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From Mary – Newton’s Laws of Motion

August 8, 2017

I’ve been thinking about Newton’s laws of motion.

First law:
In an inertial reference frame, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.

Second law:
In an inertial reference frame, the vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration a of the object: F = ma. (It is assumed here that the mass m is constant – see below.)

Third law:
When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

Life around Touchstone through much of the year is one of almost constant motion – training, rehearsals and performances, teaching, grant writing, designing. Summer is usually the “force” that acts upon us to allow us to move more slowly. The people around Touchstone never fall into inertia.

We leave that to some of our stuff. Or should I say, I leave that to some of MY stuff? In the hurly-burly of a production or a project things get set down and later I find myself wondering, “Why are there twenty three gold stars here in this pile of paperwork?”

This summer was more hurly than burly … what with designing costumes and puppets for Jakopa’s Punch Processional and two days after closing, jumping into directing Camp Touchstone for two weeks, in addition to coordinating three separate Young Playwrights’ Lab programs. Sometimes coordinating also means jumping in to fill-in as teacher and/or dealing with issues that invariably come up for teachers and school administrators.

And so on August 1st I found myself starting some personal “inertia” time after trying to clean up my office area a little so it didn’t look quite so much like the aftermath of a cyclone for my office mate Bill.

As I glanced around the office I found myself struck by my years at Touchstone and how they are represented by the objects left behind.

There are strands of origami cranes hanging in the front corner office that I hung there about 15 years ago. The cranes were an art project I did with my kids … back when they were much younger and I sat at that desk as the Ensemble member responsible for marketing and touring. 15 years.


I sit a back office that I share with Bill now. On the wall behind me hangs a piece of art created by Brazilian artist Jonas Dos Santos when he was here making giant art pieces for Don Quixote of Bethlehem. There’s also the poster for If At All, the original ensemble devised piece we performed in 2002 under the direction of Gerry Stropniki.

Recently we were cleaning out a back room we’ve called the Green Room for years as storage for all of the Jakopa’s Punch equipment and puppets when I discovered remnants of the glass menagerie used for the play back in 2004 when I played Laura to Bill’s Tom.

And then around my desk you’ll find tokens of my last few years.


A painting of Little Red by my father-in-law

A doll’s head collected by my character Maj in Bhudoo

A thank you note from some acting students

A Chinese medallion that was a gift from Jp and Lisa when they visited China in preparation of our two year Journey project.

Drawings made by YPL students

A stuffed penguin from a Little Red bit in Christmas City Follies in 2015

A rubber ducky representing a play in the Young Playwrights’ Festival of 2016

The poster from my one-woman show Mae Swe.

Clearly it doesn’t seem to matter the Mass of the object. The Force required to act upon them is too great for me. Sometimes that Force is busy-ness. Sometimes that Force is nostalgia.

In less than a month the pace will pick back up in a big way and we’re off to the races again… until next summer when I will look around and think, “How did that get here?”

From Bill – Everything’s Connected

June 21, 2017

Once, we were two Bethlehems, and it was 100 years ago North and South realized the importance of working together and became “one” (and, we’re still working on it, really). Here’s an image of the two Bethlehems, in “the good ol’ days”, when “working together” may seem to us a remarkably less complex challenge, but back then was as “crazy hard” as anything one could imagine.


Touchstone is exploring a project called Festival (un)Bound, and to do it, we’ve got to get EVERYBODY working together to envision what kind of future we want for this city that today we call just “Bethlehem”.

The problem is, more and more, as we sit down and talk with folks, it becomes apparent that everything effects everything else.  Let’s say you’re homeless. One might be homeless because one is dysfunctionally dyslexic.  One might be dysfunctionally dyslexic because the educational system didn’t recognize it and teach good coping mechanisms.  The educational system may have failed you because you were living in a poor community and there weren’t funds for such things.  There weren’t funds for such things because the political system was too combative to achieve anything but band-aid solutions.  Combativeness got out of hand because of entrenched, old power structures and a media that feeds on sensationalism in order to sell information to the general public.  And… I could go on FOREVER!  Everything’s connected.  Still, there you are, homeless!

The important thing to remember, we’re learning, is that it’s not you that’s homeless, it’s us, you AND me.  We’re all connected.  When we begin to realize that, the net of connections begins to be healed.

One of the major movements in redesigning our culture is called the permaculture movement. Permaculture uses observation of nature to create regenerative systems. The place where this has been most visible has been on the landscape, but there has been a growing awareness that the principles of permaculture can be used as effectively to create vibrant, healthy and productive people and communities as they have been in landscapes.


The permaculture “flower” diagraming the connectedness of our multiple systems.

But, these days, it’s hard to believe we have any power to effect that “net” that holds all the pieces of the flower together.

