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Wednesday, February 26, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOThe Touchstone Ensemble, “Christmas City Follies XX,” Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOThe Touchstone Ensemble, “Christmas City Follies XX,” Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem.

Curtain Rises: A look behind the ‘Follies’ curtain at Touchstone Theatre

Friday, December 20, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

After two decades of producing “Christmas City Follies,” there’s no folly, nor formula, for what has become a beloved holiday treat at Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem.

The big quilt curtain again opened for “Christmas City Follies XX,” beginning Dec. 5 and continuing through Dec. 22 at Touchstone.

Let’s pay attention to the Touchstone Ensemble behind the curtain.

“Since the first five ‘Follies,’ the last 15 have been in consecutive years. There were gaps in the first five years,” says “Follies” director Jp Jordan, Touchstone Artistic Director.

“Christmas City Follies XX” is the 14th for Jordan, including three years as music director, and 11th as director of the show.

The work by the Touchstone Ensemble began in earnest months ago for the 2019 “Follies.”

“‘Festival UnBound’ closed Oct. 13. There was a one-week gap. One day after that [Oct. 21], we started rehearsal. That amounted to slightly over 100 hours of development,” Jordan says.

“We’re in the [Touchstone Theatre] rehearsal space and we write something down,” Jordan begins. “We never run out of material. People are journaling.”

The 2019 “Follies” show includes Emma Ackerman, Samantha Beedle, Sean Patrick Cassidy, Adam D. Ercolani, Bill George, Meara Gill, Alexander Vogelgesang and Mary Wright.

Some in the “Follies” cast have done the show for 10-15 years.

The ensemble took the show from the rehearsal studio to the stage the week of Nov. 24.

“During rehearsal, I may have people work on four separate pieces,” says Jordan.

“There’s a huge improvisation that goes into the show. We’re creating things based on improvisation,” Jordan explains, pausing to add, “All of it is improvisation because creativity is improvisation.

“Devising is what we do, creating new works,” Jordan says of the Touchstone Ensemble.

“We work as an ensemble because we feel the work we do is stronger as an ensemble,” says Jordan.

Although “Follies” features recurring characters and sketches, including Bill George’s “The Old Guy,” Mary Wright’s “Little Red,” and the Shopping Cart Ballet, the Ensemble created original songs, including the show-opener, “The Follies Song”; a re-imagining of the Wisemen’s journey to Bethlehem, “An Uber Ride In Bethlehem,” and an HR-mandated therapy session at Santa’s workshop.

“There’s nothing sacred to us after all these years,” Jordan observes.

On display in the Touchstone Gallery is “Rocks,” an exhibition by photographer Ron Yoshida done for “Festival UnBound,” featuring portraits of local arts and culture personalities considered by Yoshida to be the artistic bedrock of Bethlehem.

“Christmas City Follies XX,” 8 p.m. Dec. 21; 2 p.m. Dec. 22. Tickets: Touchstone Theatre box office, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; touchstone.org; 610-867-1689.