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From Bill – Stand Aside, Mural Coming Through!

March 31, 2015

Being a “professional artist”—which is a sort of dichotomy of terms, though there are those who have done it I’m sure (Van Gogh perhaps, but then again he was destitute, and I wonder what kind of plays Shakespeare would have written if he didn’t have to worry about box office or pleasing clergy and royalty)—as far as this person is concerned, requires a good deal of flapping of the wings to stay afloat—the ability to handle a number of different jobs simultaneously.

As I shared last time around, we’re all fully engaged:  I just walked through the building and Emma was working on tech considerations for Journey from the East, Lisa was at a Building Bridges workshop for the Intermediate Unit, Jp was working on the possibility of growing our apprentice program into a degree-giving graduate program, Mary was focused on Young Playwrights Festival and getting the directors in order, our apprentices Anna and Remy were hard at work getting their final presentation for the Integration of Abilities class ready. And I’m on this blog—between a possible real estate question, a class plan with Hester for Bucks County Playhouse and how to secure a building for the zip line we hope to have our Cannibal Sandy enter on during Act I of Journey from the East!

One of the most interesting things happening right now, as I write, is that downstairs Jim Gloria is putting together a mural to go on the not so attractive back side of our building.  With the financial help of a Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce initiative and growing out of the exquisite renderings of our Chinese friends—The Utopia Group, Deng Dafei and He Hai—we hope to have a beautiful image up before the end of the month.  Take a look at my sketchy little phone video.

(And, if anyone’s interested in helping paint or put it up, give me a call –  610-867-1689. Like I said:  so much excellent work to do!)

See you at the show!  Journey from the East is coming! Think good thoughts for the weather and join us.

From Emma – Scribble, Simmer, Steep

March 11, 2015

Winter is (slowly) (knock on wood) on its way out, and spring is approaching. With spring comes the enormous, daunting, magnificent Journey from the East (with its large cast, cowboys, dragons, costume quick-changes, and multitude of vehicular needs), as well as the landmark tenth anniversary performance of Young Playwrights’ Festival (with its new preshow party in addition to the glorious postshow gala, as well as a smorgasbord of ridiculous props, sets, costumes, sounds, and more). Besides those main courses, we’ve also got the tasty side dishes that accompany our year – Jp and I still hard at work on grad school assignments; Bill in rehearsal/creation of a new production directed by the one and only Anisa George; Mary directing Velveteen Rabbit over at PYT (it opens next weekend!), plus a multitude of teaching and administrating for all of us (and making up for a multitude of snow days).

And that’s not even including the summer. Oy, the summer.

With all of this artfully productive chaos, it’s incredibly difficult to even think about next season, let alone be rehearsing for it.SONY DSC

Nevertheless, since the start of the new year, Bill, Mary, Josh, Jp, and myself have been meeting once or twice a week (when not otherwise barred by production week crazies) (or those accursed snow gods) to begin creating materials for a new devised piece, to premiere next April.SONY DSC

There’s a lot we don’t know yet, a lot that’s living in the realm of “maybe” and “what if” and “there’s no way we can do this, but how about,” which is a particularly magical place to be. We think there will be four of us onstage. We think we may be merchants characters, in some manner of bazaar. We think there will be magic – or the appearance thereof. We think sound and music are important. We think we know some of what the set looks like.SONY DSC

At Jp’s encouragement, I’m trying to not be stage manager-y and just focus on being an actor-creator. Usually, taking clear, objective, detailed notes is my bread and butter. For this… I still want to take notes, but I’m trying to be less objective about it. More fragments. More scribbling. More drawing in the margins. Less worrying about accuracy.SONY DSC

This feels like a really slow-cooked project for us, which is exciting, especially during this very productive but very busy pressure-cooker of a spring. For this work, for now, there’s time to let things simmer and coalesce. There’s time for the messy drawings to melt together and become something more, or develop for a while before we say, “eh, screw it,” and throw it out the window.SONY DSC

It’s like tea (I’m a minor tea nerd). You don’t let a strong black tea steep for the same amount of time as a flowery herbal tea, or at the same temperature as a more delicate green tea. We’d let a Follies steep for a month or two. We’d let the script for a large-scale community-based work, like A Resting Place or Journey from the East, steep for half to two-thirds of a season. But for next April’s piece? We’re going to let this sucker steep for fifteen months and see what comes out on the other side.

