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From Christopher – Where Do All the Plays Go?

February 21, 2020

SONY DSCUnlike the vast majority of theatre companies, Touchstone produces only original work. Our audiences won’t see a Neil Simon comedy, or a Broadway musical, or a famous Pulitzer Prize winning drama on our stage. Even when it APPEARS that something familiar is coming down the line, it ends up being some original twist – like a three-actor version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest… or Homer’s Odyssey turned into a song cycle with monologues and movement (Ulysses Dreams).

This choice is not made out of disdain for existing plays – we love the amazing theatre that has been generated over the centuries – but rather a commitment to the creation of new work. So instead of seeing the repertory of theatre you might see produced or presented by another company, at Touchstone you see plays created by members of the ensemble – like Dream of the Red Pavilion by Mary Wright, or The Complete and Authoritative Tour of Holy Stuff by Emma Ackerman— or plays devised together by the ensemble such as the annual holiday favorite Christmas City Follies.

Christmas City Follies -- Run Throught -- Dec. 2018-4366Over the four decades of Touchstone’s history, our audiences have experienced an incredible catalog of new work. But what happens to these plays after they grace the Touchstone stage, or the neighborhood playground, or the Southside Greenway where they initially perform?

Sometimes the plays tour. Productions of The Tempest, Walden, and Tales from the Middle East have toured to locally to schools, Dictators 4 Dummies toured to Poland, and Bhudoo toured to Italy and Hungary after performing in multiple local venues. Although these are recent examples, touring is nothing new for Touchstone. In the 1980s and 90s, Touchstone took shows to Mexico, Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, and Chile. In all of these cases, these were plays created by Touchstone and performed by Touchstone on tour.

But what about OTHER companies performing shows that premiere at Touchstone? That’s a question we hear a lot. It’s usually a version of “You work so hard creating something, and then it just disappears. Can’t someone else perform it?” The short answer is “yes, they can,” but it can be tricky proposition for a couple of reasons.

img076One reason is that because Touchstone is so focused on our local community, many of our shows deal with subject matter that might not resonate to the same extent somewhere else. Something like A Resting Place comes to mind. That show was written by Alison Carey but incorporated stories gathered from local residents and focused on the legacy of the Civil War here in Bethlehem.

Some of our shows are site-specific, and are performed in venue specific to the subject matter. I immediately think of Steelbound, a show about the closing of Bethlehem Steel performed in the old Iron Foundry, or Don Quixote of Bethlehem, addressing local English and Spanish-speaking communities, and performed right in the streets of Southside Bethlehem. In both of those cases, the subject matter, though highly local, WOULD likely resonate nationally: Bethlehem isn’t the only American community dealing with the loss of manufacturing jobs, or cultural/language barriers. But because these pieces were created to happen here in these very specific locations, those locations themselves are woven into the fabric of the pieces. Without the locations, the plays would lose some of their power and meaning.

DQcharginglampostThose plays also involved huge casts. Part of the Touchstone approach is to not only tell the community’s story, but to involve the community itself in that telling—a practice we embraced after working with Cornerstone Theatre on Steelbound. Each of these examples of site-specific Bethlehem-based productions had casts of 60 or more performers. Producing an event of that scale requires a huge commitment of resources. That makes sense for Touchstone, because it is so central to the company’s mission in the community, but for another theatre somewhere else, it would be hard to justify that level of investment in a project that was not specifically created for them.

There are occasional exceptions. I am in the midst of “peddling“ my musical Dictators 4 Dummies that premiered at Touchstone in 2018. I have been sending it out for other companies to consider and have submitted it to some festivals. The future of the piece was looking bright—it was chosen as a finalist for the New York Musical Festival (NYMF), one of the premiere launch pads for new musicals, but in a tragic (at least for this show!) turn of events, the festival shut down before Dictators could be produced. I have not given up, though—I am continuing to search for new avenues to get that show out into the world beyond the Lehigh Valley. Perhaps this show will still find “legs.” Dictatorship 4 Dummies 4.12.2018-1612

However, for the vast majority of plays produced by Touchstone, they are created, they are performed here and then… they are gone*—hopefully to live on in the memory of our audiences, and in the collective memory of our community. Is that frustrating? Sure. Often it is. But it also makes it special. When these events come along, seize the opportunity to experience them. Unlike a movie, you can’t just put off seeing it, catch it some other time, or wait for it to come out on video. These are experiences to be looked forward to, relished when they are here, and cherished.


