ABE Awards for Touchstone Theatre’s Festival UnBound productions

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Huzzas, high-fives, hugs, handshakes, and honkings are in order for dramatic elements of Touchstone Theatre’s 10-day festival this fall that occasioned a near record 77 posts here on Gadfly.

Well done!

“The Secret” — the play about Bethlehem-born poet H. D. — returns to Touchstone April 2-5.

Paul Willistein, “14th annual ABEs Salute Lehigh Valley Stage: From plays to musicals, theater unbound in 2019.” Bethlehem Press, January 3, 2020.

Producer: Touchstone Theatre. “Festival UnBound,” the multimedia project two years in the making, produced some 20 events and ran 10 days in October 2019. The festival took a measure of Bethlehem’s southside 20 years after Touchstone’s landmark “Steelbouund” production when SteelStacks was a twinkle in the Christmas City star. It was a big year for Touchstone Theatre, which also produced a terrific 20th production of “Christmas City Follies.”

Play: “The Secret,” Mock Turtle Marionette Theater. The world premiere about H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Bethlehem native and poet, during “Festival UnBound” was part of “Finding H.D., A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle,” a year-long series of events organized by the Lehigh University English Department, Bethlehem Area Public Library, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre. Doug Roysdon, Artistic Director, Mock Turtle Marionette Theater, was chief writer of the multimedia performance that mixes narrative, song, music, poetry, puppets and actors. Script collaborators were Jennie Gilrain, William Reichard-Flynn, Aidan Gilrain-McKenna, Matilda Snyder, Kalyani Singh and Seth Moglen.

Original Play: “Prometheus/Redux,” Touchstone Theatre. “Prometheus/Redux” was the astounding opening work of “Festival UnBound.” “Prometheus/Redux,” commissioned for “Festival UnBound,” is written by Gerald Stropnicky, a founding member of Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, and directed by Christopher Shorr, Touchstone ensemble member and director of theater at Moravian College. Music is by Harry Mann. Images and footage from the Steelworkers Archives are incorporated into the work as is an image of the implosion of Martin Tower, former Bethlehem Steel Corp. headquarters.

Ensemble, Play: “Prometheus/Redux,” Touchstone Theatre. Touchstone Theatre cofounder and ensemble member Bill George returned as Prometheus. It’s 20 years after he left The Steel and now, instead of being chained to the ladle, he is bound to a hospital bed, suffering liver failure. The cast included former steelworkers, a county judge and members of previous generations of the Touchstone ensemble.

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

ArtsQuest plan to add artistic value to our community

Gadfly knows it’s going to be a good day when he can find “turn and grind” and “artistic grit” in his morning newspaper headlines!

And Gadfly is not only likin’ the words about but also the concept behind ArtsQuest’s latest development project.

See if you agree.

And don’t miss refreshing yourself in the second article on how “the scorched land where capitalists once sought profit is now known for its artistic value to the community.”

John J. Moser, “ArtsQuest to turn Bethlehem Steel’s massive former Turn and Grind building into program and festival center.” Morning Call, December 12, 2019.

Bethlehem Steel’s massive Turn and Grind Shop, long viewed by ArtsQuest as a jewel on the South Bethlehem SteelStacks campus, will be revitalized into a programming, exhibit and festival venue, the nonprofit arts organization announced Thursday. The renovated 26,000-square-foot brick structure, adjacent to the SteelStacks Visitor Center, will be called The Air Products Atrium at the Turn & Grind Center. Work on what ArtsQuest called “one of the most unique buildings in South Side Bethlehem,” will start with $1.5 million pledged by the foundation of Lehigh Valley industrial gas company Air Products, it was announced.

But the work would include a 14,000-square-foot public programming space that could feature nationally touring education programs, science- and arts-related exhibits, and theater and dance performances.

“The growing collaboration between Air Products and ArtsQuest will result in increased arts programming, performances, exhibitions and experiences for tens of thousands of residents and visitors annually,” a news release said. It noted that Air Products was among the initial partners for SteelStacks and is the title sponsor of its Air Products Town Square.

The Air Products grant also will fund a 4,000-square-foot wing of the Cultural Center, to be called The Air Products MakerSpace, that will be open to local artists, innovators, entrepreneurs and the public, and give them tools, materials, educational opportunities and technologies to “discover, build and create together,” ArtsQuest said.

