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Festival UnBound is a model of inclusivity and accessibility

When Touchstone Theatre began talking two years ago about staging a major festival to celebrate its hometown of Bethlehem and commemorate 20 years of change since its groundbreaking Steel Festival, it had a huge vision.

It had a vision of creating original art designed to spark conversation. It had a vision of debating, discussing and generating ideas about how to create a bright future for Bethlehem. And, as is always the case for Touchstone, it had a vision of accessibility and inclusivity — bringing together people of all races, classes, ages and abilities to accomplish its goals and enjoy its creations.

All of those things will happen Oct. 4-13 during Festival UnBound – so named to represent the idea that the city and its people can work together to create their future any way they want now that they are “unbound” from Bethlehem Steel. Festival UnBound will feature two dozen events, including nine original theatrical productions, as well as street spectacles, visual art, music and opportunities for conversation. Events are both ticketed and free and located in various venues, mostly in Bethlehem.

To be accessible and inclusive, Touchstone collaborated with many groups in the community.

Steelworkers were tapped once again to inform “Prometheus/Redux,” a sequel to “Steelbound,” which in 1999 opened eyes and minds to the legacy of the Steel in Bethlehem and the need to start thinking about a future without it.

Scholar Seth Moglen of Lehigh University was tapped to join Festival UnBound director Bill George, a Touchstone founder and ensemble member, to explore the hidden history of Bethlehem’s birth in “Hidden Seed: Bethlehem’s Forgotten Utopia.”

Teens in Bethlehem high schools were tapped to create an original work, “Starry-Eyed,” that gives youth the opportunity to confront their fears and have a say about their future.

Bethlehem fourth graders were tapped to create art expressing their hopes and dreams for the future.

The African-American community was tapped to organize an afternoon of cultural awareness called “Homecoming,” featuring spoken word poets, music, African drumming, ethnic food and vendors and speakers on health and equity issues.

The Latino community was tapped to work with Pregones Theatre, New York’s pre-eminent Latinx theater collective, to create “Embracing Bethlehem/ Abrazo a Belen,” featuring stories and songs addressing the future.

Environmental activists were tapped to work with Agile Rascal Bicycle Touring Theatre, which will ask audiences to take a wild ride, literally, through Bethlehem with them in a search for their best life in “To Hunt a Wild Utopia.”

Autistic children and homeless people were looped in to create art that gives them a voice.

The LGBTQ community helped inform the Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre production “The Secret,” an exploration of the life of Bethlehem native Hilda Doolittle, the celebrated feminist writer and LGBQ icon.

Female veterans were tapped to create a performance called “Forward March: The Future of Our Warriors,” telling their stories to help bridge communication between veterans and civilians.

Inclusivity also means accessibility – creating the means for people of all incomes and abilities to attend the events.

To that end, many events are free, ticket prices are affordable and those events that require tickets include the opportunity to purchase Pay What You Will tickets.

All venues are wheelchair accessible, with the exception of “Hidden Seed,” which is being presented in the historic Single Sisters House. Because of that, the final performance of “Hidden Seed” will be presented at the wheelchair accessible PBS39.

Touchstone worked with the Center for Vision Loss to create large print programs for two musical events – “A Joyful Noise,” featuring the Bach Choir in collaboration with other local choral groups, and “Poets, Troubadours and Troublemakers,” a collaboration with Godfrey Daniels and singer-songwriter Anne Hills to create original music reflecting the spirit of Festival UnBound.

For the blind and visually impaired, Touchstone worked with the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living and with support from the Lehigh Valley Arts Council’s Arts & Access Always program to provide audio description and open captions at a number of events.

They include:

  • Audio description at “The Secret” at 1 p.m. Oct. 6 at Touchstone Theatre.
  • Open captions and audio description at “Prometheus/Redux” at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts.
  • Open captions and audio description at “Hidden Seed” at 8 p.m. Oct. 10 at PBS39.
  • American Sign Language for the discussion during the Community Dinner at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Ice House.

Festival UnBound represents inclusivity and accessibility at its finest.

Jodi Duckett
Festival UnBound Volunteer

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