Looking forward to sharing whatever it is we cook up.SONY DSC


From Lisa – Costume Krewe of Chewbacchus

February 16, 2015

Last weekend, I tagged along with Jp as he took a trip for grad school focused on arts and culture to New Orleans. Both he and Emma, as part of their studies at University of Chichester, were charged with finding a city they haven’t been to before and exploring its culture for a long weekend. Jp chose New Orleans, and last weekend just happened to be the first weekend of Mardi Gras.

In order to truly immerse ourselves into the culture of Mardi Gras, we decided to walk in a parade hosted by The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (you check out the website here).  It was originally one we thought would be fun to watch, then in researching realized we could actually walk in it if we wore costumes and paid a small fee. So, then it was time to come up with a good costume idea… one that fit into the sci-fi/horror/fantasy world of Chewbacchus. We decided on the two main characters from the BBC4 series The Mighty Boosh, whose opening lines are ”Come with us now on a journey through time and space, to the world of The Mighty Boosh”. Below are the characters – Vince Noir (left, I dressed up like him) and Harold Moon (right, Jp dressed as him). THE MIGHTY BOOSH

I was worried no one would recognize us, since the show has been off the air for a few years and its fairly obscure… and, truthfully, many did not, BUT the ones that did were super excited to see these characters represented, which made the awkwardness of people thinking we actually dressed like this normally or the people who thought we were in the Kiss army (my jacket sports a Kiss patch) totally worth it. You can see the process and the final product below.


One of the really fun things was seeing a number of costume pieces from past Touchstone shows. Really! There was the astronaut costume for the “Chiron Beta Prime” Follies bit two years ago, alien glasses Jp used in his Young Playwrights’ Festival play, and a variety of other bits and pieces strewn throughout this fantastical parade.

…Of course, there were plenty of other fun things about walking in this parade, like hanging out with about 50 Princess Leias, Peter Mayhew, and a Pimp Darth Vader.


From Jp – After a Much Needed Rest

January 21, 2015

The first half of our 2014-15 season has been one that all of us here at Touchstone were very proud of. On top of the continuation of all our award winning educational programs,we were able to bring three amazing productions to the Touchstone stage.

We started the season with our new Hungarian friends, Maladype Theatre, in their tour de force King Ubu. The precision and energy that Maladype brings to their work is something that will inspire the Touchstone Ensemble for a long time to come. For a reminder of the brilliance which is Maladype or to see what you missed, check out this trailer from their King Ubu show.

Next, we were honored to bring in Doug Roysdon’s Mock Turtle Marionette and their collaboration with Anne Hills, The Morningtime of Now. The show based around the 100 year old nature writings of Opal Whiteley is true world class puppet work. Watching this production reminded me of how blessed we are to have the brilliance of Doug Roysdon in our community.


Last but not least, we wrapped up the fall with Christmas City Follies XV. That’s right… fifteen! Great reviews, great audience reaction, this iteration was considered by some attendees as the “best Follies yet.” This is the 10th Christmas City Follies I have worked on, and I continue to be amazed with the creativity and talent of my peers at Touchstone. Thank you all for being such great partners.


Now here we are with the second half of our season kicking off! All rested, we look forward to Allentown Public Theatre’s True West, the mega-epic culmination to the Journey from the East project, our Young Playwrights’ Festival and Gala and last but not least, the Touchstone Apprentice Fresh Voices showcase.

On behalf of myself and the Touchstone Ensemble: may your New Year be filled with amazing art!

From Bill – ‘Tis the Season

November 11, 2014

‘Tis the season, friends, for some serious work over here at Touchstone. I think you’ll notice, over the next few weeks, how our blogs get fewer and further between, how they get shorter, and perhaps become fixated on silly things (not saying anything about study partners that look like cats, just sayin’)… and in that vein I include the video above.  Shot it with my phone, of course, just to let you see the insides of the Peace Train Room.  This time of year we are working on any number of projects, but it seems to be a particularly “fertile” year this time around.


Let’s see. I’m involved with co-writing with Christopher Shorr Journey from the East (note the photos of the Greenway where half of the performance will be taking place), and of course we’re in the middle of Follies (note the cart at the beginning of the video and the infamous sticky notes on the wall towards the end). I think we’ve created a good three times as much material as we can possibly fit on stage. Last week, Anna (the wild creature at the end of the video) and past years’ apprentices shared our stage in The Morningtime of Now, a Mock Turtle/Anne Hills production! Jp and Emma and Christopher are hard at work on Superstory, a new student-written production at Moravian. The Peace Train room (bless the woman, I hope she reads this, who helped us pay for it some thirty odd years ago) is the scene of serious Grotowski exercises every Monday and Wednesday as we begin to develop an approach towards a new Ensemble devised work for 2016!  And I’m off to a meeting with Debra Storm over at the amazing and wonderful Charter School for the Arts to see if we can create a work that will commemorate their move just one block from us, down on 3rd Street in 2015.

