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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.


From Emma – Tales from the Tour – Musical Festival Musical Chairs

September 19, 2018

DSC04310bIt’s impossible to pick out a favorite part of an experience as massive and eclectic as our trip to Poland for Teatr Brama’s Human Mosaic Festival, but if I had to try and narrow it down, I’d say it was probably the music.

And boy, was there a lot of music. Music of all shapes and sizes and genres, solo voices to four part harmonies, a capella to orchestra and rock band backed. There was traditional folk music, classic rock, heavy metal, twangy, clangy, harmonic, dissonant, melodic, percussive, anything you could possibly look for in a soundscape. Here’s the speed tour of some of the music that Touchstone helped make while we were over in Goleniów.DSC04893

The festival kicked off with an insanely epic production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Besides the staging (which seriously, if you get a chance, check out the video of the whole performance – video won’t do the experience justice, but it’ll give you a sense of how utterly bananas the production values were), I was struck by the strength of the music and the musicians, a mix of students and professionals, international artists and hometown talent. I had the pleasure of playing flute in the orchestra, which had me right next to the band and right behind some of the singers – a great place to enjoy some classic tunes and really killer guitar work. Jp, Jason, and I got to jump in for some vocal solos (Christopher, Jason, and Mary also performed as actors for “In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell”). I’d been passingly familiar with The Wall before, but somehow, it took a trip halfway around the world before I really met the music. DSC06966

Our debut as the Touchstone Cowpokes was also a favorite musical memory. Ahead of the trip, we’d been informed that we’d be able to share something for “America Night” – each of the countries with a substantial number of representative artists was invited to take the stage for a cultural exchange, most of which manifested through song and dance. We broke out something approximating cowboy costumes (the sequined cowboy hat that Christopher wore was a particular favorite) and serenaded the group with American country classics from Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and John Denver. By the end of the night, we had a mob of audience members line dancing to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “American Pie,” and we genuinely felt like rock stars. DSC08067

One round of international night wasn’t enough, of course! On Italian Night, Jason and I got to jump in with our good friends of Teatro Potlach (you might remember them from when they came to Touchstone in 2015 with The Last 100 Years of Edith Piaf; we visited them with Bhudoo the following summer for their international festival, FLIPT) to play accompaniment on some Italian classics from the early 20th century; and Jp and Christopher helped close out Spanish Night with an unforgettable, rousing chorus of “Bésame Mucho”. Very serious business. DSC08300

The original performance entitled Freedom that Touchstone directed for the festival, created in collaboration with a number of Goleniów community groups, was saturated with music— beautiful music of protest, revolution, peace, love, and rock ’n roll. We shared the stage with the Night Crawlers, a fantastic local band that we got to work with for the weeks leading up to the festival. And we got to hear our beautiful cast belting out the chorus of “Keep On Rocking in the Free World” with the kind of enthusiasm and joy that is impossible to fake. DSC03097

And this is just a highlights reel – I’ve not even mentioned singing out the tunes of Dictators 4 Dummies in its international debut; or our new favorite post-pop rap-rock fusion lady duo Two Times Twice; or the aliens music jam (yes, for real); or headbanging to the Night Crawlers’ penultimate-night-of-the-festival concert; or the beautiful voices of the Corsican throat singers; or the great big “Ciao Bella” singalong by all the Italians at the festival (there were about a zillion of them); or the effortlessly gorgeous vocal harmonies that everyone in the Teatr Brama company seemed to be able to produce at the drop of a hat.

There was so, so much more music. And it was wonderful to be able to add our voices to this big international symphony.

From Lisa – Tales from the Tour – “Amazing and Exhausting”

September 14, 2018

We’ve been home for roughly a week now from Poland and our residency at Teatr Brama, but I’ve still not figured out how to answer the question, “How was it?” It’s difficult to express the intense three weeks we spent together in the small town of Goleniow with hundreds of artists from around the world creating, performing, breaking bread, and toasting to the power of art. The best I’ve managed is: “It was equal parts amazing and exhausting,” which while accurate, could be applied to many things.

I’ll try a little harder and get help from a visual aid! Here’s a short video of Stefan, a new friend from Denmark (who coincidentally has a connection to Sandglass Theatre, a puppet company in Vermont, Touchstone has presented many times). This is his first attempt at testing his rigging to scale the elementary school where a remounting of Pink Floyd’s The Wall would take place as part of the Human Mosaic Festival’s opening ceremony.

