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From Lisa – The Weird Things I Do for My Job

June 7, 2016

IMAG0707The Background: We leave for the Bhudoo tour in one week. As we prepare to pack everything– personal and production-related– and divide it up between the folks traveling, it’s clear we need a hard-shelled suitcase for the three ukuleles. No one in the company has one, so it needs to be purchased.

The Weird Thing: I went to Marshall’s with an empty uke box, both airline luggage dimensions, and a tape measure. In the process I had almost a dozen suitcases down testing if they fit three ukes and then measuring them (why are the measurements not clearly on the luggage label?!). Definitely received some looks, but ultimately this is not that weird of a thing to do… or maybe I’ve just done worse? 1501237_750041211691215_669276988_o

In the name of art, I’ve gone into Home Depot and, in an aisle, put pieces of pvc together to make sure I could create a large enough circle with them that was the size of a human and could roll easily (cannot remember what show I did that for…); I’ve been asked, “What are you doing?” in a fairly accusatory tone, when I was in a higher end clothing store taking pictures of outfits (I like to walk around stores and get ideas first, whether it’s a full costume look or just checking out materials in arts & crafts stores before I attempt to create something, like the Bhudoo flower power holster); I’ve used the phrase: “This may be a weird question, but I work for a theatre and wondered if…” many times, most recently when I asked the pharmacist at CVS if I could have an empty pill bottle for a Bhudoo prop; I’ve bought multiple sizes and colors of a similar article of clothing because I wasn’t sure which would work best and then returned all but one, and I’ve also bought the same exact article of clothing in multiple sizes to fit each cast member (both of these were, on numerous occasions, for Follies).

Not to mention my “weird” online presence; Etsy still thinks I love large costume fish heads because I bought one almost two years ago for Follies and weekly sends me links to new fish heads to buy and related fishy items like scale leggings or fish jewelry. Amazon is very confused by my and Jp’s profile, which, after the Young Playwrights’ Festival and Bhudoo, ranges from costume sunflower heads to Hawaiian leis to a kids leprechaun costume to uke stands – the “featured recommendations” and “recently viewed items” are pretty hilarious to view.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 3.26.09 PM

We’ll be off in two foreign countries soon with the Bhudoo tour, so at least if I need to do any of these (or other) weird things overseas, chances are very slim I’ll ever run into the same people again!

From Jp – The Rising Cost of Breakfast and the Importance of Cross-Cultural Pollination

April 28, 2016

So… I’m running late for work and don’t have time to eat breakfast at home, but wouldn’t ya know it…  I’ll be passing a Wawa. I stop and again, wouldn’t ya know it, it’s April, so it’s Wawa Sizzli special month! You may recall my previous posts, one from when we were mounting A Resting Place and one last year when we were mounting Journey from the Eastand how I’ve explained that the 2-for-$3 Sizzli special is a life saver when you’re neck-deep in launching high-intensity outdoor productions, and wouldn’t you know it… on this day, I was on my way to rehearse at an outside venue for our current production of Bhudoo!

But after years of the 2-for-$3 Sizzli special, it appears to be a page in the history books, or my blog entries. 20160425_102125

Yep, they raised the price. C’est la vie. But as they say, “Nothing lasts forever,” including my broken heart, which was assuaged by the sight of this beauty in the warmer! 20160425_102614

Dios mío! This thing was (expletive) delicious! That’s the thing about change: it’s uncomfortable at first, but ya never know what kind of awesome it can bring. Viva Chorizo!

From Bill – American Mime Theatre’s 64th Birthday

April 21, 2016

In the journey of learning my art, one of the most influential and dearest teachers I have ever had the privilege of working with is Paul J. Curtis, Founder of The American Mime Theatre (TAMT). I studied with him, off and on, from 1976 to 1981, but he continued to be a confidant and friend for the rest of his life.

The American Mime Theatre is a professional performing company and training school based in New York City founded in 1952 by Paul J. Curtis (August 29, 1927– April 28, 2012). It is the oldest continuing professional mime company in the USA. The theatre ran under the direction of founder Paul for 60 years.

Its 64th birthday was a few weeks ago. Happy birthday, AMT.

Paul is the impossibly handsome one just to the right of the performer holding the camera.

Paul is the impossibly handsome one just to the right of the performer holding the camera.

Paul created the medium known as American Mime. He is missed by thousands of students and audiences throughout the world, whom he moved deeply with his teaching and performances… Paul J. Curtis, a man who lived moment to moment with unwavering uncompromising untamed deepness of heart.