(Special note, EVERYONE!!! Come see The Jakopa’s Punch Processional, a puppet parable about working together and making a difference! July 14 & 15, 2017 at 6:30pm – run time 60 minutes – on the South Bethlehem Greenway, meet us at the Chinese Harmony Pavilion between Webster and Taylor Streets. Tickets – FREE)

It’s tempting to despair at our social dysfunctionality, but if we look at the bigger picture, it’s clear we’re making great progress, folks! Here’s a fascinating article called: A History of Global Living Conditions in 5 Charts.  The conclusion of this article states succinctly: The successful transformation of our living conditions (is) possible only because of collaboration. Such a transformation would be impossible for a single person to accomplish. It is our collective brains and our collaborative effort that are needed for such an improvement.”

An NGO for the United Nations recently wrote: “If community is to further the progress of society in its own right – complementing the roles played by individuals and social institutions–a much more expansive conception of community life must be actively embraced. New patterns of action and interaction will have to be built, and new forms of relationship and association constructed. Experimentation, trial and error, and a robust process of learning about the nature of lasting cultural change will be vital – all of which require effort and no small amount of sacrifice… Movement in this direction will require qualitatively different approaches to decision-making than those adopted in the past.”

Festival (un)Bound is one of those “qualitatively different approaches”.

From Emma – Photo Shoot

June 2, 2017

For a number of reasons, we ended up having to re-shoot promo photos for the upcoming production of Fresh Voices, our annual apprentice showcase. This was about three weeks ago, three weeks before Joe and Sabrina would take the stage– which they’ll do tonight– with their original works-in-progress in a showcase of their own.

The photo shoot ended up happening on the loading dock of Zoellner Arts Center, after our annual Young Playwrights’ Festival & Gala. Sabrina wore her gala dress, a flowery affair in black, white, and red. Joe wore stagehand clothes and some sweet eyeliner that he’d had on from playing an Egyptian Guard in the Festival performance. There were giggles and ridiculous dramatic expressions and accidental artful backlighting and handstands.

And to me, this photo shoot kind of encapsulated what makes Sabrina and Joe so wonderful. It was the end of a long, busy day– in the midst of a long busy week, month, spring, year– and there could easily have been annoyance, resentment, or at least an underlying current of “Let’s hurry up, please – it’s eleven o’clock, and I’m working on two hours of sleep and two slices of pizza, and I wanna go home,” but there was none of that. They were completely chill, patient, willing to play. They never seemed to run out of steam. It was giggles and handstands, all the way.

Every apprentice year is a learning experience, for both apprentices and ensemble.  Every year, the apprentices bring particular skills or gifts that set them apart from those that have come before. And don’t get me wrong, Joe and Sabrina are both incredibly talented performers, but I think that what’s impressed me the most about them this year is their ability to do the work– and work hard– without being daunted by the enormity of the work. This is the job of being an artist, and they were going to do it, always moving forward. Cleanup around the theatre? Absolutely. Engineer a costume fix? You got it. No snark. No refusal. Giggles and handstands.

Tonight and tomorrow, the apprentices take the stage for Fresh Voices. Tonight, the show is followed by a celebratory reception for the apprentices; and tomorrow night, they’ll have a post-show talkback with the audience. Hope you can join us.

From Jp – A Busy April

April 26, 2017

Blog time… oh my!

My turn on the blog this time comes as a momentary welcome distraction (as does everything at this point in time) because I’m deep into completing the final draft of a thesis, due one week from the writing of this blog. My mind is so scattered at the moment, and while I thought that maybe I would just copy and paste my thesis draft in here and let you all proof it for me, I thought it would be a great time to update you on a couple of things.

1.  It’s two for one Sizzli time at Wawa!  (Though unfortunately my schedule with writing, doesn’t have me out of the house that early)

2.  Next week, the amazing faculty and student body at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts will be opening their production of Hair. Touchstone was honored to be asked by the Theater faculty at the school to come down for this production and mentor teams of student designers through the process of putting the this show together. Myself with set designers, Emma with lighting, and Lisa with the costume folks, worked alongside the students as they put their minds toward creating a cohesive aesthetic for their production. I was able to see a dress rehearsal of the show on Monday and was delighted by what I saw. I’m really proud of my design team, proud of all the students involved, and last but not least, proud of Touchstone Ensemble Affiliate Ashley Weller’s direction and choreography is out of the ball park.  Check it out: Hair

3.  The Jakopa’s Punch Processional’s script and songs are all complete! We are now entering production mode. The band has been hard at work for the last two weeks learning the new songs, and we will be holding audition for puppeteers and stilt-walkers the week of May 22nd.  Just this week, we had to make a very important decision… which of these look more like tiny satyr horns?

It’s really quite a nuanced thing…  where do you set them on the head? Do you go for a cleaner arc? Do you go for the more curvy ones? Do they both just make people look like the devil? Decisions!

Really this is just the tip of the iceberg!  We’ve got the Young Playwright’s Festival coming up, we’ve got Bill slow cooking the (Un)Bound project, we’ve got Emma over at Moravian Academy, we’ve got a set to build for PYT Seussical, we’ve got…  yeah… I guess I better get back to writing this thesis.

