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December 7, 2017
Authentic: Bill George
Bill George, a co-founder of Touchstone Theatre, grew up in many large cities around the world, but he fell in love with Lehigh University’s campus. “I loved the trees, I loved the hill, I loved the churches,” he says. “And, when you come into South Bethlehem, the cultural variety is incredible.”
It was at Lehigh that Bill had come under the mentorship of John Pearson, the charismatic head of the drama department. “John literally died in in my arms in 1976 from an aneurysm,” Bill says. “He had sent me off to graduate school and when I came back we were going to form a theater company at the university. That experience was like getting branded with a hot iron.”
Bill, along with his wife, Bridget, John’s wife Barbara, and Lehigh University Art Galleries’ Ricardo Viera, immediately got to work on realizing a vision—People’s Theatre Company—that was eventually to evolve into Touchstone. Touchstone is now one of the longest-living continuously functioning ensembles in the country.
Twenty years ago, when Bethlehem Steel died, Touchstone did a piece called “Steelbound,” based on “Prometheus Bound.” Except Prometheus (a role played by Bill himself), instead of being a demigod, was a steelworker; and instead of bringing fire down from the sun, he brings steel and gets punished by the gods of progress. Today, Touchstone wants to revisit the issue of how Bethlehem defines itself, with a new project called “Festival Unbound,” scheduled for October 2019. With it, Bill and Touchstone are asking: What do you think of the challenges we’re facing as a community? What’s going to help us successfully face these challenges?
Touchstone Theatre has been interested in these questions since its very beginning, Bill says. “How do we build a more collaborative, creative, and compassionate community?”