Also funded from that will be the Cultural Center’s Air Products Visiting Artist Studio. It will seek to provide “an inspirational environment away from the restrictions and pressures of an artist’s regular routines, providing opportunities to work on projects, offer workshops and programs at area schools, and show their work in exhibitions.”

The new Air Products Atrium at the Turn & Grind Center would “welcome thousands of students, professionals, community members and festival attendees annually to SteelStacks,” a news release said.

ArtsQuest said the vision for the Cultural Center and Turn & Grind Center appealed to Air Products and its foundation because of the proposed buildings’ community programming, its ability to help attract and retain a creative workforce, and its enhancement of the quality of life in the region.

“Air Products is committed to the Lehigh Valley and we have a responsibility to be supportive of the local communities where we live and work,” said Air Products Chief Financial Officer Scott Crocco, an Air Products Foundation trustee.

The MakerSpace will be a self-directed learning zone for activities related to science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, that encourages cross-generational learning. It will include sheet metal, metal machining and welding, woodworking, 3-D printing, laser engraving and digital design and a fabrication lab.

The Visiting Artist Studio will be a space designed to let artists develop their work and explore ideas, while helping to establish the Cultural Center and South Side Bethlehem as destinations to see world-class artists.

Nicole Radzievich, “How artistic grit reinvented the Bethlehem Steel plant and the South Side.” Morning Call, December 13, 2019.

ArtsQuest’s announcement Thursday of a new entertainment venue proposed for the former Turn-and-Grind Shop is just the latest project in a vision that began more than 20 years ago to recast the Bethlehem Steel’s shuttered hometown plant.

The transformation began in earnest a decade ago when the Las Vegas Sands opened a casino, priming the pump for development on the rest of a nearly 130-acre swath of the old plant property between the Fahy and Minsi Trail bridges.

Giving thanks: for those who license us to dream

75th in a series of posts on Touchstone Theatre

We have gathered today in the spirit of community to rise up and embrace the  possibilities of our future.

And what amazing possibilities they are.

They shine like a piece of polished Bethlehem steel.

They shine like our lights at Christmas time.

They shine like the Star of Bethlehem itself.

You see, for generations, Bethlehem defined itself through its pride of industry through Bethlehem Steel,

But for the last twenty years we have found so many new ways to define ourselves.

We can be anything we want to be.

We are free to dream.

We are unBound!

In this “Festival UnBound,” we will come together for a week of celebration and exploration.

Celebration of this wonderful community,

And exploration of just what kind of a future we want for ourselves.

Throughout the week we will share our dreams of the future,

and then like. like a message in a balloon,

we will send our dreams out into the world,

because those dreams, our dreams, make a difference!

 

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

Giving thanks: for good Bethlehem people

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There was soooo much in Festival UnBound! Here we are two months later, and Gadfly has still not exhausted the file of good things he wanted to share with you. What better time than the day on which we “officially” pause to give thanks to our blessings to bring you some more clips of the wonderful people who participated in the Festival.

Here is the fourth installment showcasing the outstanding Bethlehem women who participated in the panel that followed a performance of “The Secret,” the play about H. D.’s life. Moderator Jennie Gilrain gave the eight panelists about five minutes each to talk about their “dreams, hopes, works” and perhaps to recount a time when they were “encouraged or inspired or discouraged and oppressed from following your music.” Short biographies of these women can be found here.

The Secret

The Secret begins one day, in late nineteenth century Bethlehem, when sixteen year-old, Helen Wolle, mother of H.D., entered a Moravian Seminary classroom to rehearse a song she looked forward to performing. Much to her shock and, in fact, trauma, she was roughly told to be quiet, to end “this dreadful noise” by her pastor grandfather, Papalie. And Helen, who loved to sing so much and so well, would never sing again in public. The focus of the panel will be on women in leadership. We will connect the panel to the play via a question that Mamalie (Hilda’s maternal grandmother) asks Hilda in the beginning of the play, and H.D. asks the audience at the end of the play: “Who will follow the music?” 

Yalitza Corcino-Davis is one of the first women in her family to graduate from college, an uphill battle, for she remembers the family response to her distress at receiving a low first-year college grade to be that it doesn’t matter for she would get married and not use her education. Which broke her heart, especially knowing that her aunt, mother, and grandmother all had “dreams” that they had to give up. Her dean, however, would not sign her drop-out letter, and now, based on her own experience, she works to empower students to succeed in the college environment.