From Lisa – Other Duties As Assigned

April 12, 2017

Those dreaded words, usually found at the end of a job description, could mean just about any task, even one loosely related to your actual job. At Touchstone, and my guess is any small non-profit, “other duties as assigned” are a fairly common occurrence. As the Managing Director, sometimes I have to ask someone else to do them, other times I have to take care of them myself.

Yesterday, my other duty as assigned was Investigative Plumbing. We received our water bill and it was eight times what it usually is (?!) – so, hoping it was a clerical error and we didn’t actually owe an extra $500, I called the City and set off on my adventure.

My first task was to find the water meter to confirm the accuracy of the reading (which was actual, not estimated) – easier said than done. After I searched on my own to no avail, I enlisted Bill and then Emma. Finally, Emma pointed out something that Bill and I had thought was a heat sensor. Thank heavens for technology, because I snapped a picture and emailed it to the City to confirm. We’d found the water meter!

Unfortunately, the actual reading was right, and now it was even higher – by about 20,000 gallons – because almost three weeks had passed since the City reading. During my earlier adventures, which had taken me all around the theatre, I’d also been looking for leaks and didn’t notice any. I shared that with the City and they sent along a Leak Form with instructions on how to find a leak.

Second task: find the leak! In order to do that I had to make sure no water was being used, then check the meter for a circle or triangle, depending on the meter type – ours is a circle. If the shape appeared and no one is using water, it means you have a leak. The circle was there and the meter was moving fast; we definitely had a leak. On my way back up from the basement, I heard water running and followed the sound upstairs to the café bathroom toilet. I shut the water off, waited a couple minutes and then checked the meter again. The meter had slowed almost to a stop.


In order to confirm that was the leak, I followed the instructions on City Leak Form. Drop food coloring into the back of the toilet and if the color ends up in the toilet bowl you have a leak, which it did.

Investigation complete! Our 75,000 gallons of water used over the last three months was due to a running toilet – yikes!! Moral of the story: water costs money; don’t waste it. (As seen on the top of the City’s Leak Form.)


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.

From Emma – Backstage Buddies

December 12, 2016

It’s Christmas City Follies time at Touchstone, which means the annual return of old favorites– The Old Guy, Little Red, the Shopping Carts. Every year, we have fun re-inventing what these protagonists of the ongoing Follies epic will undertake, and every year, returning audiences get to follow the story of characters that many of them have come to view as old friends and Christmas traditions.

But backstage, we also spend a lot of time inhabiting the peripheral characters– non-speaking megafauna, dancing toys, characters with brief cameos, and noble souls who have a brief shtick to cover a transition. With some of these characters, we’ll be sitting in their costumes for half of intermission, waiting to get our places call, and so, being serious, professional actor-creator types, we start acting out whole new sketches backstage, fleshing out the peripheral characters until they have ridiculous plot arcs of their own.

I’d like to introduce you to a few of this year’s:

NAME: Johanna
SPECIES: Overgrown cat/jaguar/panther hybrid
PLAYED BY: Mary Wright
SECRET WISH: To be a Vegas showgirl

NAME: Phil
SPECIES: Brown bear/grizzly bear hybrid
PLAYED BY: Bill George
FAVORITE DESSERT: Fire-toasted brownies with walnuts and white powdered sugar – yum!

NAME: Bernerd
SPECIES: Bunny rabbit
PLAYED BY: Ashley Tait Weller
SECRET WISH: To be an overgrown cat/jaguar/panther hybrid
FAVORITE FOOD: Cupcakes (so much better than carrots)

NAME: Tiberious
SPECIES: Homo sapien, primus pilus
PLAYED BY: Dan Maher
FAVORITE COOKIE: Almond kiffles

NAME: ShamWanda (the “m” is silent)
SPECIES: Polar bear
PLAYED BY: Emma Ackerman
DEEPEST FEAR: Zombiepocalypse

NAME: Oedipus
SPECIES: Tyrannosaurus Rex
PLAYED BY: Christopher Michael Morris
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Netflix’s Chef’s Table

NAME: Petruchio
SPECIES: Penguin
PLAYED BY: Sabrina DeWeerdt
REPUTATION: Voted “Most Likely to Show Up Overdressed” in high school

NAME: Rudolph
SPECIES: Reindeer
PLAYED BY: Joseph Ferraro
REPUTATION: Did marching band in high school

NAME: Sugar Cookie
SPECIES: Christmas Elf
PLAYED BY: Sarah Vogelgesang
DIETARY RESTRICTIONS: Allergic to sugar cookies

NAME: Little Sammy Cottrell
SPECIES: Homo sapien, ukulelecus minor
PLAYED BY: Alexander Vogelgesang
OCCUPATION: Ukulele prodigy
DEEPEST SECRET: Doesn’t actually play ukulele

NAME: Panda
PLAYED BY: Bridget Broskey

We’re fond of our little backstage menagerie; the particulars of their epic stories may never make it onstage, but we have a lot of fun with them while we’re waiting in the wings.

So next time you’re at Follies, enjoying coffee at intermission, just imagine us backstage, enacting zombie Petruchio’s slow chase of ShamWanda and Oedipus while Johanna takes a tap solo in the background…