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What did I do?
I had a job.
Used to be, you asked people around here, "What do you do?"
They answered, "I'm building America."
What did I do to end up like this?
I built America.
Click here to listen to the title track of "Days of Steel" by Tom Watson, part of the Steel Festival's Singer/Songwriter Project.*
Steelbound tells a story of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a community that endures the demise of Bethlehem Steel and learns to move toward a less certain future. The creation of this play is also a story in itself-about the professional actors and former steelworkers who collaborated in commemorating the end of an era.
The project was launched when Touchstone Theatre, a Bethlehem-based ensemble theater company, chose to stage the Greek classic, Prometheus Bound, as a central event during its local Steel Festival. Their idea was to borrow upon the play's central image of fire, the forced submission to power and ambivalence about "progress."
"We did a reading of the play to the community, but it was clear that we had to do something different to create a production that would really resonate with this audience," said Mark McKenna, artistic director at Touchstone. "That's when we approached Cornerstone - and Alison Carey."
Carey, co-founder of Cornerstone Theater, would eventually adapt Prometheus Bound into a production that captured the hearts and the spirit of the community.
From steelworkers and steel widows to university students and local families, she conducted scores of interviews in bars, cafes, outdoor festivals and workshop sessions throughout Bethlehem. The interviews helped to define characters for the play and to create a vivid image of the fiery steel mill. "I wanted to know the taste, sound, smell-everything about the mill," she said. "It was necessary to create a world onstage that is very real."
In previous theatrical projects she had been involved with, Carey had worked line by line from the original text. But the Bethlehem interviews suggested the need for a much larger scale adaptation. "It had been couple of years since the mill had closed, but there were still raw feelings," Carey said. "There was an overwhelming need for the community to come to grips with the real-world situation here."
To further encourage community involvement, Touchstone Theatre circulated the first draft of the script around town to allow people to respond. "Copies were left in bars, local restaurants, everywhere," notes Carey. "It was a great way to get people involved, but I remember feeling a little odd when I first saw someone I didn't know walking down the street with a copy of the script!"
The process proved priceless, though, as the climax of the play literally appeared after the community responded to the first draft. "I learned a lot more about their lives than I did before," noted Carey. "I can't recommend this method enough. It gave them the opportunity to become a part of creative/artistic process, and the result was far better than anything I could have written on my own."
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