Bethlehem Press

Friday, September 22, 2017
PHOTO BY EMMA ACKERMANTouchstone Artistic Director JP Jordan, center, with guitar, is leader of the band, Jakopa’s Punch Band, in “Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” July 14, 15, South Bethlehem Greenway, as part of the “Cirque-It! Festival,” July 14-16, Bethlehem. PHOTO BY EMMA ACKERMANTouchstone Artistic Director JP Jordan, center, with guitar, is leader of the band, Jakopa’s Punch Band, in “Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” July 14, 15, South Bethlehem Greenway, as part of the “Cirque-It! Festival,” July 14-16, Bethlehem.
PHOTO BY EMMA ACKERMAN“Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” a one-act musical, July 14, 15, South Bethlehem Greenway, with puppets by Yodi Vaden; aerialist Christine Gorigoitia, and larger-than-life characters. PHOTO BY EMMA ACKERMAN“Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” a one-act musical, July 14, 15, South Bethlehem Greenway, with puppets by Yodi Vaden; aerialist Christine Gorigoitia, and larger-than-life characters.
PHOTO BY EMMA ACKERMANNothing stilted about these stilt-walkers in “Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” July 14, 15, South Bethlehem Greenway. PHOTO BY EMMA ACKERMANNothing stilted about these stilt-walkers in “Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” July 14, 15, South Bethlehem Greenway.

‘Cirque It!’ City: Touchstone packs a ‘Punch’ for ‘Jakopa’s Processional’ along Bethlehem Greenway

Friday, July 14, 2017 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

Touchstone Artistic Director JP Jordan was in Peru when he first decided to create the Jakopa’s Punch Band.

“I was in Peru when I got word that David Bowie had passed,” Jordan explains, “and I was told that The Lesson Center planned to host a benefit for leukemia patients in honor of Bowie.

“Now, I didn’t have a band at the time, but I asked if I could play a set if I could pull a band together in time, and they said sure. So we ended up getting together this group of musicians.”

The name of the band stems from Jordan asking his niece what she thought “JP” stood for.

“It just fit. I like to think that the band itself, the music, is the punch.”

It only took that one performance to make Jordan realize that he had something special on his hands, something he knew he wanted to do so much more with.

“[My wife] Lisa [Touchstone Theatre Managing Director] was encouraging me to find the most happiness I could in the work we were doing [at Touchstone], and, for me, music was the most fulfilling thing, intertwining music and theatrics, not just sound design or just a musical, but how can we be using music in different ways?”

Soon after, Jordan decided to pitch the idea to the Touchstone Theatre ensemble, presenting it as a band that focused less on being defined by a traditional genre, like rock or punk, but rather by the emotion it aimed to create in its listeners: joy.

“There’s no doubt there’s rock in it, but yeah, I dunno, I’d define us as orchestral rock, marching band rock ... joy rock.”

Community roots

“I’m heavily influenced by a number of artists ... like Gogol Bordello, a gypsy rock band. I love the energy they bring to what they’re doing, and they’re saying highly positive things about being strong and part of the community.

“The emotional response to community and eliciting a greater sense of ownership in that community was always a part of it.”

Community has always been a strong theme in any theatrical work that the 36-year-old Touchstone has focused on, with many of their performances looking to accentuate a topic or issue relating to Bethlehem.

“For example, ‘Journey to the East’ was the idea that the Chinese population was increasing in Bethlehem, and we wanted to bring those communities together in positive dialogue.

“This is great work for people to do, but we don’t need to have an issue driving every piece we do. We can find opportunities for community members to be experiencing joy or beautiful things as a collective, as a means of being closer together.

“So that, coupled with my desire to add music into my work at Touchstone, was what led to [‘Jakopa’s Punch Processional’].”

Bethlehem Greenway

“Jakopa’s Punch Processional” takes place July 14 and 15 as a march along the South Bethlehem Greenway, Webster and Taylor Streets, Bethlehem, with the band creating an atmosphere of positivity as viewers have a chance to explore not just the music, but puppets and performers.

“It’s gonna be part three-ring circus, part rock concert, and part puppet spectacular,” Jordan says.

“Jakopa’s Punch Processional” is part of “Cirque-It! Festival,” July 14-16, a circus arts festival and a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Touchstone Theatre, Zoellner Arts Center and ArtsQuest. The Festival brings to the Lehigh Valley a series of performances that redefine the ever-expanding world of circus.

“Cirque-It!” includes 8 p.m. July 14 and 15 performances of “Lucky” in Musikfest Cafe, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks’ Musikfest Café. “Lucky” is created by Atlas Circus Company, which created and is performing “Wild,” through July 29 as part of Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre at Muhlenberg College, Allentown.

“Lucky” is an homage and modern take on the art of “The Gag.” Through acrobatic slapstick, clowning and circus arts, the audience experiences a glimpse into the life of a man who can’t stop falling on his face. The New York Post called the show “the new Ringling Brothers Circus.”

AcroBuffos, an international touring duo, brings “Air Play” to Zoellner Arts Center at 4 p.m. July 15 and 16. Cheeky clowns journey through a surreal land of air, transforming the ordinary into objects of uncommon beauty. Fabrics dance in the wind, balloons have a mind of their own, confetti turns into the night sky, and an enormous canopy of hovering silk forever alters their future.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) approved an Art Works award of $10,000 to ArtsQuest, Touchstone Theatre and Zoellner Arts Center, for the “Cirque It! Festival.”