*Well, “gone” gets a footnote: As we approach our 40th anniversary, we are undertaking a major archiving project that includes digitizing old recordings of productions from decades passed.  This archive will be used for research and reference by students and artists.  So in a way, we ARE finding a way to keep the shows around!

From Mary – By a Nose

December 11, 2019


After Festival UnBound, as I was attempting to clean up my desk area, I discovered a spare red-nose sitting in a drawer. “Spare” red-nose, you note. Yes. Doesn’t everyone keep a red-nose handy?

One of the things I love about working at Touchstone is the very fact that we too keep the tools of our craft close at hand. That includes, for me, business cards, pens and pencils, sticky notes, a calculator, computer, etc… But then, there’s the not so common tools of our trade: the bag of juggling balls (for arts education); the measuring tape (for costumes); the red nose (for, well, for anything really).

A red nose is a very personal thing. It helps define the character – its size and shape as compared to your own face’s size and shape. I’ve been wearing the same red nose as Little Red, the silent(ish) clown, for almost 20 years now. Recently, I had misplaced the nose, and so I went on-line to re-order it. But I couldn’t remember what nose I’d ordered in the first place. Believe me, there are TONS of professional red noses to choose from…so I ordered a few:

Change the nose, you change the character – as much as changing a costume.

And speaking of costuming…

Most of you never get a chance to see our costume shop. For a long time it was a closely guarded secret… we didn’t want people to see it. Think hoarders. On steroids. With Festival UnBound coming up, we knew that there would be lots of other artists from other organizations needing to browse through our costumes. So, during the hottest months of the year, a crew of brave souls ventured into the costume shop and cleaned the whole place out.

Thanks to Steven Barnett, we had a window-unit air-conditioner doing its best to cool the place off. Thanks to Robert “Ippy” Ippolito, Emma Engler and Kyra Zimmerman, we all managed to sort, clean, purge, and re-organize the space.

During the Great Clean-Out, we realized we owned about 500 hats, (and really, who needs 500 hats?) Ippy had a brain-storm: create a costume made entirely out of hats.  We started calling his idea “The Hat Lady.” Again, the costume creating the character. Pretty soon it became clear we had enough hats for two hat-ladies. You may have seen them at the Closing Ceremony for Festival UnBound. You may have one of the hats we were happy to share with the community!

So, the next time you see a fun hat, or accessory, or a red nose, try it on for size – and see who you become.

From Bill – Evolution of the Old Guy

November 12, 2019

Old GuyThe work of the actor has many, many possible approaches. This picture is of a prop – well, actually a collection of props – I use as the Old Guy, in Christmas City Follies. There are a few peculiar aspects to the Old Guy. He’s always been the Old Guy, though I was about 48 years old when I took my first stab at this clown character (you see the red nose by the Christmas sheep?), and he’s pushing 70 now. He really is old now. He came into existence, inspired when I saw Mark McKenna do a brusque, pushy clown in a piece at Touchstone, and I thought I’d try something like that. I think the first time I performed him, I was working with my daughter Anisa. She’s very important to his shape and attitude. Anisa was perhaps 16, and I brought her on in a bag, threw her onto the floor – another idea I’d stolen, this time from Ronlin Foreman. Ronlin had been at Touchstone back in… scratching my head… 1987, I think. He had done a piece with his little girl, bringing her on as a doll that moves when he isn’t looking. I loved that bit, thought perhaps Anisa and I could find some more to do around it. But Ronlin’s daughter was perhaps seven or eight. Anisa was 16… a LOT more involved in shaping our work, and significantly heavier. Anyway, we scratched something silly together from things I’d seen and what we could come up with ourselves, and the Old Guy was born.

But that being over twenty years ago, he hasn’t stayed the same. I’ve heard actors talk about working on a part for months, years even – particularly great roles like Hamlet or Oedipus – working to get it right. Great roles are usually archetypes; they’re like psychic bottomless pits. As the performer/interpreter changes from year to year, he/she must adjust to the naturally deeper understandings of what it means to be a lover or a hero or a fool that comes with time. What was done six months ago is suddenly realized to be not deep enough or just a wrong understanding. Or they’re written with poetry that has layer after layer of interpretive meaning that can be peeled away. One shot at the role may not be enough.

