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From Bill – In the Beginning…

September 11, 2013
The company of Touchstone's TWELFTH NIGHT, circa 1989.

The company of Touchstone’s TWELFTH NIGHT, circa 1989.

…Okay, not really THE beginning, but a beginning of sorts– early to mid-seventies, and a handful of folks inspired by the idealism of the time bubbled up here in Bethlehem and began revolutionary initiatives: arts organizations. I’m thinking of Dave Fry who, with Cindy Dinsmore, started Godfrey Daniels; Doug Roysdon, who with his wife, Christy, began Mock Turtle Marionettes; Madeleine Ramsey, who was crazy enough to begin the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre; Bridget George (who is now at the Bach Choir– perhaps where it all really began) and myself with Touchstone Theatre; Gene Mater at Gene Mater Studio.

It only took a handful of folks, partnering with a few key individuals and business persons– Joan Moran, John Saraceno, Tommy Mohr, Steve Goldner, Ollie Foucek… I’m going to stop trying to name names; y’all know who you are. There are too many to acknowledge here, but it wasn’t that many in the greater scheme of things.

Bridget, Bill, Anisa, and Sam George in ROOTABAGA STORIES, circa 1991.

Bridget, Bill, Anisa, and Sam George in ROOTABAGA STORIES, circa 1991.

From this idealism and commitment to “a new community” based on hard work, creativity, and collaboration, Bethlehem saw a light that helped it find its way forward through very difficult economic times. The South Side was relatively dead, and some of the buildings were rotting away in 1976, but from these different and unique creative efforts, a renaissance of sorts was conjured. Largely woven from the threads of these original and daring initiatives, Jeff Parks was capable of unfolding his tapestry, starting up a Musikfest that made national attention and has eventually become the entertainment conglomerate called ArtsQuest, now lodged down at the old Steel Site.

Bravo to Musikfest, and bravo to Bethlehem, but let’s take a moment to look back at the values that started this all off “in the beginning”. Let’s take a moment to check in on these aging entrepreneurs. Are we still holding true to our original vision, and what was that vision in the first place? Certainly it wasn’t monolithic, and unless we were to all sit down and hash it out– after all, much of it was unconscious; we were working as the “spirit” called us– it’d probably sound like a little of this, and a little of that. Maybe nothing held us together at all.

Still, I think it’s worth it to look at this performance of Dave Fry at Musikfest, so raggedly videoed by myself, from just a few weeks ago.

As you watch, you can see that yes, Dave is getting older; we all are. It wasn’t that long ago that there was an extraordinary concert to raise money for Dave’s health needs. This is what happens when the vision achieves its ultimate effect: a community of caring.

It’s not a surprise that Dave’s performing a children’s song. He didn’t always work such material, but he got involved with Touchstone along the way, and his endlessly witty and roguish persona found its way into music for children. This is what happens when the vision follows its own unpredictable path: everyone is served, the strong and the weak. Local artists work together and learn from each other.

Note that the children are dancing, that instruments have been set aside in the nearby pavilion so they can participate. This is what happens when the vision serves: the work is inclusive, participatory, lives inside us. The art belongs to us all.

Note Dina Hall accompanying Dave; the next generation is being fostered. Our creative work, our culture, can find sustainable approaches. It’s the old, “give a man a fish today, and he’ll still need another tomorrow; teach a man to fish, and he’s fed forever.” Dina is President of the Board at Godfrey’s now, helping to guide it into a future without Dave. This is what happens when the vision creates the future: institutions and relationships are formed that link generation to generation.

Jumping Mouse and Blind Buffalo in Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre's JUMPING MOUSE, circa 1990.

Jumping Mouse and Blind Buffalo in Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre’s JUMPING MOUSE, circa 1990.

It matters that the performance is taking place at the Sun Inn Courtyard. Place is important, context is meaning– not just because it brings patrons to the small businesses on Main Street and stimulates the wider economy, but because the Bethlehem community is connected to its most cherished history at this site. This is a place that has deep roots into the Bethlehem identity for anyone who understands the spirit of this community. This is what happens when the vision finds a home: it looks to priorities beyond money and expediency and settles where it can best serve one and all beautifully, and if I may say so, spiritually.

This is a vision that is still, as yet, unrealized in its fullest possible expression. This is my reason to keep working, keep trying, keep believing the future can be better, much, much better.

There’s still plenty of time. Let’s see what we can do.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2013 8:49 pm

    I do believe it is spiritual at its essence. Thanks, Bill.

  2. Ramona LaBarre permalink
    September 12, 2013 9:11 pm

    Fabulous, Bill, thank you. Yes, let’s.

  3. Jim Rosamilia permalink
    September 12, 2013 11:32 pm

    Simple and eloquent, Bill. It warms my heart from afar. For that which aligns us with Spirit removes the illusion of separation via time and space. Thanks for reeling me in.

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