Stefan would be playing a member of the SWAT team in one of three songs Touchstone directed, once we were on the ground in Poland. In the show, this moment happened at the start of the song “Run Like Hell” with Mary, Christopher, and Jason are all playing dictators who have just called in the police to control the crowd. If you’re curious as to how it all played out, there was live stream video taken of the full performance, which also features Jp, Emma, and Jason as vocalists and musicians. Video here.

But, I digress; back to the video of Stefan and the task of scaling a three-story elementary school. For me, this moment encapsulates the whole experience. It’s a this-would-never-happen-in-the-US kind of dangerous, a little crazy, totally thrilling, physically and mentally exhausting, and thankfully all ended well with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

For us, the task abroad was to represent ourselves, Touchstone, and ultimately the US, given the international scope of the Festival. It was something we did as best as we could through the theatre we performed and created with the community, and through daily interactions in the rehearsal room, at the bar, at the dinner table, or passing on the street. I think we did well. We did, after all, get everyone up and line dancing (yes, you read that correctly) as part of America Night (see photos below). While we didn’t help matters by dressing like cowboys, it was endlessly amusing to me to see that this is how they think we all dance!

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Stay tuned for more musings on the residency in Poland from the rest of the “Americans” as we were often referred to. Dziękuję! (pronounced, roughly: gin coo-yeh) Thank you!

From the Intern’s Desk

July 26, 2018

My name is Hannah, and I am a 20- year old community college student studying in Schnecksville. I’m an administrative intern at Touchstone this summer.

DSC09377I’ve lived in the Lehigh Valley my entire life. I got into theatre when I saw the Civic Theatre School production of High School Musical when I was 10 years old, and I was instantly hooked by the idea of pretending to be a different person. I then signed up to take classes at Civic Theatre school that fall, which would change my life. I gained many friendships over the course of the next four years at Civic Theatre School.

Then after I graduated from middle school, I went to Notre Dame High School, where I discovered their theatre company. This is where I would grow in my acting and make friendships that I still treasure. Even though I was cast in the ensemble for many of the shows I had already been in, it was still fun to create a character from scratch like I did for Sweeney Todd and The Music Man. It made me even more interested in what I could do with my characters.

Also around this time, I started to get more into social media and connecting with my favorite broadway actors. Through social media, I have had the opportunity to become close friends with many current Broadway stars including Christy Altomare. Christy has shown me immense kindness over the four years we have been friends. She is Anya in Anastasia on Broadway, and she told one of my other friends who saw the show, that if it wasn’t for me promoting her on social media, she would not have gotten the role of Anya at all. That honestly made me smile, because you never know the impact you can leave on someone’s life. It’s honestly pretty crazy to see someone I know so well getting so much attention nowadays, but it still makes me so happy to know she is making so many others happy.


My sister Maggie and I after our family saw “Anastasia” on Broadway. My friend Christy who plays Anya took us backstage. It was a very cool experience!

After my sophomore year at Notre Dame, I got more involved in Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, where I got to play the roles of Maurice in Beauty and the Beast and Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory during the summer. This encouraged me to start taking classes at PYT during the school year, which allowed me to not only start performing in their mainstage shows during the year but also to get more lead roles which helped me become more confident in myself. This allowed me to make even more friends at PYT. Many of my friends from PYT are still some of my closest friends to this day. PYT ultimately gave me the confidence to not be as shy with people and be more open.

After my junior year at Notre Dame, I transferred to Emmaus High School, where I got involved in their theatre department. I wasn’t involved onstage in any shows, but for their production of Romeo and Juliet, I helped out with run crew, which helped me gain new friends. This also helped me gain a respect for people who work behind the scenes. I also participated in their choir, where I really made memories that still stick with me. When I graduated, I felt pretty proud of myself for getting through high school.

Even though I am not participating in shows that often, I still love seeing shows. I love Lehigh Valley theatre, because there is so much talent and such a variety of different material. You can not only see Shakespeare in the summer, you can also see musicals that tug at your soul such as Ragtime at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at Muhlenberg which can make you laugh. These shows also bring very big names to the Valley and can bring many people not from around here. I think at the end of the day, the Lehigh Valley is a very diverse theatre area.

