Apprentices bring ‘Fresh Voices’ to Touchstone Theatre
Sabrina DeWeerdt and Joe Ferraro are no strangers to theater.
Ferraro has performed with The Associated Mess, the Lehigh Valley-based improvisational comedy troupe, and in a handful of Touchstone Theatre’s “Christmas City Follies” shows.
DeWeerdt received a BA in theater from Muhlenberg College.
So it came as no surprise to either them how much hard work they would need to dedicate to Touchstone’s “Fresh Voices,” June 2 and 3, the annual celebration of new theater, featuring original works-in-progress by the 2016-17 Touchstone Apprentices.
“Fresh Voices is one of our season favorites,” says Emma Ackerman, Touchstone Ensemble Member and apprentice coordinator. “We look forward to it every year, and our regular audiences do, too. It’s inspiring to see each class of apprentices spread their wings and take off under their own creative power.”
“It’s strenuous. It’s an experience,” says Ferraro, one of the Touchstone Apprentices. “I don’t expect these things to be easy, and I’m really thankful to have the opportunity. I’ve never had the chance or space to do it, but it’s a stressful process.”
Under the tutelage of the Touchstone Theatre staff, DeWeerdt and Ferraro have spent the year-long program learning every aspect of the theater business, culminating in the “Fresh Voices” performance of three original works-in-progress: two solo pieces and one ensemble work.
Each has been tasked to write their own solo pieces, as well as the ensemble piece that they have worked together to create.
DeWeerdt’s solo work, “ArtBot,” will feature not just Doctor Calhoon and his robotic creation, but the creator’s vision of what happens when a puppet tries to steal the stage from the actors.
“I went through a bunch of different versions of the script,” says DeWeerdt. “I had a general outline of what I wanted to happen, but then I just couldn’t get it all down into a script. It was only after the peer-editing process that I found that I wanted to include the audience in a lot of it.”
Of all the skills and techniques that she and Ferraro have been taught, DeWeerdt found the process of peer feedback to be one of the more useful tools.
“You present your piece to a group of people and then ask the audience what they were delighted by and what they wanted to know more about. You get a sense of the parts other people like, and what parts need to go. So it’s helpful to celebrate what’s good and rework what doesn’t.”
“Criticism is always important, because there’s no growth without it,” Ferraro chimes in.
Ferraro’s work, “Not Without You,” endeavors to present a more realistic and troubled image of the world, drawing inspiration from the lives and struggles of those around him.
“I want to make people feel really any emotion, feel some type of way. The audience needs to walk away from the theater feeling something they didn’t feel before.”
As for the collaborative work, DeWeerdt and Ferraro are hard at work finding a piece that best represents the two of them working in tandem.
“It’s all very new and trying to make sure that everyone’s on the same page,” Ferraro explains.
“The hard part is trying to write something that connects well with the group image of what the story should be. Ideally, it comes out as one steady train of thought from two people, and it becomes very fluid.”
“We’re each trying to add something new without hijacking the whole thing.” DeWeerdt adds. “The challenge is how to help without shutting someone else down.”
DeWeerdt’s and Ferraro’s journeys don’t end with “Fresh Voices.” This summer, both will be taking part in the Camp Touchstone and “Cirque It!”
Afterwards, Ferraro plans on taking some time for himself to hike the Appalachian Trail.
DeWeerdt hopes to continue her work with puppetry.
“This is an experience I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get involved with,” Ferraro reflects, “and I know all these skills will help me down the road. A little bit of everything is important for any well-rounded person.”
“Fresh Voices,” 8 p.m. June 2 and 3, Touchstone Theatre, 321 E 4th St, Bethlehem, with each performance featuring a different after-event to discuss and celebrate the plays. Tickets are pay-what-you-will at the door. Ticket reservations: touchstone.org, 610-867-1689