The Old Guy’s a bit like that, and a slippery devil to boot.  Over time he’s been a big-hearted lover, a dreamer, a wandering curmudgeon never happy with inauthenticity while always trying to get by with the tricks of the huckster, the con-man, the guileless child. Every year, thanks to the encouragement and generosity of Touchstone, he’s come back and hacked out a new scheme to make money, find true love, or heal the problems of the world – all three at once if possible. He’s sung, played the ukulele, recited poetry about stars and angels, railed against the golden calf, spread love (very dangerous act indeed), sold junk, and incorrectly or profoundly explained the ways of the world to anyone who’d listen. The challenge primarily rests in this: how to do something he’s never done before without doing something so different that it’s “not what the Old Guy would do.” In twenty years, I’ve created, along with the help of Jp Jordan and the Touchstone Ensemble – particularly Mary Wright and Emma Ackerman – something like 5 hours of material. That’s a lot. It feels like the character, over time, has worn a groove in my soul that I always have to be careful NOT to fall into. Unless of course, I am actually interested in playing him.

More to the core of the challenge, it’s like an old relationship. We’re past the first excitement of getting to know each other. We’ve gone through dry periods; is this guy really worth spending any more time with? We’ve had so much fun together; will those moments ever come again? Where does the play of it come from now? It can’t be the same as it was in the beginning, but what new horizons might be sought? I went through a period a few years ago where, for some reason, I was always trying to kill him off, but I think it had more to do with me trying to understand what it felt like to get old than anything to do with his character.

Twenty-some Christmases I’ve spent with the Old Guy, trying to figure out what’s funny now, what’s true now and isn’t being said, what’s Christmas now in this ever more noisy, dissected, anxious, and alienated age.  Looking back again at the picture up top, though, I can see what holds me always transfixed, breathes joy and life into the Old Guy every time. Right there in the middle, sitting at the base of the candle, between Donald Trump and the Wegman’s sign, is that little, rascally doll I use to represent Mary, the Christ child in her lap. Somewhere in all that is a miracle that never fails to inspire this actor to want to play, to play, play, play.

From Jason – Tales from the Tour – Language Lessons

October 17, 2018


It became a bit of a cheeky running joke amidst our traveling troupe that started over our first hotel breakfast together. It was apparently apparent enough that I had spent the evening of my first full day in Poland burning ye olde midnight fires and drinking the old midnight potions, for as I plopped myself down last at the table Christopher inquired as to what sort of shenanigans I had succeeded in sashaying into. When I replied “actually it was really cool– I was up all night participating in language lessons,” it was perfectly understandable to see the group break out into wry smiles and hear CS’s sparkly-eyed snarky response of “riiiiiiight…language lessons.”

And though it evolved into our daily nudge-nudge, wink-wink over coffee and sausages that I’d stayed out all night again performing my diplomatic duties by engaging in wordplay until dawn (especially the morning I announced that I’d been sharing tongue-twisters with the Italians: “riiiiiight….tongue-twisters) the truth is that this is indeed exactly (well, mostly) what I was doing while huddled around the nightly bonfires: teaching and being taught language.

These language lesson sessions lead me to a few profound realizations that I have come to recognize as the greatest gifts I was given in Goleniów– gifts I am now obliged to give you.

First, allow me to describe a typical language lesson. The setting is pretty much what you might imagine at this point: after midnight festival revelers unconcerned with the tick-tick-ticking of time feeding the fire, passing the Polish beer and vodka, and laughing as much as possible. (A footnote of sorts on that laughter: I was informed one evening that amongst our early morning mob I was being referred to as “the American with the explosive laughter who stays up all night.” A true diplomatic badge of honor to be sure. You’re welcome, America.).

Within this setting English was indeed the common ground everyone communicated from, but the levels of mastery (or lack-thereof) of the language varied. There were many pauses in conversations in which someone would stop for clarification of a certain phrase, ask for the meaning of something you just said, or describe a concept they wanted to communicate like “um, what is the word you use to say [insert foreign word/phrase and English clues about the subject matter at hand, a brief volley of potential words, joyous acceptance of appropriate word, repeat of phrase with correct words now in place].” Most nights there were as many questions being tossed around as there were statements.