I hope you liked getting to know me, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for me at Touchstone!

From Bill – Remembering Barbara

July 20, 2018

Bill and Barbara in “Petrushka,” Godfrey Daniels, 1977. Directed & Choreographed by Barbara Pearson

To the Touchstone family,

Allow us a moment, here at Touchstone, to grieve, please.

We lost Barbara Pearson this last week.  As you may know, Barbara was the widow of Professor John Pearson, the inspiration for much of the work that started us off back in the early 70’s and still inspires us here at 321 E. 4th Street (you walk under John’s name whenever you go into our little studio theatre).  After John’s passing in 1976, she was a founder of People’s Theatre Company, the precursor to Touchstone, and at a time when she was still pregnant with her third child (Mary), having just lost her adored husband to a sudden heart attack, she selflessly supported Bridget and myself and the very difficult work that led to the formation of Touchstone Theatre. Those of you who were there to watch know of what I speak.  Her brilliant, funny, creative fire, extraordinary compassion, unrelenting work ethic, and indomitable spirit held us up in those early years, protected us, guided us, challenged us; and today, 42 years later, at her passing, it feels like an impossibly great loss.

There are so many, many memories from all those years until now, full of that dual pain and joy that comes from having loved and lived passionately.

In Barbara’s last days… it was very difficult, certainly for her family as well.  Neighbors circled around to support her and her dear Victor and Mary.  I did not visit but wrote some words we asked Mary to read to her.  A few of those I can share:

My dear and darling Barbara…  know you live inside us … in our hearts and minds.  Your fierce, no nonsense love.  Your passionate burning imagination.  Your courage.



Barbara’s obituary here.


From Jp – Goleniów Bound (thank you, TCG!)

July 9, 2018

In June of 2017, in preparation for our soon-to-be-announced community-focused festival, Christopher Shorr and I traveled to Holstebro, Denmark to observe Odin Teatret’s “Holstebro Festuge”, a weeklong festival exploring the intersection of community and art.  For those not in the know – Odin Teatret is considered by many to be a key shared ancestor in the linage of many independent American theatres, including Touchstone’s.

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Holstebro Festuge

While in attendance, Touchstone had the opportunity to meet with members of Caravan Next, a European Union funded delegation of some of Europe’s top community-based theatre practitioners and academics. Amongst the Caravan Next member organizations was the Goleniów, Poland-based company Teatr Brama. It quickly became apparent that Touchstone and Brama shared a passion for community-based work, and many of our aesthetic leanings were in line too, e.g. traveling performances, spectacle-driven work, and the integration of music.

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Parade held by Teatr Brama

In August of 2017, I briefly visited Brama to discuss how a relationship might grow between the two companies. It was agreed then that an excellent first step would be for Touchstone to come to “Bramat” (Brama’s community festival – August 2018) for an exchange of methodologies and an opportunity to work alongside Brama’s artists by building performances with their community that would be featured in “Bramat”.  It is imagined that this first step would lead to a core understanding of each other’s methodologies and (if successful in the first phase of our collaboration) in August of 2019, Teatr Brama would come to Bethlehem, PA and reverse the experience in our community.


Me at Brama with Artistic Director Daniel Jacewicz and Company Member Jenny Crissey

We live in an increasingly smaller world, and it is the belief of the artists at Touchstone that in order to operate at our most empathetic capacity, we need to look both locally and globally. For the last seven years, Touchstone Ensemble Members have attended at least one international festival a year. We engage with the international theatre community to experience the world from new points of view, to scout talent to present at our home theatre, as well as to present our own work abroad. When we are able to bring international companies to Touchstone for a residency, these intense periods of time overflow with workshops, practice sharing, and inevitably brainstorming about potential future collaborations.

Luckily, we are not the only ones who hold the importance of international artistic sharing dear. Touchstone is lucky to have received a very competitive grant from the Theater Communication Group (TCG) to fulfill its work in Goleniów! The TCG Global Connections grant (funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) is meant “to foster new relationships with international colleagues that will inspire each other’s work and aesthetics by creating opportunities for cultural exchange.” We could not feel more honored to receive this grant! Thank you to TCG, and to all of the Touchstone community for your ongoing support.

Stayed tuned to our e-newsletter and social media outlets to stay up-to-date on next month’s adventure!