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Touchstone is a producing and presenting organization that fosters inter-cultural, international and community collaborations.
It is dedicated to being an active force in the renewal of theater as a vital art form. At its heart is a resident professional acting Ensemble rooted both in the local community of Bethlehem and the international community of the actor/creator.
The Lehigh River winds its way through Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, cutting a geographic chasm that divides the town: north and south...affluent and working class...Bethlehem Steel management and foundry workers. Such was the demographic divide that Touchstone Theatre was inspired to bridge.
"But we weren't known as Touchstone Theatre then," says Mark McKenna, Touchstone's current art director.
In 1976, the Lehigh University Improvisational Street Theatre Troupe was organized with the express goal of getting the students out of the homogenous university environment and into the city's multicultural neighborhoods. Bethlehem is a bubbling melting pot whose diversity ranges from its religious Moravian founders who gave the town its name, to the most recent wave of Puerto Rican immigrants lured by the promise of a regular job at the steel mill.
"From the very beginning," says McKenna, "the Theatre Troupe was putting on multi-lingual plays. They had to. If you visited the churches on the south side of the river, you'd hear 30 to 50 languages."
A Link to the Community
By 1981, the Theatre Troupe had evolved into Touchstone Theatre, home of a professional ensemble focusing on movement theatre and community building.
Each year, Touchstone presents a season of original theatre by its own ensemble as well as visiting solo artists and other theater ensembles. Through annual programs such as Community Links, which creates storytelling circles throughout the community, a Teen Troupe and Summer Street Theatre performances, Touchstone has skillfully made its mark on the city of Bethlehem...providing the tools for a diverse community to find its voice.
The Steel Festival
Bethlehem did find its voice with the play, Steelbound, which was staged during "Steel: The Art of an Industry," a multi-arts festival and celebration. Held September 9 - 19, 1999, the festival was conceived by Touchstone in cooperation with Bethlehem Steel, Lehigh University and local arts and civic organizations. Highlights of the festival included "Pouring the Sun", an original play created and performed by Jay O'Callahan; family theatre performances about the history of steel making; The Singer/Songwriter Project, which resulted in the release of a musical CD titled "Days of Steel;" a Steel Choir and many visual arts exhibitions.