Feelings of fascination, delight, and community pervaded these occasions as we guided each other into deeper understandings of each other’s language and cultural experiences. One particular afternoon, I was honored to share such a language lesson (and music sharing) session with a woman who invited me to lunch so that she and her daughter could practice their English. We found ourselves on a bar veranda overlooking the Ina river writing words and pronunciations on paper in-between taking turns showing each other our favorite bands via YouTube videos. This appetite for learning and sharing was a wildfire that seemed to engulf the entire festival.


These things lead me to Profound Realization #1: here in the USA, we’re struggling with poignant (and regretfully heated) discussions about immigration and walls and borders and what it means to be an American and whether “if you come here you should speak the language” and a whole bevy of subjects that seem to separate and alienate us from each other more and more. Within those debates there are many among us who honorably spread our well-meaning humanist hashtags like #unity #onelove #respectforall and #oneworld, but what occurred to me is that it is not enough to just THINK correctly or accept that getting along with everyone is a good idea. It’s not enough to change our Facebook avatar to say we support the maligned group du jour. It’s not enough to simply care. The experience I had over and over is that what it takes to heal and solve these issues is a GENUINE DESIRE to want to reach out and understand another person and “the other side,” and also (as it was described to me one evening) to have a genuine desire to simply accurately BE UNDERSTOOD. Every night the success of our good vibes, camaraderie, and establishing new lifelong relationships hinged upon people who genuinely wanted to make sure they understood each other’s words and therefore their culture, history, and viewpoints.

And as it turned out EVERYONE wanted to understand each other. It was a vision to me of how things can be. And it was so easy! Basking in this new reality I began to feel a creeping depression as I realized I would have to leave this place at some point and return to America where the current cultural modus operandi is too often one of “I don’t want to consider your side—you are wrong, and here’s the ways I am right, and since you’re the ‘bad’ guys I would be justified in violence against you so here’s a paragraph in ALL CAPS that lets you know I think you’re an idiot and I hope you and your kind fade from the cultural landscape.” In Poland it was “let’s work to talk and understand each other and discover how all of our many differences make a beautiful rich cultural HUMAN MOSAIC.”

Here’s one such general moment: I was sitting by the fire next to a West German woman and we were having a conversation with a Pole seated on her other side. In casual conversation we were all guiding each other just fine through the three language barriers, but as the night wore on and the beer loosened lips we dove into deeper conversations of political and philosophical natures. In order to debate subjects that required much more specific language (filibuster, korsarz, obstruieren) much of the conversation became powered by translations the two ladies researched on their phones in attempts to tackle these tougher topics. We were able to intellectualize and discuss the state of the world (oppression, unterdrückung, ucisk), the nature of power and political systems (amendment, poprawka, Änderung) and the histories of nations (millennia, tysiąclecia, jahrtausende) because that genuine desire to foster deeper understanding lead us to take the time to utilize the available technology, compare phone translations, and TALK deeply to each other.


That notion of “advanced” language vs. “simple” language lead me to Profound Realization #2, and it’s akin to a notion that we in musical circles call “the KISS principle” (Keep It Simple, Stupid). On one hand there is absolutely great value in mastering your own language in order to speak and write in as educated a manner as possible and push the intelligence of the species forward; I myself lean towards my English Major roots and often patrol social media as one of those “grammar Nazis” who can be found commenting “it’s ‘THEY’RE’ not ‘THERE,’” but when gathered with people from all corners of the globe (6 of the 7 continents were represented at the festival including nearly every European nation) what I discovered was that it was the use of SIMPLIFIED language that allowed us to all communicate and create community. Often I would find myself consciously not using our so-called “big words” and purposely using LESS and SMALLER words to boil things down to their pure meaning. As an artist who tends to let the flowery verbosity flow (I mean, just look at this blog!) this notion of the immense power of simple (even “uneducated”) language was a revelation to me. In the proverbial end it’s the meaning that matters…not how “educated” you say it.