An image from the AMT repertoire: “The Lovers”

An image from the mime play from TAMT repertory: “TLovers”

Paul said, “American Mime is a complete theatre medium defined by its own aesthetic laws, terminology, techniques, script material and teaching methods. Basically, it is a medium for non-speaking actors who perform, in characterization, the symbolic activities of American Mime plays through movement that is both telling and beautiful.”

Born in Boston, Paul served in the Navy in World War II. He studied with the notable German director Erwin Piscator from 1947–49. Later, he went to Paris and studied with Etienne Decroux. In the 1970s, Curtis founded American Mime, Inc. and International Mimes & Pantomimists. In addition to teaching at his own school, Mr. Curtis was chairman of the Mime department at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1956–71. He also taught American Mime at many institutions including Cornell University, Bennington College, Goodman School of Drama, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and The Leonardos in Paris.

On a roof top, with the Company, in New York.  Paul’s at the end of the line.

On a roof top with the first company at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 1952. Paul’s at the end of the line. All photos courtesy American Mime Inc., Archives

Just to put it simply, I miss him. Deeply.

The Company and School continue Paul’s work under the direction of Jean Barbour at their studio in New York City, and information is available on their Classes and Performances at The American Mime Theatre, 61 Fourth Avenue, Floor 2, NY NY 10003 212-777-1710

From Emma – Throwback Apprenticedays

March 11, 2016

We’re well into the search for next year’s apprentice class (speaking of! If you’re a recent college grad with an interest in physically-based, community-inspired theatre, come audition!), and in the process of that recruitment drive, I find myself looking back at the apprentice classes I’ve known over my time at Touchstone.


We start out with the class of 2007-08 – fellow Gettysburg College alum Tom Christian (seen here top left) was an apprentice that year, and he reached out to a number of his classmates, including me, about the great experience he was having as a Touchstone apprentice. I tiptoed into auditions, and I haven’t left since.

My class comes next – 2008-09, with Jana, David, and Adam (note the scarf, hat, and hoodies… man, eight years at Touchstone, and the theatre heat in February is still terrible…) I’m not much good at talking about anything that vaguely involves myself, so let’s move on to…

2009-10 – lovely Zach, who is now off in sunny California, and lovely Anne, who is now off in beautiful France. They are seen here doing a really lovely movement piece that involved a soccer ball.

2010-11 – Anne back for her second apprenticeship year, this time joined by local lady Mariel (also now of California). These two made a really terrific pair of excellent collaborators (and could charm their way through pretty much anything).

2011-12 was my first year serving as apprentice coordinator! Here, we see Meggan, Nicole, Rob (who was another fellow Gettysburg alum!), and Katy. This image of them with dog leashes attached was an apprentice promo photo for several years.

2012-13 – Kayla, Kyle, Kathryn, and Gary (or “KGary,” as we tried to call him… we really wanted the alliteration to work!), a.k.a. the four apprentices who made it rain lemons in the theatre at the height of their Fresh Voices production. This quartet couldn’t have been more different and proved that great art often thrives best from a diverse ensemble of creators.

2013-14 – Jordan, Cathy, and Mallory brought unique strengths to the apprentice year. Their ensemble piece for Fresh Voices was probably the funniest that I’ve seen yet. And their combined work ethic was gargantuan – a really good team.

2014-15 – Last year, we had Anna and Remy, both of whom are still in that local-and-partially-involved stage of post-apprenticeship (Anna teaches YPL, Remy is a frequent volunteer, and we still see both of them around the building on and off). We’re excited to see where the next few years take them.

At time of writing, our 2015-16 apprentices, Julia and Raven, are in the process of developing their first draft of Fresh Voices material to share with the ensemble – and in just the blink of a few months, I’ll be adding their pictures to a collection like this, as they take their place in the apprenticeship hall of fame. But in the meantime, outreach to the apprentices of the future continues – and promises to be just as rewarding.


From Lisa – The Frog in the Boiling Water

February 22, 2016

I remember being told as a senior in college that my generation would change not just jobs but careers roughly five times throughout our professional lives. Reflecting on that bit of info which, for some reason, I retained for the last 15+ years, I consider myself quite fortunate that I found a home with one theatre company in my post-college professional life. Though, to be fair, within this company, I’ve filled many jobs: stage manager, grant writer, lighting designer, marketing coordinator, costume designer, managing director, director, special events coordinator, production manager, facilities manager, teaching artist, box office manager, etc.