Phyllis Alexander describes coming from a culture so hated that white people sold their houses simply because she and a small group of black students walked by on their way to the predominantly white school. That hate framed her life. She became a civil rights activist at age 14, making a decision to change her environment. The need to resist has been central to her life, and she can point to “allies” that made a difference. A big moment was realizing that she had to resist what she had internalized. So her message: resist that which you have within you that makes you fear the Other.

 

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

More UnBound voices

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Gadfly is still culling the treasures in his Festival UnBound files. So much there.

One of the things he was especially pleased with and impressed by during the Festival was the participation of our elected officials and City administrators. He said so during public comment at a Council meeting.

Councilman Reynolds chaired a panel. Councilwoman Van Wirt appeared on one that we just recently highlighted here with a video of her segment.

Darlene Heller was part of the Sustainability Forum that, unfortunately, he couldn’t attend.

Here Gadfly would like to call attention to the participation by Alicia Miller Karner, our Director of Community and Economic Development and Councilwoman Olga Negron.

These very short clips are especially welcome. If we get to hear City administrators speak, it’s usually about “business.” Ugh. Here we get to hear Alicia “as a person.” And CW Negron, well, she’s not one to speak overmuch at Council. She’s not one of those elected officials that Gadfly calls “wind demons.” So it’s good to hear her warm voice more as well.

The participation of all of these people indicates not only their personal commitment to the future of Bethlehem — the ambitious purpose of the Festival — but how that participation was valued by the festival organizers.

A tip o’ the hat!

Be sure to give a listen.

———–

Alicia Miller Karner, Director of Community and Economic Development

  • “As a community we are continuing to rely on technology, on social media, on different ways of interacting . . . you have to put effort into coming out and interacting.”
  • “The best is still yet to come.”
  • “In my job, I spend a lot of time with those questions of how do we not leave them behind.”
  • “[Responding to the question by another panelist: What am I going to do with my anger?] Honoring the anger stuck with me more.”
  • “[Responding to a comment about lack of diversity in City Hall] Very male. Many times I am the only female in the room.”

Olga Negron, Bethlehem Councilwoman

  • We hear that she once made a living sewing for the theater and the return to that in the Prometheus play “grounded” her again.
  • “It’s up to us. It shouldn’t be up to the Mayor, it shouldn’t be up to the Administration, or even to us in City Council — it’s our community, and to me [the play is] a call to be involved, to be engaged.”
  • “I’m always looking forward to listen to my emails, my phone calls, conversations . . . we cannot just sit down and watch, we have to be participants.”
  • “We need to be more humble, learn to embrace, and, you know, encourage us to invite others that might not look like us or speak like us so that we can move forward in the community some of us might be wishing, dreaming of.”

Bravo!

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

More wonderful Bethlehem women

logo 71st in a series of posts on Touchstone Theatre logo

The Secret

The Secret begins one day, in late nineteenth century Bethlehem, when sixteen year-old, Helen Wolle, mother of H.D., entered a Moravian Seminary classroom to rehearse a song she looked forward to performing. Much to her shock and, in fact, trauma, she was roughly told to be quiet, to end “this dreadful noise” by her pastor grandfather, Papalie. And Helen, who loved to sing so much and so well, would never sing again in public. The focus of the panel will be on women in leadership. We will connect the panel to the play via a question that Mamalie (Hilda’s maternal grandmother) asks Hilda in the beginning of the play, and H.D. asks the audience at the end of the play: “Who will follow the music?” 

Gadfly is not done with showcasing the outstanding Bethlehem women who participated in the panel that followed a Festival Unbound performance of “The Secret,” the play about H. D.’s life. You will remember from our two previous installments here that moderator Jennie Gilrain gave the eight panelists about five minutes each to talk about their “dreams, hopes, works” and perhaps to recount a time when they were “encouraged or inspired or discouraged and oppressed from following your music.” Short biographies of these women can be found here.

Emily Santana, a woman from a modest household who dreamed of impossible things and, when accepted to college, was told by someone very, very close to her, “O, wow, I didn’t realize you would amount to something” — causing her to think about who decides your value, and about challenging expectations people have, not just of her, but any category of person, especially of our children.

Margaret Kavanagh –who has “a little job,” is “just a custodian” and doesn’t “know why I am here” — tells kids to be kind, help each other out, and if you can’t do random acts of kindness, “just don’t be a jerk.” Margaret  beats herself up sometimes but has an awesome therapist. Advice: be a positive influence on people around you.

to be continued . . .

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten