and characters of Follies do on a trip to the end of the world? What songs would they sing? What ridiculousness would they find to distract themselves from the end of all things?” The whole play is gentle, playful, silly, thoughtful, and threaded with incredible love, sweetness, and camaraderie between characters; it’s really a perfect show to start off the New Year.
Happenstance Theater
And next week, we have Jakopa’s Punch Bowl, headlined by Jakopa’s Punch, a haphazard, eclectic construction of musicians that goof off and jam together. Our wacky little band practices often feel a little rushed and imperfect– it’s at the end of the day, time is limited, it’s hard to keep everyone focused, and I know I’m usually drop-dead tired by the time we pack up– but it’s full of goofiness and good times, and every now and then, we sound pretty freaking wonderful. Last year, the band played its first full-length events, including the sweet Jakopa’s Punch Processional with its moral of friendship and teamwork, important undercurrents to everything we do.
_DSC06624

“I can’t do it by myself, but I can do it with your help” was the simple message of the Processional. And really, that’s what makes Jakopa’s Punch; and the clowns of BrouHaHa; and always, always Follies. It’s a wonderful through-line of togetherness that follows us out of the old year and into the new.

As we plunge ahead in 2018, we hope you’re also keeping the spirit of Follies— a spirit of open-hearted compassion, hard work, and silliness– wherever you go. And we hope you’ll join us for BrouHaHa and Jakopa’s Punch Bowl, where we’re celebrating music, oddball characters, absurdity, good times together, and love for one another.

From Jp – Things You Won’t Be Seeing (in Follies)

December 6, 2017
20171004_180123

The cast of Follies XVIII and the idea wall, first day of rehearsal (October 4, 2017)

At the beginning of every Follies process, the cast and crew start by sharing all the ideas they’d like to work on for consideration in the upcoming production. We put all these ideas on sticky notes and put them on the wall. Generally, there are a LOT of sticky notes!  By the time we are ready to do the show, there are only about an eighth of those left on the wall, and they are what make up what you see on the stage.  Some of these ideas go away because they don’t fit with the other stuff in the show; some go away because we don’t have the time, resources, or know-how to pull them off; and others go away, well… because they’re just duds. In honor of the cutting room floor, I offer you a sampling of things you won’t be seeing this holiday season.
  • A Wisemen and camels Doo-Wop group.
  • Something that involves stilt walking.
  • An homage to CATS! the musical.
  • Real Reindeer
  • A dance number with costumes that light up.
  • The Old Guy and Little Red in a Gift of the Magi scenario.
  • Little Red and The Old Guy running for office.
  • Santa and Mrs. Claus running for office.
  • Vaudevillian style hat tricks.
  • Christmas STOMP.
  • A parody of the Muppet Show theme.
  • Tap dancing puppets.
  • Caddy elves at a wedding.
  • A piece in the style of Samuel Beckett.
  • Dixieland Christmas music.
  • Sock Puppets.
  • The Jakopa’s Punch puppets.
  • Penguins in tutus.
  • A robot ballerina dinosaur
  • A scene in the cockpit of a bomber during WW2.
  • The story of how Santa and the Mrs. met.
  • A Very Tolkien Christmas.
  • The Polar Vortex looking for a new job.
  • A medley of songs about stars.
  • A parody of Smooth Criminal.
  • A number of ideas that involved unitards.
  • The school for special snowflakes.
  • Someone coming out of a coma.
  • A Cajun Night Before Christmas.
  • The Old Guy filling in for Santa.
  • Family meals throughout the ages.
  • A Western radio play.
  • Christmas square dancing.
  • A scene about fruitcake.
  • Feng Shui Christmas.
  • Christmas in space (a movement piece)
  • Santa’s kids learning to drive.
  • Shakespearean Christmas.
  • Viking Christmas.
  • A crocheted hat dance.
  • Panda
The list could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with these for now so you can imagine the Follies that might have been. In the meantime, we look forward to sharing the stuff that did make it with you, playing through December 22nd!  See you there!
Christmas City Follies XVIII - 2017-4397

From Bill – Christmas City Follies: The Photoshoot

November 2, 2017

christmas-city-follies-xviii-2017-4500-e1509631491372.jpg

It’s barely November right?  And before that October, which went on for quite a while, almost a month I’d say, and all this time we’ve been working on Christmas City Follies.  It’s a good thing, really.  Shows take time to build, even if you have to shoot for a target that won’t be here for another month still.

