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From Bill – Finding (un)Bound

April 4, 2017

High five, everybody! Stuff is goin’ down here at Touchstone! You may or may not be aware that we’re gearing up for a major Festival in October of 2019 (just around the corner), and we’ve been working for months building the foundation of what it will look like.

October 2019

A Festival Exploring The Future of Bethlehem
commemorating twenty years of change since Steelbound: Art of an Industry.

…in which Touchstone Theatre will,
with its Community, National, and International Partners,
forge a vision—through art—for our future.

Steelbound 1In 1998, after an almost 150 year history building this nation, Bethlehem Steel finally shut down steel-making here in Bethlehem. It was a traumatic event, and Touchstone, to help the community work its way through it, created and assembled several works of art and cultural projects into a festival called Steelbound: The Art of an Industry. Now, as 2019 approaches and the 20th anniversary since that extraordinary event, we face a challenge of a different and perhaps more daunting nature. Who are we, now that the Steel is gone? What are the challenges ahead, and what are the values that will hold the community together as we face the task of shaping our future?

After months of work, the Festival is evolving into five major “areas” of investigation so far, framed by Opening and Closing Ceremonies (and these labels aren’t exactly perfect by any account): Work. Gender. Emerging Diversity. Youth. Health, Environment and Community. We are looking at a Festival that spans two weekends. As imagined now, each arena of investigation would have one to several events as part of it, and a Panel Discussion to actively deconstruct the art into more left brain (logic, rational) form, possible conclusions and actions.

Work: We are considering the possibility of looking at work–technological change, effects on how we look at education, gender defining work roles–through the prism of Just Born. Just Born is a second-generation manufacturing family business that has, at the heart of it, a family of course, and a long tradition of community service. The tensions between family “culture” and business demands are splendidly positioned to be a way-in for this arena of investigation.

Gender: The diaries of the single women who lived in the Single Sisters house in Historic Bethlehem are rich material for drama. And the drama around this, The Sifting Time, provides fecund resources and story for the male side as well. We hope to work with the LGBTQ community, women leaders, and men’s groups to advance a dialogue about the changing roles of men and women in our society. And if possible, how this fits into our spiritual heritage.

14711035_10153981422963225_256279391726590060_oEmerging Diversity: This festival is called (un)Bound, and it often strikes me as particularly appropriate for the stories of minority people’s in Bethlehem. The struggle to be unbound for them is profoundly dramatic. Whether it is the present agonies over immigration or the heritage of slavery and racism or the stories of our transgender community members–the knowledge to shape our future in a positive way seems, if anywhere, at the center of what has kept these folks down. This is a particularly difficult piece to find the right voice and form for.

Youth: Youth must be at the center of what we do. We have a possible THEATRE PERFORMANCE emerging out of the High Schools, an ART EVENT out of the Elementary Schools, a lovely possible DANCE CONCERT from the private and public schools in the region. I think we all know that the Youth, as with the Minority Communities, must lead the charge, and though we have several possible pieces by and for and about youth, we’ve still a long way to go to put youth leadership of the Festival into place.

Health, Environment, and Community: Alright, it’s a catch all, but one of the interesting developments in our work of meeting the community has been The Lodge, here on 4th Street. The Lodge is a “transition” facility aimed at getting people with mental difficulties able to work in society. Housing is at the center of that, but work as well, and art and social service. One of the key elements of the Lodge’s holistic approach to helping individuals is the importance given to each person being responsible for their own healing. It’s a great metaphor for the heart of our (un)Bound challenge—how to ensure the health and integrity of the individual while being responsible to the ever more persuasive reality that we’re all “connected”.

The general shape of the festival is unfolding. It might just look like this–with the opening Ceremony where everyone is together and then breaking into streams–youth, gender, diversity, work, health, etc–and then coming together again for a final collective, musical, dancing, joyous ceremony.

This is what’s been going on. If you’d like to get on the list of bi-monthly updates, email — and I’ll put you on.


The emerging festival structure. Kinda looks like a spider, doesn’t it?


A final note:

The Festival is a lovely vision that is coming into focus, and, of course, there are many challenges ahead. First and foremost, I would say, is that there has been a profound change in Washington that threatens much of the funding that would be necessary to make it a reality. We here at Touchstone are not daunted, but we also must acknowledge, be frank with all of us who’ve begun to shape this vision, that it is a challenging one, even in good times. Please contact your National Representatives and Senators to keep the NEA and the NEH budgets from being cut. Do it, please.

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