Alternating between artistic and administrative roles within that list was an intentional choice. If I ordered chronologically, it would start on the artistic side and gradually shift to the administrative with little blips of artistic peppered in. A slow transition over time, like the frog that doesn’t jump out if you put it in a pot of water and gradually turn up the heat, but will if you drop it into boiling water. Perhaps not the best metaphor, but it’s kinda accurate. I remember resisting more responsibilities on the administrative side at first and then at some point, falling into them more and more and leaving the other side behind.

At an arts event last week, all the attendees were asked to put themselves into smaller groups – artist, administrator, business owner, patron – wherever they fit best. I found myself briefly wanting to go to artist, but heading towards administrator. Also last week, we kicked off our latest community-based production – a revisiting of Steelbound set for 2019 – with the six core artists at Touchstone, complete with popping the cork on a bottle of champagne and toasting to the future project. A exciting beginning to an exciting project, but when asked how I wanted to be involved artistically I could only think of development, marketing, house management, and box office. All important and often creative roles in the project, but not ones that flex my weakening theatre art muscles. And then the clincher came a couple days ago, when an email came in from Trinity Rep that read “Great Writers” in huge letters up top with “Harper Lee and James Baldwin” written smaller below next to a picture of each…and what did I read? “Grant Writers”. It took me a few seconds to realize that these two authors were, of course, not also grant writers. Why did I read it that way? Maybe because my mind lives in the administrative world and not the artistic, or maybe because I’m often moving quickly and taking in info based on my perception of things and maybe not reality (yikes, that’s a big one!), or maybe there’s an option three that I haven’t quite figured out yet.

Whatever the case, I know I’m happy to serve an arts organization I believe in whole-heartedly, through the various and sundry roles of administrator and artist. Now though, I think I owe it to myself (and the company) to be more aware of how this shift from art-focused to admin-focused has affected my work, who I am now, and how I perceive things. I also need to remember to recognize the creativity that exists in my admin work, like crafting the language for a compelling grant or orchestrating the flow of a fundraising event. And unlike the frog, I’m aware of the pot I’ve chosen to boil in and will boil on in the name of good, transformative theatre!

From Jp – Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky

February 13, 2016

On June 27, 1986, a month after I turned nine, the film Labyrinth was released in the theatre. I was a huge fan of the muppets, so this was a must see. Little did I know that seeing this movie would serve as a formative moment in my young musical life. I had heard David Bowie on the radio and on MTV, largely from his hits off the “Let’s Dance” album, but was never really that drawn to him. To my cloistered coal region sensibilities, he seemed like a bit of weirdo. But in Labyrinth…  Bowie was playing with muppets! And to boot, I feel in love with the music. I grew up in a house that always had musicals playing, pretty evident in a lot of my artistic work, but this was different this wasn’t a musical for my parents; this was all mine. It was new, it was fresh, it was everything I loved. The Muppets. MTV. The 80’s.

My friends and I would run around singing all the songs from the soundtrack.  I knew every lyric Bowie penned from that movie. As I grew older, I never out grew it. It just laid the base for an ever deepening appreciation of David Bowie. Throughout the years, I’ve gone through different phases of life that have brought me in touch with the different phases of Bowie’s career. Mesmerized by his endless talent, each re-introduction engrained itself in my musical voice. While I wouldn’t ever say “I’m the worlds biggest Bowie fan”, I certainly count myself amongst the millions of musicians who he has had a profound affect on and continually find inspiration in his music, theatrics and style.

Recently, Touchstone Board Vice President and owner of The Lesson Center, Lori Roberts, invited me to play some songs at an upcoming Leukemia and Lymphoma Society benefit, featuring the music of Bowie and Glenn Fry.  (You should all check it out)  What better way to honor one of my musical idols? I was allowed to pick three songs to perform. This is what I settled on:

“Fill Your Heart” – Originally written by Tiny Tim as the B side for Tiptoe Through the Tulips; covered by Bowie on Honky Dory

“Within You” – Bowie from Labyrinth (I’m imagining a distilled version something akin to the first 1:35)

“All the Young Dudes” – Written by Bowie (usually performed by Mott the Hoople)

And to back me up, I’ve enlisted some of Touchstone’s finest friends and family!

Emma Chong – Flute, backing vocals
Of course you know Emma, from… well anything that Touchstone has done in the last 8 years.

Erick Black – percussion, backing vocals
Erick has served as percussion with the Ulysses Dreams pit band and most recently in Journey from the East.

Dan Leathersich – guitar, backing vocals
Dan was a multi-instrumentalist in the Ulysses Dreams pit band, but most recently you would have heard a song he wrote “Outside the Box” song by a teddy bear, in this years Follies.

