Touchstone Theatre's 9th Annual Young Playwrights' Festival & Gala Set for 5/17

Touchstone Theatre's 9th Annual Young Playwrights' Festival & Gala Set for 5/17

Touchstone Theatre will be presenting the ninth year of its acclaimed Young Playwrights' Festival, a showcase of new plays written by local elementary and middle school students, on May 17 at Zoellner Arts Center's Baker Hall. Immediately following the performance will be a gala reception in the Lehigh University Art Galleries.

Throughout its season, Touchstone Theatre teaching artists work with elementary and middle schools in the Bethlehem and Allentown Area School Districts in afterschool arts-in-education programming. The flagship program, "Young Playwrights' Lab," is an eight-week residency developed by Touchstone and the Bethlehem Area School District to improve attitudes toward literacy and achievement in academic standards by linking literacy and creative self-expression. The residency engages students through theatre improvisation and writing exercises, culminating with each student writing his or her own original one-act play. Touchstone teaching artists work to challenge the notion that the only way to learn is through textbooks and testing. Since its inception, the program has served hundreds of students across the Lehigh Valley.

One play from each participant school is selected to be produced in the Festival, performed by Touchstone actors, local performers, and students from their own schools. With this year's selectees ranging from the plains of Africa to the depths of outer space, the 90-minute performance covers a lot of terrain. The Festival, originally held in Touchstone's 75-seat black box theatre, moved up to performing at Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center when the size of the program and performance grew. This is Touchstone's seventh year performing at Zoellner and fourth year performing in Baker Hall.

A record high of ten residencies this year held at Calypso Elementary, Central Elementary (two residencies), Donegan Elementary, Farmersville Elementary, Fountain Hill Elementary, Freemansburg Elementary, Holy Infancy School, Lincoln Leadership Academy, and Lincoln Elementary.

Teaching partner Kristen Zavar describes the process: "Through the program, students are given the opportunity each and every session to tap into their own creative thinking... They are able to share their thoughts and use their imagination, without judgment or critique. This is what makes this program so unique."

A fourth-grader at Central Elementary in center city Allentown puts it more succinctly: "I want to tell everyone that I love this program!"

After the performance, the celebration of creative expression continues in the Lehigh University Art Galleries with a gala dessert reception and auction. Gala attendees get a chance to mingle with the Touchstone Ensemble and teaching artists, enjoy sumptuous drinks and desserts, view the current exhibit, and further support Touchstone and its ArtsTouch education programs through live and silent auction.

"To many loyal supporters of the program, the Young Playwrights' Festival is the most magical night of theatre of the year," says Lou Cinquino, Festival Committee Chair. "And the Gala Reception that follows the performance makes it possible for Touchstone to maintain this program-one of the Valley's signature school-based arts education programs."

Touchstone's season is sponsored by First Generation, an integrated marketing communications company, and RCN. Media sponsorship is provided by WDIY, and print sponsorship is provided by Working Dog Press.

The Ninth Annual Young Playwrights' Festival and Gala takes place on Saturday May 17; doors open at 6:30pm for a 7:00pm show. Tickets are $10 for the Festival only, with group rates available, and $75 for the Festival and Gala. Advance tickets may be purchased at 610-867-1689 or online at www.touchstone.org

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