Yeah. It’s nothing special.  That’s the kind of juggling we need (and most independent theatre artists I know need) to do to keep things moving forward and growing. Didn’t mention the classes we teach or the fundraising, grant-writing and general community outreach. Wouldn’t want to tire you out. (Oh, by the way, is there someone who has time to replace the furnace at my house?)

So… no time for blogs, but come see the work!  We like to think we’re doing it for you.  Have a great season of holidays everyone.

From Emma – Study Buddies

October 24, 2014

Last time it was my turn on blog duty, I wrote about the wonderful weirdness of studying via Skype Classes that Jp and I are undertaking for our MA studies at the University of Chichester (since then, we’ve been diving into the world of academia, taking full advantage of our “uni” resources, and throwing ourselves at homework with merriment and abandon).

This week, it’s my turn on blog duty again, and I can’t really think of anything profound to say, so here are some pictures of cats.

(L) Psyche investigates the trappings of the university student; (R) Old Greg studying for an advanced degree in nap studies

(L) Psyche researches the traditional trappings of the university student; (R) Old Gregg works toward an advanced degree in nap studies

(ahem) Seriously, though, studying with cats pretty much rocks. When we sit down at the Jordans’ house for Skype sessions, we’re usually guaranteed to have at least one feline participant auditing the class, and after, while we’re reviewing notes or discussing the next week’s classwork, kitty-cuddling time is a necessity.

(L-R) Ming, Old Greg, a wedding photo of the Jordans, and Gelsomina

(L-R) Ming, Old Gregg, and Gelsomina, working hard at university

Studying at home, it’s much the same. Cats-on-laps for moral support. Cats scampering around in the background and wondering why the human has her nose buried in some silly book. Cats jumping on tables and knocking things over and distracting from the study. Okay, so it’s not a perfect system.

(L) Arya, too slow to avoid being caught for a picture; (R) Chell, too dignified to deal with things like research

(L) Arya, too slow to avoid being caught for homework cuddles; (R) Chell, much too dignified to deal with things like research

I really was hoping to have something profound to say here, but my brain’s a bit fuzzy from the oodles of reading (and cat fur), so instead, I’ll just say thank you to Gelsomina, Old Gregg, Ming, Psyche, Chell, and Arya for their excellent companionship over the last two months and over the months to come, as our studies continue. University just wouldn’t be the same without ’em.

From Lisa – It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like CHRISTMAS CITY FOLLIES!

October 15, 2014

Oh, yeah. It’s that time of year again! And no, I’m not talking about the leaves beginning to change, the crisp air, or Halloween, or even everything being pumpkin-flavored now, which I love. I’m talking about… Christmas City Follies rehearsal time at Touchstone!

As the Follies Costume and Prop Coordinator, I always attend the first rehearsal and explain (for the newbies) what my role is, what I’ve done in the past (stage manager, light designer, costume/props, etc.) and how long I’ve been involved with Follies (since 2001!).  I also stay for the first half of the day, as an Ensemble Member, to listen and share potential character, music or scene ideas.

After the first day, I step away for a while, until things start solidifying. Once at least some of the characters are confirmed, I begin the shopping, building, and borrowing. But in the weeks before that, the actors are pulling from the costume/prop house next door in order to “show” as much as they can for a particular character or scene idea. And that’s when the fun comes in! In part, as the costumer because I get to see what the actors are imagining as they create; but also, as Lisa the Managing Director who gets to see, while writing very serious and important business-related emails… Bill the Christmas Cowboy walk through the office:photo 2

Or Mary’s Southern Belle:photo 1

A wonderful break from the typically less-exciting office work and a reminder that pretty soon, assuming the characters make it in, I’ll be creating some interesting costumes and props.  Stay tuned, because you never know what will appear in Follies… like a Pelican, Tiger, Robots, Zombies, or even Dinosaurs – among the more traditional Elves, Santa, Reindeers, and Angels; or the Touchstone traditional Old Guy, Pajama Sisters, Little Red and Little Blue, and, of course, the newly-minted Christmas Pirates!


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