Public Reading Of PROMETHUES/REDUX Comes to Festival Unbound
In 1999, Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem made history with a groundbreaking theatrical event that reflected on what Bethlehem Steel once meant to the region.
"Steelbound" featured a cast of more than 50, including former steel workers and their families and neighbors, and was produced in the iron foundry of the closed Steel plant in south Bethlehem. The sold-out production was the centerpiece of the company's Steel Festival, a multi-arts festival celebrating Bethlehem's heritage of steel making.
Fast forward 20 years. The Steel property has been recast as an arts center and casino complex. Martin Tower, the symbol of Bethlehem's once thriving industry, has been brought down. And Touchstone is getting ready to break new ground with a sequel, to both "Steelbound" and the Steel Festival. "Prometheus/Redux," an original work which picks up where "Steelbound" left off, is being produced as a central event in the theatre's upcoming 10 day Festival Unbound, scheduled for October 4-13.
The first public glimpse at the work will arrive at 7 p.m. July 19, when the National Museum of Industrial History, 602 E. Second St., hosts a reading of the script. The event will be a working rehearsal, with discussion of work process. Admission is free.
Touchstone's Festival Unbound will include a rich tapestry of more than three dozen free and ticketed arts events throughout Bethlehem, programmed to spark conversation about the question of who and what the community is now that the Steel is gone and what the challenges are to forging a path forward. The idea is that the community is now "unbound" and with everyone working together, the possibilities are endless.
Events will include a collaborative concert by the Bach Choir of Bethlehem with other community choirs, a performance by New York's Latino theatre collective Pregones in a partnership with the city's Latino community, and a residency by Agile Rascal, an innovative bicycling theatre troupe that tours new and innovative environmental-themed plays. The festival will include original theater, street performances, parades, music and forums for conversation.
"Steelbound" was an adaptation of Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound," a Greek tragedy in which Prometheus stands for human progress against the forces of nature. In the work, Bill George, Touchstone co-founder and ensemble member, played a steelworker named Prometheus. The play was written by Alison Carey then from Cornerstone Theater of Los Angeles.
In "Prometheus/Redux" George returns as Prometheus. It's 20 years after he left the Steel and now, instead of being chained to the ladle, we find him bound to a hospital bed, suffering liver failure. Where has he been? What's on his mind? And how can he find a place for himself in such a changed world?
"We're not only looking at our community 20 years later, but the specific characters 20 years later," said Christopher Shorr, a Touchstone ensemble member and director of theatre at Moravian College, who is directing "Prometheus/ Redux."
"Steelbound" addressed the immediate trauma of the Steel industry being ripped away from the community it had defined for generations. The new play, 'Prometheus/Redux', challenges us to work together to define our own future in a changing world."
In a nod to the community's newly dominant health care industry, most of the action takes place in a hospital.
Behind "Prometheus/Redux" is a tapestry of people with national credentials and strong ties to the community.
Among them are the playwright Jerry Stropnicky, a founding member of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, a contemporary of Touchstone which has worked previously with the company. Stropnicky has met with veteran steelworkers and their children to inform the script. "Prometheus/Redux" includes music adapted from "Steelbound," which was written by Ysaye Barwnell of Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Costumes are being created by Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negron.
Shorr says while the production is a sequel, you don't need to have seen "Steelbound" to appreciate it. The show will include recollections from the earlier show and images and footage from the Steelworkers Archive.
"Steelbound" launched Touchstone's mission to tell the stories of the community. Other groundbreaking works have included "Don Quixote of Bethlehem," a street production designed to bridge the gap between the Anglo and Latino cultures, and "Journey From the East," a two-year project inspired by the growing resident and transient Chinese community in Bethlehem.
"Prometheus/Redux" will be presented at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts on the first weekend of Festival Unbound, premiering right after the festival's opening ceremonies.
A schedule of Festival Unbound events and ticket information will be released at the end of July.