Bethlehem Press

Monday, December 11, 2017
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY CRISTINA BYRNETouchstone Ensemble members and longtime “Follies” actors, from left, Emma Ackerman (Little Blue), Bill George (The Old Guy), and Mary Wright (Little Red), “Christmas City Follies XVIII,” Nov. 30 - Dec. 22, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY CRISTINA BYRNETouchstone Ensemble members and longtime “Follies” actors, from left, Emma Ackerman (Little Blue), Bill George (The Old Guy), and Mary Wright (Little Red), “Christmas City Follies XVIII,” Nov. 30 - Dec. 22, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem.

Well, hello, ‘Follies,’ it’s the 18th year at Touchstone

Thursday, November 30, 2017 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

For many in the Lehigh Valley, attending Touchstone Theatre’s “Christmas City Follies” is a holiday season tradition, and this is no different for the show’s director Jp Jordan.

“This is my 13th. This is my 11th as director. For the first three, I was involved with, I was the musical director,” says Jordan, Touchstone Theatre artistic director.

“Christmas City Follies XVIII” opens Nov. 30 and continues through Dec. 22 at Touchstone Theatre, 321 E. Fourh St., Bethlehem.

Jordan, an avid and talented musician himself, has always striven to bring a musical tone and theme to the production:

“It’s my job as director to be the curatorial voice in the show, take what the actors created and make the event or evening out fit, an A side and a B side of an album. And you don’t want to create a record, but rather an album, a cohesive package, a collection of things that fit together.”

Rehearsals for the show began in early October. Proposed scenes have included returning characters, like Touchstone founder Bill George’s cantankerous persona, The Old Guy, running for office, and Mary Wright’s silent clown, Little Red, looking for love.

The cast of actor-creators has also been exploring a host of new scenes, songs, and characters, including tributes to their personal cultural heritage and Christmas through the ages.

“Follies” is a collection of scenes and sketches presented by the Touchstone Ensemble, with a wide range of age and experience.

Says Jordan, “This year we have we have seven tech members and eight cast members, seven in the performing ensemble and then Lisa [Jordan. Touchstone Theatre managing director] is just all over the place. And they vary in age, from Bill George who’s over 60 years old to the youngest, who is 14.”

While celebrating the holiday season, “Follies” also acts as a way to parody and poke fun at a lot of what many consider the norms for this time of the year.

“The name, ‘Christmas City Follies,’ is itself kind of a parody of the place we live, a very loving one at that. We all live and work here. This is the center of our lives. We’re in the Valley constantly making work,” says Jordan.

“We don’t need to address things directly to be speaking what we need to be saying. Our lives are infused with the Lehigh Valley. We can speak with any level of emotion that comes from being a part of that. It makes up who we are as people and artists.”

The Touchstone Ensemble works hard to bring a variety of viewpoints to the table, with each actor providing a number of ideas to include in the finished piece.

“The process hasn’t changed much over the years,” says Jordan. “It’s been about what the actors want to create. We come into the theater for the first rehearsal and everyone downloads the different ideas that people want to bring to life on the stage. They all have fresh ideas, and we start work-shopping them. From there, they get curated in a two-act show that’s very vaudevillian in nature.”

Over its nearly two decades, “Follies” features recurring characters created and portrayed by specific actors. Many have become fan favorites.

“I was a big fan of the old show, ‘Mr. Show with Bob and David,’ and something I appreciate about that comedy TV show was they would bring back elements of their sketches and bits throughout the show and try and connect them somehow in a convergence of ideas. So that’s something I’ve always attempted to bring to ‘Follies,’” Jordan says.

“I think that we all very much love the staple characters, particularly Old Guy and Little Red, and how they can illuminate or reflect a perspective.”

As with any of the productions that it creates or presents, Touchstone Theatre hopes that “Christmas City Follies XVIII” helps to bring the community together. Says Jordan:

“The holidays are what you make them, and what we hope is that people will use the holidays and ‘Follies’ to reflect and define happiness and joy in their life.”

On display in the Touchstone Gallery is an exhibit of glass artwork and photography, “exiSt - exit,” created by Draga Šušanj, a Catskill, N.Y.-based studio artist whose work has been exhibited throughout the United States as well as in her hometown of Belgrade, Serbia. Her work is in permanent collections of the Museum of American Glass, New Jersey, and the MOMA, New York City.

“Christmas City Follies XVIII,” Nov. 30 - Dec. 22, 8 p.m. Thursdays - Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Dec. 10, 17, and 8 p.m. Dec. 20. Group rates available. Touchstone offers a pay-what-you-will ticket at the door, as available, allowing walk-up patrons to name their ticket price. Tickets: Touchstone Theatre box office, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; touchstone.org; 610-867-1689.