It’s just that, as all this time passes, for some reason everyone seems to get younger and younger.  Or is that me getting older and older?  Don’t answer that question.  I’m the one with the white beard.  Mary (she’s the one in the Christmas Tree costume, eyes wide and bold as brass – with more energy than our youngest;  that would be…Alex, I think, with the uke and the pirate striped shirt, weighing in at 14 years of age.  I’d been pushing for some REAL children (ages 8, 9, 10 or YOUNGER!) but this making of Follies, is long, hard work.  Rehearsals three days a week from 10 am to 6 pm.  There’s a good reason we’re all piled on the floor; easier than standing up.  And photo shoots are always a challenging but important chore.  Over there on the right of the picture is Katie, who’s joined us as an intern from the Charter Arts High School.  Christmas is for the whole family, so it makes sense to try to have all ages telling their stories and contributing to the celebration.

Look at these guys.  These photos, taken by Cristina Byrne, are sweeter than Halloween Candy and catch some of the remarkable charm of the Follies ensemble. christmas-city-follies-xviii-2017-4125.jpg

It’s from the substance of that ensemble, the show is made.  Like a Christmas Fruit Cake.  Yeah, and, I know what you’re thinking: we’ve all gotta’ be a little fruity to do this year after year.  These are two of the most amazing, brilliant and hard-working people I know—Emma Ackerman, decked out as Little Blue, and Mary Wright as Little Red. You could build an entire show out of either of these characters, alone. Christmas City Follies XVIII - 2017-4051

Resilient, indomitable! Christmas City Follies XVIII - 2017-4078

And this year, Alex and his sister Sarah have joined us again.  These two, home-schooled darlings come from a family of performers who understand the life of the stage.  That’s not Sarah below though with brother Alex, that’s Chloe, this year’s Touchstone apprentice, hiding inside the Penguin outfit.  Kind of Ionesco-like don’t you think?  Existential incongruence boldly made absurd. Christmas City Follies XVIII - 2017-4359

That’s the kind of thing that goes through one’s mind while waiting for Cristina to reframe the next shot—along with, “This beard is intolerably scratchy,” and “if I swallow any more of this stale cigar tobacco!  Ech!” Christmas City Follies XVIII - 2017-4118

In the photo below, it may not be obvious, but Emma is actually IN that bag of Santa’s. christmas-city-follies-xviii-2017-4412.jpg

Thanksgiving is around the corner and Christmas not long after, but we’ve been “in Santa’s Christmas bag” for weeks already, filling it with music, humor and touching stories—and ridiculousness.  Don’t forget to join us. christmas-city-follies-xviii-2017-4435.jpg

We’re here for you.

From Lisa – It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas-City-Follies!

October 13, 2017

It may be mid-October, and Halloween is still on the horizon, but here at Touchstone, the holiday cheer (or at least rehearsing for holiday cheer) has already begun.  Here are some of the clues that it is indeed Follies-making time at Touchstone:

Musical instruments start appearing and taking up space in the office— trumpets, flutes, clarinets, ukuleles, etc.  Sometimes there’s even an impromptu circle of fifths lesson in the hallway, followed by an accordion concert. 20171011_100158_resized

Proposed scripts and holiday images are printed daily during rehearsals, like this one I found yesterday amidst a grant application I was printing out. 20171011_110012_resized

One of my favorite Follies clues is being serenading by singers working out harmonies on the way to answer the door or grab the mail.

Another clue that’s just plain fun is when I happen to walk by a rehearsal taking place and overhear some zany writing for the Snow Witches or Christmas Pirates or the beginnings of an Old Guy or Little Red story arc being worked out.

There’s also the constant “15”, “5”, and “we’re back!” called out by Emma, who runs around to each group rehearsing in the office, café, rehearsal room, etc. to give them a 15 minutes until they’re back, 5 minutes until, and then calls them back into rehearsal from the breakout sessions.  Each of her calls are followed by a chorus of “thank you” from the actors.