“The arts reflect the vision, energy, and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” stated NEA Chairman Jane Chu in a press release. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as ArtsQuest, Touchstone Theatre and Zoellner Arts Center, in serving their communities by providing excellent and accessible arts experiences.”

“‘Cirque It!’ is a way to celebrate our community and to have fun through circus arts,” says Deborah Sacarakis, artistic director of Zoellner Arts Center. “The festival gives three long-standing arts organizations the opportunity to join forces in exciting and innovative ways.”

“‘Cirque-It!’ is designed to highlight the innovative ways the circus arts have evolved over time,” says ArtsQuest Chief Programming Officer Patrick Brogan. “The Atlas Circus show has especially strong ties to our area, starting with founders Noah Dach and Henry Evans, who formed the company while they were attending Muhlenberg College.

“We are thrilled to partner with Touchstone Theatre and Zoellner Arts Center, two of the region’s most creative arts presenters, to present a festival that’s not only focused on the performing arts, but is also geared toward drawing people to SouthSide Bethlehem and our arts district as well,” Brogan says.

“Jakopa’s Punch”

“Jakopa’s Punch Processional” is billed as Touchstone’s “latest epic, outdoor, free theatricade.”

The one-act musical journey finds audience members traveling alongside the action on the South Bethlehem Greenway as they meet puppets created by Yodi Vaden; an aerialist, Christine Gorigoitia, and a variety of other larger-than-life characters.

While having aspects of pop and rock bands, Jakopa’s Punch Band will also feature some odd or different types of instruments.

“We didn’t want to be identified as a rock band. Do I like music that rocks, and do I plan on rocking some socks off? Absolutely, but having the flute and bassoon in there allows for more orchestral flexibility, and then the freaky stuff like the theremin allows us to get a little spacey.” The theramin is an electronic musical instrument played without physical contact.

Thanks to the “Jakopa’s Punch Bowl,” a fundraising event held in February at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, Bethlehem, audience members will have the chance to attend “Jakopa’s Punch Processional” for free.

“When we had originally done the Bowie tribute, we only learned three cover songs, so I knew that when we needed to learn a lot of original music, we needed to teach ourselves more cover songs in order to be able to write that music. But being the eccentrics we are, we had to re-orchestrate everything. The fund-raiser allowed us to do that, as well as raise some funds for the event.”

While knowing that he wanted to produce “Jakopa’s Punch Processional” no matter what, Jordan stresses how important the “Jakopa’s Punch Bowl” was to allow for the level of creativity and presentation.

“The fund-raiser determines what level we can perform at, whereas the budget states how much money we have for slick production design.

“I was so strongly committed to the idea that I knew I wanted something to happen, and we knew it was going to be part of this ‘Cirque Festival,’ which we would be taking part in.

“It’s thanks to the people who did show up to that the event that it will be as slick as it will. Audio is hugely expensive, and with 25 channels of wireless audio, it adds up fast, not to mention that this is a mobile show, meaning it needs to run on batteries.”

While some bands might see this as an opportunity to release an album, Jordan instead decided to focus on the live, theatrical aspects of the work.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t, but it’s not my goal. I want to play for people in the streets, to bring them these ideas of joy. And if we do [record], we’re negating the mission in a sense. It’d be totally not in line with people coming together in public to experience art.”

With the event taking place on the South Bethlehem Greenway, there are those that might be hesitant to call the “Jakopa’s Punch Processional” a play. Jordan, however, defends this definition by challenging people’s perspective on what makes a stage.

“I think it’s that you need to be aware that everywhere is a stage. If you say it’s a stage, it is. ‘Stage’ is a problematic term in that the stage is a specific thing, but any space can be an area of performance. So the stage for a parade is the street. The stage for a band in a bar is the front of the shop. The artist defines where something can happen. The city has given us a great area to explore this idea in the Southside Greenway.”

With so many different factors coming together for one evening, “Jakopa’s Punch Processional” will undoubtedly be an unforgettable evening, with the only cost being the time spent attending it.

Information: touchstone.org; 610-867-1689

Cirque-It! Festival

July 14

6:30 - 7:30 p.m., Touchstone Theatre, “Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” Bethlehem Greenway

8 - 9 p.m., “Lucky,” Atlas Circus, Musikfest Café

July 15

11 a.m. - Noon, P’s & Q’s and circus workshop, Artsquest

2 - 3 p.m., “Short Cirque It!,” Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts

4 - 5 p.m., “Air Play,” Acrobuffos, Zoellner Arts Center

6:30 - 7:30 p.m., Touchstone Theatre, “Jakopa’s Punch Processional,” South Bethlehem Greenway

8 - 9 p.m., “Lucky,” Atlas Circus, Musikfest Café

July 16

Noon - 1 p.m., “Short Cirque It,” Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts

4 - 5 p.m., “Air Play,” Acrobuffos, Zoellner Arts Center

7:30 - 9:30 p.m., Levitt Pavilion Show, SteelStacks

“Cirque It!’ performances that require tickets can be purchased at participating venues.

For Acrobuffos tickets, call 610-758-2787 (7LU-ARTS), Zoellner Ticket Services, noon - 6 p.m. Tuesday, noon - 6 p.m. Wednesday - Friday; 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturday, and 90 minutes before curtain; zoellnerartscenter.org.

For Atlas Circus tickets, call 610-332-3378 or go to steelstacks.org.