‘The Secret’ is out: Actors, puppets, musicians join to explore Bethlehem poet H.D.
“The Secret,” a new mixed-media play by the Mock Turtle Marionette Theater about H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), the Bethlehem native and poet, has its world premiere, Oct. 5 - 8, Touchstone Theatre, as part of “Festival Unbound.”
“The Secret” is part of “Finding H.D., A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle,” a year-long series of events organized by the Lehigh University English Department, Bethlehem Area Public Library, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown and Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre.
The play’s title, “The Secret,” is taken from the name of a chapter in “The Gift,” H.D.’s childhood memoir set in Bethlehem. H.D. wrote her epic poem, “Trilogy,” and the childhood memoir while living in London during The Blitz air-raid bombings by Nazi Germany.
Doug Roysdon, artistic director of Mock Turtle Marionette Theater, was chief writer of the multimedia performance that mixes narrative, song, music, poetry, puppets and actors.
In addition to Roysdon, script collaborators were Jennie Gilrain, William Reichard-Flynn, Aidan Gilrain-McKenna, Matilda Snyder, Kalyani Singh and Seth Moglen.
Gilrain, long associated with Touchstone Theatre and Lehigh University’s theater department, is director of the play.
H.D. is portrayed by two actors and 13 puppets.
The play’s music was composed by Liam McKenna, Abriana Ferrari, Tommy Gilchrist. Gilrain-McKenna, Reichard-Flynn, Singh and Snyder.
Roysdon says two major factors led to the creation of the play:
“The first is a response to the ‘Women’s March’ in Washington, to do something about, with and for women. The second is a tremendous interest in asserting the importance of the native arts community.
“H.D. is probably the greatest artist to come out of certainly Bethlehem and probably the Lehigh Valley.
“H.D. hung out with T.S. Eliot. She was engaged to Ezra Pound. She’s a highly-regarded modernist poet. If she were a man, there’d be a school named after her.
“She was a feminist and bisexual pioneer. Her story tells us we need to encourage, support and celebrate the gifts of women.
“Her other side was Moravian. The original Moravians formed the most egalitarian community in the Colonies. Bethlehem could be called the cradle of equal rights in the United States.”
Says Gilrain, “Almost all of the words in the play are H.D.’s, except for one scene that has some words by Hans Christian Anderson. His ‘Little Mermaid’ is a kind of metaphor for a woman who has to give up her voice to have normalcy, much like H.D.’s mother Helen.”
“The play is series of frames chronologically. Each frame is dominated by either a poem or a piece of prose.
“The action addresses the meaning of those passages through music and acting and poetry.
“It follows H.D. right up to present-day Bethlehem. The ritual ending basically gives Helen [H.D.’s mother] her voice back.”
Gilrain speaks glowingly of the cast: “I feel so inspired by these young people. They are such a joy to work with.
“And the puppets are incredible. Most of the puppets are three- or four-feet-high. One actually takes three people to operate.”
Adds Gilrain, “Matilda Snyder and Abriana Ferrari are both in the Bel Canto Youth Chorus of the Bach Choir. Abriana composed two amazing music pieces for the play.”
Other actors-singers-puppeteers include Aidan Gilrain-McKenna, Madison Ledergerber, William Reichard-Flynn and Grace Adele Spruiell.
Tommy Gilchrist plays cello. Liam McKenna plays the trumpet.
Says Roysdon, “It really has been a journey. We’ve had really good people involved and a real sense of community. Larry Lipkis [Moravian College composer-in-residence] and Seth Moglen [Lehigh English Department] have helped out.”
Other events in “Finding H.D.” include Lehigh University Choral Arts performing Steven Sametz’s music setting of H.D.’s poem, “Nevermore Will the Wind,” Oct. 25 and 26, Zoellner Arts Center.
The final event is expected to be the unveiling of a commissioned portrait of H.D. by Angela Fraleigh, chairperson, Moravian College Art Department, at a date to be announced.
A panel discussion, “Who Will Follow The Music? Women in Leadership: Inspirations and Obstacles,” 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6, follows a performance.
“The women in our panel discussion will talk about their work and dreams and tell a story about a moment in which they were encouraged and inspired or discouraged, oppressed or prevented from following their music,” says Gilrain. “We hope to explore ways in which we as a community can encourage women to follow their dreams.
Panelists include: Phyllis Alexander, Project Director of Leadership Without Limits, Senior Training Associate with the National Coalition Building Institute; Yalitza Corsino-Davis, Learning Specialist, Lehigh Carbon Community College; Abriani Ferrari, composer, musician, actor, high school student, “The Secret” cast member; Mary Foltz, Professor of English, Lehigh University; Margaret Kavanagh, Head Custodian, Freemansburg Elementary School; Nancy Matos Gonzalez, District Judge, Bethlehem; Emily Santan, ER Technician, Sacred Heart Hospital Emergency Room, Allentown, and Paige Van Wirt, Bethlehem City Councilwoman and Physician, Lehigh Valley Health Network.
“The Secret,” 5 p.m. Oct. 5, with talkback, 6:30 p.m.; 1 p.m. Oct. 6, with panel discussion, 2:30 p.m.; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and Oct 7. Tickets: Touchstone Theatre box office, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; festivalunbound.com; touchstone.org; 610-867-1689. Group rates available. Touchstone offers pay-what-you-will ticket at the door, as available.