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From Lisa – Still Fresh, Over a Decade Later

January 16, 2012

The 2011-2012 Touchstone Apprentices

Every season for over a decade, Touchstone has hosted a class of two to six apprentices.  They come from as far away as Paris, France, and as close as our own backyard of Bethlehem and the Greater Lehigh Valley.  Primarily, the apprentices come directly out of an undergraduate theater arts program; some come from our friends at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California, and a few are mid-career professionals who have come to the theatre looking to get back to training or to approach theatre creation from a non-traditional rather than scripted method.  Some are drawn to the actor-created original plays or devising work that Touchstone offers, others the classes in physical theatre, and some for the arts-in-education or community-based experiences the apprentice program supports.

However they make it here and whatever drew them in initially, they all embark on an original, actor-created show called… Fresh Voices!

Fresh Voices gets posited into the minds of each potential apprentice at auditions.  The idea of creating and performing their own piece of theatre, as well as collaborating with their fellow apprentices on an ensemble piece, is a key element of the apprenticeship and is met with great excitement.  Many actors get few opportunities to create their own work; most undergraduate programs focus on classic and contemporary scripts, allowing for vast experiences in performance of other playwrights’ words but not their own.  Touchstone offers this unique opportunity, and while for some the prospect may be a mix of thrilling and terrifying, it is a tremendous experience well worth the blood, sweat, and occasional tears that comes with the original creation process.

A gaggle of clowns in FRESH VOICES, from the '07-'08 Touchstone Apprentices

Several months after auditions, the apprenticeship is well under way, and the Touchstone Company is getting to know each of them more and more.  By the time Christmas City Follies rolls around, we can probably speculate as to what kind of piece each may tackle – in the past some have been comedic, others tragic, using a variety of techniques and styles: mask, trapeze, musical, solo storytelling, or anything in between.  One piece in my first year at Touchstone involved a live chicken!

This year’s apprentices are a wonderfully assorted group – one from Pennsylvania, one originally from Maryland, one from California, and one from Washington; two coming from a performance background, one from playwriting and one from a community-based approach.  Together, they’ve been hard at work since early October creating an evening of their new work, recently deciding on the subtitle “Demons and Delights”.

This Friday marks the first time this year’s apprentice class will share their works-in-progress; every Friday after, they will continue to share their developing pieces with the Touchstone Ensemble, receiving feedback and guidance as they prepare to unveil them the last weekend of February.

But until Friday, I’ll have to be content with hearing the excited conversations as the four apprentices, Rob, Nicole, Meggan and Katy, go in and out of rehearsals… or sneak another peek at the large sheet of paper that hangs prominently in between their desks and is filled with the ideas from last week’s brainstorming session.

For more on Touchstone Theatre’s Apprenticeship Program, click here.

Rob and Meggan bask in the wall-o-ideas.

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