For me, as the Follies costume and props coordinator, the most helpful clue is the annual arrival of the Oriental Trading Holiday Issue, which will stay on my desk until it’s time to page through in about a month for inspiration or to place an order.  Over the years, I’ve ordered a variety of things from here – mini elf maracas, a base for the Dominic the Donkey costume, multi-colored Santa hats, etc.

20171012_120618_resized

While our audiences still has a good month and a half more to wait for Christmas City Follies, I get an insider’s look (and listen), witnessing the development of the scenes and musical numbers— from the awkward first time plucking out something on the uke or fifth rewrite of a script to the fully realized musical number or scene that steals the show.  There’s a creative energy in the air here now that is definitely beginning to feel/look/sound a lot like Christmas City Follies!

 

From Emma – Empty Spaces

September 7, 2017

At just a week into the new season, we’ve been working on one of the traditional beginning-of-year activities: CLEAN UP! In a building this heavily used throughout the year, it’s a huge schlep and a definite necessity, every year. What we’re often left with, after the cleanup days, is the unfamiliar treat of free space emptiness that we can use anew… or clutter up with more stuff. But for the immediate future, it’s full of possibility.

In his 1968 theatre classic The Empty Space, Peter Brook writes: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage.” And boy, do our cluttered and empty spaces love to perform; we find such gems in them, or invite them to take on a new persona and purpose, or can’t bear to tidy them because their internal chaos has taken on a life of its own.

And it’s all about expectation, what you’ve gotten used to seeing versus what you see now.

20170906_161354

So this maybe doesn’t look like much, but there’s clear floor space in the tech booth. Clear floor space! (my heart skipped a beat, typing that) A nest of cables has been sorted and struck from the place, and a stack of old newspapers has been taken off to the recycling bin, and there isn’t an ancient tape deck shoved in the corner – there’s space to kick your feet and do a little dance. The booth is a good friend of mine, so this is particularly exciting to me. It feels like the space can breathe again, and I love that.

20170906_161454And this one: this is a little cubby backstage that’s been a hot mess of brooms, snow shovels, and similarly shaped miscellany, for as long as I can remember. I think it always looked a little like a monster in the closet, except the monster’s legs were all too many broomsticks without brooms attached to them, all curled up and cranky in its own shadowy corner of backstage. There are shelves there that I didn’t even realize existed. Shelves! (my heart skipped a beat just typing that) And looking at it now, the space is ready to help, ready to help carry things, ready to serve and serve all our outdoorsy cleanup needs. Ready for snow, even, as much as we’re definitely not thinking about snow yet (although it’s less than a month from start of Follies rehearsals…)

And that’s just the theatre area; let me tell you about our attic and the good work that Miss Mary, our industrious saint of de-cluttering-and-organizing-and-paper-shredding, has been doing. Our attic was piled to the ceiling with boxes of old documents, 15+ years old. Mary’s found real artifacts, genuine treasures up there – sun-faded old posters, vinyl pockets of slides, and (my personal favorite) hand-written lesson plans from the early days of our arts-in-education work. But there’s also been a lot she’s found that, as per our company policies, we can and should throw away. So the last few weeks have been dappled with us cheerfully toting boxes full of these old financial documents or those old marketing strategies down to Mary’s car, so that she can hand them over to be shredded. And after, seeing these wide shelves ready to welcome some of the paper goods from our crowded office – it’s impossible to adequately describe how awesome that feels.20170906_162003

And of course, clearing out all of the old cluttered spaces has such moments of revelation. Another big one found yesterday was a pair of oversized bolts, the size of fists, that had been used as percussion instruments in Steelbound nearly twenty years ago. Clinking together, you could still hear them wanting to sing their song.

“A stage space has two rules, Brook writes. “(1) Anything can happen and (2) Something must happen.”

Anything can. And something must. We have the space for it.

As great as it feels to open up that empty space for the new season, it’s sad, too– discovering all these gems to say goodbye to them a moment later. Yet making way for the possibility of everything that’s yet to come makes all the dust, grime, sweat, sweeping, scratches, and farewells worth it.