A further revelation in this realm was the discovery that many people in Poland had taught themselves English by watching American cartoons and reading our children’s books (the folks I met universally disdained “the Queen’s English,” and instead of adhering to their school book curriculum many honed their language skills by watching Hollywood movies). All of these things gave me a new understanding of the rich value of speaking simple elementary English (this blog, of course, is not my best example of that concept, ha!), and so the lesson I pass on is that if approached by someone struggling with the language DO THE SAME. Keep It Simple, Stupid. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in our 2nd Grade grammar books and children’s literature that allows us to be better international diplomats.

And finally, Profound Realization #3: floating above all these words (either simple or complex) and all these conversations is a pure form of language that crosses ALL borders and peoples—MUSIC. On one side of the magic of music lies the nightly concerts where we all communicated through the joy of dancing together, chanting along to songs, or simply standing side-by-side in awe of a sublime melody. On the other side of this musical wizardry was the jam sessions. Many were the daily opportunities I had to work with international musicians, and often were the moments (especially with local native Poles) in which I could not SPEAK with a musician to ask for clarification of a musical passage, but I could COMMUNICATE through music. We couldn’t “talk,” but a musician could strum a chord for me to hunt for the matching tones on my piano. We would then share smiles and proceed to play songs and write beautiful stories together using notes for words and riffs for sentences through the language of music.


Many times in my musical life I’ve uttered such platitudes as “music can save the world.” It’s been a lofty notion that FELT right but was really little more than some barely-thought-out inspirational meme fodder. In Poland I saw it in action. I saw joy and love and the absolute destruction of prejudices as people reveled in the power of music.


And I’ll end with this exclamation point. It’s not a profound realization but rather a validation of a long held belief. There’s something very important to be said for that other universal language: LOVE. I imagine that at the core of all these lessons was LOVE. Love for each other fueling the trust and the desire and the PATIENCE to fulfill genuine communication and understanding; love for each other and love of music fueling our rehearsals, jam sessions, and performances–including the desire to spread that love outward by playing properly and presenting the audience with a great show in the shared love of group experiences; love of humanity at large which was the desire at the heart of the festival to do the work that betters the planet and humanity, and to keep that fire in our hearts to fuel our future artistic endeavors; and then, of course, just good old-fashioned romantic love dancing in the fire’s flames and fueling various exploits…but that love and that desire is a whole other “language lesson” blog J

Keep talking, my friends. Continue to reach out and share your positions, your politics, and your passions, but let’s not view those beliefs as a battalion at the front lines of an intellectual battle we must win. Let’s instead see them as word ambassadors seeking information who open the door to our homes where all the other languages and viewpoints can come in for dinner and discussion. Have the patience to listen, for when you do you find the end result is usually a smile and the realization that the differences are tiny and often meaningless before the reality that we’re vastly more similar than we are different. That’s my language lesson. Na zdrowie!


From Jp – Tales from the Tour – Bramat Allstars

September 27, 2018

When attending international festivals, I usually get to see lots and lots of shows. The last time Christopher and I were in Romania, we figured that we saw over 40 shows in ten days! That simply wasn’t the case in Goleniów. We were so busy or recovering from being so busy, the time spent on our butts in the audience was quite limited. I did, however, manage to see a few stand out performances and meet some incredible artists and technicians along the way. Here are but a few of them (some of which have been mentioned in previous posts), that if I were putting together a festival dream team, I’d include in the mix.

Teatr Brama


Alright, alright, I know it was their festival, but for real, these folks are incredibly hardworking (maybe insanely hard working would better to describe them). It takes a lot of work to make art in today’s world, and it takes an even more absurd amount of work to pull off a festival the size of the one Brama just put on. We saw it first hand, and while things certainly went wrong along the way, they never broke; they kept going and going. They deserve a ton of credit for the tenacity, fortitude, and pure force of will that got them through those 10 days last month.

In their words: Founded in 1996, the main motivation of Teatr Brama is revolutionizing the relationship between audience and theater by utilizing performance to create a participatory meeting, not a spectator activity. The Teatr Brama ensemble are a diverse group dedicated to a common artistic goal realized by researching the heights and depths of emotion, recalling heritage, and reacting to the reality of life. As a cultural and educational association, Teatr Brama utilizes non­formal and informal educational methods to empower people to use art to improve their lives and their world.

