Journey from the East (2014 & 2015)

In the tradition of Steelbound, Don Quixote of Bethlehem, and A Resting Place, Touchstone embarked on its most recent epic community undertaking with Journey from the East, a two-year project inspired by the influx of Chinese population in Bethlehem, PA.

In the 2013-2014 season, stories from the native Bethlehem community as well as from our Asian guests were gathered and transformed into a script written and directed by Touchstone Ensemble Associate and storyteller Mary Wright. Wright’s script, Journey: Dream of the Red Pavilion, blended these unique perspectives into the first of two productions, examining the “East meets West” exchange happening in our own backyard.

Part local history, part social commentary, and part fanciful dreamscrape, Dream of the Red Pavilion investigated the history of Chinese immigration in the Lehigh Valley and the community’s continuing reaction to “the other.” The production debuted in April 2014 to enthusiastic feedback from critics and community members alike. Paul Willistein of the Lehigh Valley Press called it “an uplifting work that should be seen by theatre-goers and civic-minded folks,” and awarded it an ABE for Best Original Play. Kathy Lauer-Williams of the Morning Call said, “Part visual theatre and part meditation… the musings are both humorous and touching,” and featured it in the 2014 Year in Review: Top Ten of Arts and Entertainment. A community member whose family shared their story with Touchstone enthused, “We can hear our daughter’s voice in the play. It was a well-balanced piece with many thought-provoking themes. Thank you for treating a delicate topic with respect and professionalism.” Another interviewee said, “The storyline and performance were captivating. I am grateful that we have a theatre that creates original stories in the Lehigh Valley such as Touchstone Theatre.”

In the 2014-2015 season, Touchstone finished work on a second script, merging the stories of the Chinese journey to Bethlehem with traditional Chinese folklore. This large-scale outdoor production took place at Lehigh University’s recently constructed Chinese Harmony Pavilion on the South Side Greenway, and featured local talent from the Touchstone Ensemble, Moravian College, Lehigh University, and the Lehigh Valley community, as well as international talent from visiting guest artists, the Utopia Group of China.

This second production, Journey from the East, was co-written by Touchstone founder Bill George and Touchstone Ensemble Associate and Moravian College Director of Theatre Christopher Shorr. The play examined themes of national identity and attitude by exploring two different cultural mythologies: for America, the mythic Old West and the cowboy, and for China, the epic novel Journey to the West and the Monkey King. Co-produced by Moravian College and under the direction of Touchstone Artistic Director Jp Jordan, this second installment debuted in April 2015.

Each performance weekend held special auxiliary events, including a Panel Discussion on the American Western as our cultural mythology and a guest lecture by Victor H. Mair, an internationally known Chinese scholar from the University of Pennsylvania. The lecture, titled “Bridging Epic Traditions: the Cross-cultural Significance of the Chinese Journey to the West,” was sponsored by Lehigh University’s Religion Studies Department. The project concluded with a Chinese-style Spring Festival and a close-proximity pyrotechnic display by Celebration Fireworks after the closing performance.

Nationally, the Journey from the East project was supported in part by the Henry Luce Foundation, which seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious, and art communities, and by the National Endowment for the Arts – Art Works, which supports the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence and the strengthening of communities through the arts. Locally, the project was supported by Bethlehem Fine Arts Commission, Keystone Savings Foundation, and Lehigh University’s Department of Community and Regional Affairs. Touchstone’s 2014-15 Season sponsors were First Generation, an integrated marketing communications company, and RCN. WDIY provided media sponsorship and Working Dog Press provided print sponsorship. The Shubert Foundation and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts supported Touchstone’s yearlong programming.


You can read the blog that chronicled the project here.

The Civil War/Cemetery Project (2012)

The Civil War/Cemetery Project, produced in conjunction with Moravian College, and in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, led to a community-based play, written by Alison Carey playwright of Touchstone’s Steelbound. Titled A Resting Place, the show drew from the stories of individuals who lived and died in Bethlehem during the years of the War Between the States. More than 100 actors and support crew presented the play five times in different outdoor locations on Bethlehem’s North and South sides, over the three days in April of 2012 – a gift to the community. The script was developed around Dan Rice, a traveling performer who was known for his wit and humor in the mid-1800s. He entertained people in both the North and South, changing his punch lines accordingly, and performed in Bethlehem during the Civil War with his traveling circus. Check out the process here.

The Lehigh Valley Black African Heritage History Project (2008)

The Lehigh Valley Black African Heritage History Project, In collaboration with Muhlenberg College, Lehigh County Senior Center, the Lehigh County Historical Society, Kutztown University, the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society, Touchstone collected over 50 oral histories from the Lehigh Valley’s oldest African American citizens and held 14 public story and song gatherings throughout the Lehigh Valley. These histories were archived and used, along with the material collected at the story and song gatherings, to produce an original play that gave voice to the experience of Lehigh Valley African Americans over the last one hundred years. This play, Another River Flows – stories, songs and a celebration of the Lehigh Valley Black Experience, performed in all three cities and was cast almost entirely by community actors. Check out some video footage of this show on our YouTube page.

The Don Quixote Project (2005)

The Don Quixote Project, a two year multi-faceted project inspired by the diverse South Side Bethlehem neighborhood and the desire to bridge the gap between the Anglo and Latino cultures, the adaptation Don Quixote of Bethlehem was born. The traveling performance or “theatricade” involved over 100 community participants and moved from Lehigh University through the streets of the SouthSide ending at St. Michael’s Cemetery. This project involved the following community partners: Bethlehem Area Public Library, Bethlehem Area School District, City of Bethlehem, Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations, Holy Infancy Church, Lehigh University Art Galleries, Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre, Seniors Centers of Bethlehem, and South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center. Check out a scene from the show here.

The Steel Festival: Art of An Industry (1999)

The Steel Festival: The Art of an Industry was a multi-arts festival celebrating Bethlehem’s heritage of steel making with Cornerstone Theatre, musician Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock, storyteller Jay O’Callahan, and singer-songwriter Bob Franke, 1999. This community celebration, which received national media attention, included the performance of Steelbound in the original Bethlehem Iron Works Foundry.