Jason Hedrington – Accordion, backing vocals
Former Touchstone Apprentice and best keyboardist I’ve ever met in my life.  You’ve seen Jason in past Follies, the Ulysses Dreams pit band, Journey from the East, and Don Quixote.

Kevin O’Boyle – Piano, banjo, backing vocals
Two-time Follies Musical Director and leader of the Ulysses Dreams pit band, you can also hear Kevin and some of the Touchstone family in his project The Sugarpills.

Anna Russell – Viola, backing vocals
One of last season’s apprentices, we got to hear Anna make music in three projects: Follies, Journey from the East, and Dear Tamaqua.

Steven Barnett – 12 string guitar, backing vocals
A featured performer in the last half-a-decade of Young Playwrights’ Festivals, Steven has also taken the stage in featured roles in A Resting Place and Journey from the East.

Christopher Shorr – Cajon, backing vocals
Last but certainly not least, Christopher has been involved in too many Touchstone projects to list, but most recently you’ve enjoyed his work as Co-Playwright of Journey from the East.

Playing Bowie music with this talented group of people is going to be an amazing experience.  I hope you’ll all come out and see us!


“Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe.
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!”
  • David Bowie, Moonage Daydream

From Bill – On Beauty, Money, and My Dad

January 27, 2016
Photos by H. Scott Heist

Photos by H. Scott Heist

The work at Touchstone– this love and service of beauty in the form of theatre– finds its way out of the rehearsal room to the stage and spills over into everything we do. I can’t seem to not talk about it. It sets the fire and passion for learning in our educational programs and provides the framework and inspiration for our large Community-Based endeavors. As David Brooks recently wrote in the NYTimes: “Beauty is a big, transformational thing, the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself …Beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal.”

The art critic Frederick Turner wrote that beauty “is the highest integrative level of understanding and the most comprehensive capacity for effective action.” And thus what we learn in its service provides useful insights, and these we’ve tried to apply to stimulate creativity in the business sector with our Corporate Creativity Events.

Brooks goes on to say:

“The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived. It’s not so much that we need more artists and bigger audiences, though that would be nice. It’s that we accidentally abandoned a worldview that showed how art can be used to cultivate the fullest inner life. We left behind an ethos that reminded people of the links between the beautiful, the true and the good – the way pleasure and love can lead to nobility.”

Well, here’s perhaps where I part ways with Mr. Brooks a bit. He’s too polite. We didn’t “accidentally abandon” anything. We consciously chose to place beauty second to utility, creature comforts, and money (or third or fourth or fifth) Blame it on the all too sensible Puritans, or the excesses of the Mother Church that forced the Protestant Reformation. Blame it on the Dutch and the materialism of the ever growing domination of the market place. But it was a choice, not an accident. I’m speaking in broad generalities here, but to put it simply, we all too often choose money and safety over beauty and risk. When I was discussing the necessity of choosing a creative life with a patron of Touchstone recently, she said, “Ah, but that takes a lot more work.” Yeah. It does, and so often we choose the easier route, the one, as they might say, “more traveled by”.

Whenever I travel abroad, I always am struck by how much more the arts are appreciated by people who are not Americans. In Ireland, to be an artist, particularly a writer, is to be a national hero. In England, to be an actor is to be a bulwark of national pride and identity. In Russia or Chile or Hungary, to be an artist is to be at the center of power. The work of the artist is at the very dangerous crux of political, economic, and social consciousness.

Photos by H. Scott Heist

Photos by H. Scott Heist

Whereas, here, in the United States, well, you know what it’s like. It’s about Celebrity, Wealth (or lack of it in my case), Entertainment– Show Business. This is the work, for me, more and more these days: yes, the commitment to make truly beautiful art, as hard as I find that to do, but even more so, to change my culture so we understand how important a commitment to art and creativity is and that it effects everything–whether we are working in the fields of education, government, finance, manufacturing, and of course in our spiritual lives. Beauty matters. Push come to shove, beauty matters.

When I was growing up, I got into a kind of argument with my Dad. He didn’t oppose my trying to be an artist, but was VERY skeptical. Of course, most parents worry how their children will find a way of making money. I get that. Still, I wonder why parents don’t equally worry about their children’s ability to make beauty. Beauty matters.

Photos by H. Scott Heist

The picture just above, from The Whitman Piece–my play about theatre and the importance of beauty—the insanity of it, its eternality, and the dysfunction of we as people trying to work together.  I’m in the center, wearing my father’s shirt. Photos by H. Scott Heist


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