Hopefully, we can introduce you all to Brama when they come over in Fall of 2019 to help us with Festival UnBound!

Ashtar Theatre


I was able to see the masterful performance of Ashtar Theatre’s Edward Muallem and Iman Aounin in the company’s Oranges and Stones. Out of all the shows I saw in at the festival, this one, to me, was the most absorbing, thought provoking and beautifully executed. This soulfelt, wordless performance examined, from the Palestinian perspective, the feelings of displacement and loss felt by native Palestinians following the 1917 British Balfour Declaration.

In their words: Founded in 1991, ASHTAR is a dynamic local Palestinian Theatre with a truly progressive global perspective. We aim to promote creativity and commitment for change through a novel combination of specific training and acting programs and services and professional theatre performances. If marginalized audience is unable to come to our main location in Ramallah, we move our stage to these often remote areas to include everyone.

Two Times Twice


Fem-power duo Two Times Twice made the whole trip worth it. I have a new favorite band. These ladies (and the men backing them) are a force to be reckoned with. Emma, Jason, and I even got to sing with one of their members in the finale of The Wall. Another highlight was their Alien Jam session, where they came on stage as a completely different band, one from another planet that doesn’t speak earthly languages, and encouraged audience members to dig in to their intergalactic selves and join them in their experimental stage show. Awesome!

In their words: Two Times Twice is a Post-Pop Rap-Rock fusion band from Berlin. Founded in 2015 by lead singer Edyta Rogowska and rapper Sarah Sordid, Two Times Twice blend the boundaries between musical genres and aim to deliver a message with strong lyrics in every song.

Teatro Potlach


Yep, they’ve already been on Touchstone’s stage, but I’d bring ‘em back any day of the week. At this point, they’re family, and any chance I have to see Nathalie Mentha perform, I’m in.

In their own words: The Potlach Theater was founded in 1976 by Pino Di Buduo and Daniela Regnoli. The history of the Potlach stems from a choice of rejection and research of the elsewhere, which prompted its founders to designate as headquarters of the Fara Sabina theater, a small town in the province of Rieti. This choice entailed making theater outside of both traditional and avant-garde circuits, and inventing a form of coexistence, of community life as a premise and condition of theatrical work.

So many talented people… so little time. Hopefully we’ll be able to introduce (reintroduce) you to all these folks and more in the not-so-distant future! Stay tuned!

From Mary – Tales from the Tour – Freedom

September 24, 2018

Meet Olaf.

He was one of a dozen of wonderful young adults that we had the privilege of working with as part of the Human Mosaic Festival we attended in Poland.


We arrived 10 days before the festival started and began working with the 3 community groups assigned to us. Our assignment: create and direct an original piece of theatre on the theme of “Freedom” incorporating the following local community groups: a local rock band, a group of young recovering addicts, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts. It was suggested that we incorporate some of the Polish rock songs made famous during the 80’s and the Solidarity movement.


Of course, there was a language barrier, but luckily one of the young adults, Paulina, was fluent in both Polish and English. She was our main translator each day. But one day she was absent and so Olaf stepped up and acted as translator. We could see the wheels turning as he tried to figure out concepts and words to explain, to capture what was being said. At one point he stopped mid-sentence, his brain clearly overwhelmed, and simply said, “W-o-a-h!”


I think we all felt that sense of “woah” at times.

“Woah” … that rock band is incredibly good and has one of the most famous guitar players in all of Poland in it.


“Woah”…these young people are incredibly responsible and trusting and willing to be honest and vulnerable with us. They were quite honest on what it felt like to fight an addiction.

“Woah” … we have an incredible opportunity to do some of the kind of work Touchstone does best: creating original theatre that helps give voice to folks who are sometimes overlooked.


Because of the theme, we focused our activities in our workshops on what “freedom” meant to these young adults. “You are the experts because you are fighting for your freedom every day,” we told them.

They created tableaus with themes like “Freedom,” “Oppression,” “Happiness,” “Division.”


They drew monsters that represented their addiction.

They imagined their internal struggles as an external force of nature, and had to help each other move through the space fighting that force of nature.

We taught them to sing “Children of the Revolution.”


