Touchstone Theater opens its 2022-23 season with a fourth year of UnBound Festival, a five-day celebration of visual arts, live music, participatory dance, original theater and community dialogue shaped by community members of Lehigh Valley for a unique, hyper-local festival experience.
UnBound Festival runs September 28-October 2 at venues in Bethlehem and Allentown, with a pre-festival weekend featuring original performances by Touchstone/Moravian University MFA students September 16-20. Participation is free for most events; some events have an entry fee. The festival features works from Touchstone, local artists and organizers, as well as acclaimed guest artists from beyond the Lehigh Valley, including folk singer-songwriter John Gorka.
The first year of the UnBound Festival took place in October 2019, twenty years after the closure of Bethlehem Steel, an extremely disruptive and traumatic event for the community. In the years following the Steel’s closure, Touchstone began to explore questions of community and identity: who were we now that the Steel was gone? What were the challenges ahead and what were the values that unite us as we shape our future? From these questions emerged the first ten-day UnBound Festival, centered on the themes of diversity, sustainability, health, youth leadership and interdependence.
Over the years, the UnBound Festival has evolved into a five-day series focused on engaging the diverse community of the Lehigh Valley – through art and civic dialogue – in the radical act of envisioning our future together. The past two years have included adaptations of the festival for COVID safety, including an extraordinary festival in 2020 spread over several months, with all events presented outdoors and socially distanced. Some community partners have been with the festival since its inception, and others are coming on board new this year.
“As we approach the fourth year of the UnBound Festival, it is exciting to see how the community is embracing a festival rooted in the art of place,” said Festival Coordinator Mary Wright. “Whether it’s the return of singer-songwriter John Gorka to his artistic home in Godfrey Daniels, or the powerful Maafa Commemoration Project that tackles deeper questions about how we remember, critiquing and honoring the places we call home, UnBound Festival is a true community arts festival of the people, by the people, and for the people of the Lehigh Valley.”
A highlight of the 2022 festival is the Lehigh Valley premiere of the Maafa Memorial Project, produced in partnership with the Reverend Dr. Gregory Edwards and the community church’s longtime homecoming committee Resurrected Life and Festival UnBound led by the committee chair, Sharon A. Brown. Maafa (pronounced Mah-AH-fah) is a Kiswahili word that refers to the catastrophic events experienced by millions of Africans during the intermediate passage journey from Africa to slavery in the Americas. This local event is part of a national movement, started in 1995 by St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church (Brooklyn, NY) and led by the vision of Reverend Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, to highlight issues of racism and slavery. The premiere of the Maafa Commemoration Project Lehigh Valley seeks to elevate and honor the stories of black African ancestors, known and unknown, and to recognize strength of spirit, rich heritage and the world in which freedom is still out reach for so many people. .
This year’s UnBound Festival lineup includes:
- OPENING CELEBRATION (September 28 at 7 p.m.) – A celebration featuring singer-songwriter John Gorka, the Broughal Middle School Choir of the Bethlehem School District, and performers from various Festival events. Barrio Stage outside of Touchstone – 321 East 4th Street, Bethlehem; Free with donations gratefully accepted.
- COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS (September 28 – October 1) – Coffee, lunch and happy hour conversations about the future of our community, hosted by Touchstone Ensemble member Christopher Shorr. Free with donations gratefully accepted. Times and locations vary throughout the festival.
- REMIX (September 29 at 7 p.m.) – Join CAMILLE WHO and her guests for an exuberant performance of music, poetry, spoken word, dance and visual art, exploring an Afro-Caribbean home and everyday art. Barrio Stage outside of Touchstone – 321 East 4th Street, Bethlehem; Free with donations gratefully accepted.
- BOMBAZO (September 30 at 7 p.m.) – An evening of jams hosted by local Latinx musicians; all are encouraged to join in the performance, with multiple styles of music coming together on stage. Barrio Stage outside of Touchstone – 321 East 4th Street, Bethlehem; Free with donations gratefully accepted.
- REMAKING HOME (October 1 at 10am) – A hands-on workshop with author and teacher Jan Cohen-Cruz, exploring questions about creating a home in a new place, through artistic creation. Bethlehem Area Public Library, 11 W Church St, Bethlehem; Tickets: Free with donations gratefully accepted. Space is limited; reservations strongly encouraged.
- DEVOTIONAL MEETING (October 1 at 1 p.m.) – In the company of interreligious representatives of those who belong to a community of faith (or not), we unite around the mystery of life and the gifts of being together. Barrio Stage outside of Touchstone – 321 East 4th Street, Bethlehem; Free with donations gratefully accepted.
- GHAR-AM MASALA (October 1 at 4 p.m.) – Join us for a joyful, multicultural musical celebration, featuring Latin/Indian fusion music and traditional Indian folk dancing. Wear your dancing shoes! Barrio Stage outside of Touchstone – 321 East 4th Street, Bethlehem; Free with donations gratefully accepted.
- MAAFA COMMEMORATION PROJECT LEHIGH VALLEY (October 1 at 3 and 7 p.m., October 2 at 3 p.m.) – In partnership with Resurrected Life Community Church, join us in honoring black ancestors – known and unknown – and celebrating the strength of the spirit and the wealth of heritage. Written by Nehprii Amenii; directed by Kymbali Craig. Community Church of the Risen Life, 144 N Ninth St, Allentown; Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students/seniors. Preview on October 1 at 3 p.m.; Tickets: $10.
- CHANGE-SPOTTING (October 1 at 3pm, October 2 at 1pm) – A 45-minute walking tour with architect Wes Hiatt that invites visitors to spot changes over time in the “everyday spaces” of South Bethlehem . The walk begins at Parham Park, 317 E 4th St, Bethlehem. Tickets: Free with donations gratefully accepted. Space is limited; reservations strongly encouraged.
- A SUNDAY MOMENT (October 2 at 10am) – A chance to take stock with yourself, meditate, refocus and refocus. Take a moment to reflect on where community begins – within you! Charles A. Brown Icehouse, 56 River St., Bethlehem; Free with donations gratefully accepted.
With entertainment throughout the weekend by artists in residence at the festival:
- John Gorka, dubbed “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the New Folk Movement” by Rolling Stone, performs on his home stage at Godfrey Daniels and leads a workshop celebrating the power of place. John Gorka performs old and new favorites Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.; Tickets: $40. The Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band reunion occurs Sept. 30 at 8 p.m.; Tickets: $45. Workshop, in collaboration with singer-songwriter Anne Hills on October 1 at 1 p.m.; Workshop fee: $35. All events at Godfrey Daniels Coffee House, 7 E 4th St, Bethlehem.
- MARK VALDEZ, theater artist, community organizer and housing advocate, will lead a series of community rallies and workshops, focusing on issues of housing and home insecurity, and engaging the public in thinking about what is important to ‘to be at the house.
Fundraising for the UnBound Festival is ongoing, but to date, Festival sponsors include Gold Sponsors: Air Products, PNC Foundation and the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation; and Silver Sponsors: Amaranth Foundation, Beall Fowler, Just Born, Keystone Savings Foundation, Lehigh Valley Community Foundation and WDIY. The festival is also gratefully supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, as well as many small businesses, local foundations and individuals.
Touchstone Theater’s UnBound Festival takes place September 28-October 2, 2022 throughout Bethlehem and Allentown, along with a pre-festival weekend featuring original performances by Touchstone/Moravian University MFA students September 16-20. More information at www.touchstone.org/festival-unbound.