Touchstone Theatre, established in 1981, is a local theater located on 321 East Fourth St. The not-for-profit theater has seen a cut in their typical revenue stream due to the pandemic. (Liz Cornell/B&W photo)

Non-profit local theatre commits to serving Lehigh community


Touchstone Theatre – a non-profit theater on Bethlehem’s South Side – was co-founded by a Lehigh alumnus Bill George nearly 35 years ago.

“I cannot tell you, even begin to tell you, how important my experiences at Lehigh were—how they influenced me, shaped me,” George said.

The idea for Touchstone Theatre started with Lehigh professor John Pearson, who George described as “a powerful artist and a hugely charismatic individual.”

George came under Pearson’s influence in 1972 when he decided to switch his focus from engineering to theater. With no theater major at Lehigh at the time, George majored in English literature.

After studying at the Dallas Theatre Center, George returned to the Lehigh Valley to start a theater company and to be Pearson’s lead actor. In a tragic turn of events, Pearson died of a heart aneurism at 39. The People’s Theatre Company grew from the work that Pearson had established and eventually evolved into Touchstone Theatre in 1981.

Since its creation, Touchstone has produced works “rooted in the traditions of street performance and physical theater… original musicals and plays, new adaptations of classic texts, and community-based projects,” said Lisa Jordan, the managing director and an ensemble member.

Much of Touchstone’s growth and success is attributed to the university and the entire Lehigh community.

“Professor Augustine Ripa of the Lehigh theater department has directed here and helped me as a friend, co-creator, and certainly my most creative partner outside of the Touchstone Ensemble,” George said.

The early board of directors was mostly Lehigh professors, administrators and graduates.

With all of the influence that Lehigh and the community has given George and Touchstone Theatre, Touchstone is committed to serving the students and the community.

“All of Touchstone’s shows are open to Lehigh students,” Jordan said. “There is a student price of $15 offered for every performance, and Thursday’s tickets are pay-what-you-will at the door.”

This student special brings a big Lehigh contingency to the theater, as many students will come to see professors and peers perform.

Collier Sutter, ’17, an english major, performed a slam poetry piece last spring with her group, the “Unspoken Truths” and Professor Kashi Johnson, the head of the theater department.

“It was the safest environment I have ever read in… filled with people inspired to listen and to write,” Sutter said, noting the audience of almost 100 people.

Touchstone Theatre focuses much of its work on ideas inspired by the community. Jordan said the theater has always worked to build strong partnerships with local businesses, art organizations, educational institutions and community members.

This connection with the community has inspired Touchstone to do many large-scale theatrical productions out on the streets of Bethlehem.

“This kind of ‘theater of place’ is a unique offering that has received international recognition over the years and is a point of pride for Bethlehem’s residents,” Jordan said.

From Feb. 19 to March 1, Touchstone will host a new series produced and performed by Allentown Public Theatre, titled “Spotlight on the Valley: True West.” This series allows local, professional theaters from the Lehigh Valley to perform during the main stage season.

Touchstone Theatre is located on 321 East Fourth St. and remains a place that has been influenced by, and continues to influence, Lehigh students and faculty, as well as the entire Lehigh community.

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1 Comment

  1. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to read this feature on one of the (many) arts assets in the South Bethlehem Arts District. Touchstone Theatre is a special place full of very special people. I hope that students get a chance to see it more than once during their time at Lehigh.
    Dr. Silagh White
    Director of Arts Engagement and Community Cultural Affairs
    Lehigh University

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