And as we worked with them, the idea for a performance piece emerged. It emerged using the very same techniques we use so often in our work with Young Playwright’s Lab and Building Bridges, and it was exciting to see the way our years of experience, our strengths as teaching artists and collaborators all worked together so easily. We’d adapt a story I often tell. We’d use the broken bike parts Jp and Christopher had found dumped near the half-way house. We made bird wings out of $1.00 plastic table-clothes that Emma packed and brought with her. We’d have Jp tell the story, Emma would sing. Jason would rock-out with the band. Christopher and I would perform with the kids. Lisa would act as stage-manager extraordinaire. We incorporated their dance moves, the songs, spoken word, storytelling, movement, and even the motorcycles.

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On the night of the performance, I got to dance with those wonderful young people from Babigoszcz, all of us like beautiful freedom birds as the famous rock band played and the audience joined in singing and dancing with us all.

And at the end, during the curtain call, the audience started a chant. It was not the name of the rock band. It was not the name of Touchstone. It was “Babigoszcz”: their name. The name of their group: “Babigoszcz” Over and over again. Those young people were the stars of the show.

We had made art that makes a difference. It wasn’t just the kids who had been changed. We all were.



From Christopher – Tales from the Tour – Building Bridges

September 22, 2018


We live in strange times. On the one hand, the world is getting smaller, and global impact and global perspectives are increasingly part of our conversations… And on the other hand, there’s a great deal of focus on borders and walls, and people seem increasingly isolated in daily life. (I’m thinking of the hyper-connection/hyper-isolation symptom of our iPhone/Facebook condition.)

In many ways, Theatre is the perfect antidote to the increasing isolation I see. The creative process in theatre is collaborative: people work together, face-to-face. And in performance, it is communal: people come together and share a collective experience. It is not “virtual.” It is real. immediate. live. human.

And for the other problem—the borders and walls? For that, we have the international festival—a fundamentally “bridge-building” kind of event. Typically, I attend at least one international theater festival each year. In recent years, I’ve gone to festivals in Romania, Czechia, Italy, Chile, Morocco and The Netherlands. It’s something I look forward to. It’s an opportunity to immerse myself in the art form I practice, and also a break from my daily routine – a forced encounter with new experiences that shakes me out of my comfort zone and wakes me up.

I’ve seen no better example of a bridge-building theater festival than the recent “Human Mosaic” festival in which we participated last month in Poland. The theme of the festival was “tolerance.” The theme was chosen because of the LACK of tolerance identified in the community. What does that look like in Goleniów, Poland? Well, leading up to the festival there was a scathing editorial in the local newspaper (ultra-conservative, ultra-catholic) condemning the host theatre company for a planned “drag-queen-make-up workshop,” and coinciding with the opening of the festival the newspaper ran a photo of two men holding the hands of a young boy, rainbow flag flying in the background, with the headline “STOP PEDAPHILES.” That’s an example of what intolerance looks like there. The opening event of the festival was a live theatrically-staged performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. What a poignant statement in a community divided. During the performance, the actors build a literal wall made of large cardboard boxes right through the middle of the audience. The audience remained divided through most of the show. Then, during the final number, to the collective chant “TEAR DOWN THE WALL!” the wall was dismantled, allowing the audience to once again become whole.

Renowned composer Frans Winther, of Odin Teatret in Denmark, wrote a song for that festival—an anthem performed on the first day and the last. The lyrics state: “I am human; you are human too. We are different but the same.” So simple. How it is it so often a bridge too far?

At these international festivals, we meet people from across the globe. We share our work, our perspectives, our stories. No matter how different we are from one another, and no matter how foreign our practices may be, without fail, we find common ground. We connect. When we leave, and return to our respective communities, we are different. The interaction has left an impression. We have changed, and our idea of places previously left to the imagination—impressions formed by headlines and clichés, all in the abstract—are now concrete, tied to the human beings we have met that live there. Finland is where Vilja is from. India is where my friend Chintan lives. Nepal is the home of the children I met who communicated through dance and through song.

This is a peace-building process. With every festival, with every new connection, we affirm the simple thought: “I am human; you are human too. We are different but the same.” We affirm this for our audiences, and for ourselves. In this time of technology-induced isolation, we find human connection; in this time of tightening borders, we build bridges.

So go ahead, governments of the world: build your walls. The artists are here. And we’re going to tear them down.