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A New Light: Dear Tamaqua soars high

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS  One of 10 billboards along Hegarty Avenue in Tamaqua. The boards encapsulate thoughts, both good and bad, extracted from 500 letters written to Dear Tamaqua by local residents.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS One of 10 billboards along Hegarty Avenue in Tamaqua. The boards encapsulate thoughts, both good and bad, extracted from 500 letters written to Dear Tamaqua by local residents.
Published August 10. 2015 04:00PM

By DONALD R. SERFASS

dserfass@tnonline.com

If one single event can lift the morale of a community and help to sustain a sense of pride, Dear Tamaqua ... In a New Light might've done it.

The production, two years in the making, lived up to the hype and drew thousands to the town on Aug. 4.

The multimedia experience captured the imagination.

To start, hundreds of walkers meandered along West Cottage Avenue and discovered a strange environment.

The narrow alley had been filled with large, white orbs which appeared to float. In the background, lone violinist Anna Russell serenaded from a hillside, the sound amplified.

"Try to think of Tamaqua differently," said volunteer Cindy White, vicar of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, as she led one of the many groups of 25.

The event also encouraged participants to explore their hopes, fears and dreams.

The free, large-scale spectacle was supported by a $25,000 grant and bolstered by countless donations and sponsors.

All of that came together to produce a unique, large-scale presentation.

It was, essentially, a parade in reverse, where spectators walked a circuitous, 1-mile route, or were shuttled by two trolleys and a hay wagon.

Along the way, they were entertained and fed by intrinsic tastes of Tamaqua: restaurants, musicians, street theater, artwork, a block party, electric light shows, a 400-foot tunnel and even three jumbotrons featuring 1938 film footage of the town juxtaposed against current footage.

When the dust settled, those who took the hike realized they'd journeyed through a lifetime of sounds, tastes and memories presented in three hours.

The daring venture was put together by the Tamaqua Community Arts Center, the Tamaqua Safety Initiative and Dear Tamaqua Leadership Committee.

Organizers said they wanted local residents to "explore the love/hate relationship Tamaqua has with itself."

The project aimed to build toward more complete ownership of the Schuylkill County town's unique identity and serve as a catalyst for positive local change.

During the first phase more than a year ago, residents were encouraged to share personal memories, experiences, concerns and hopes in the form of letters.

More than 500 were received from the public and the top ones, pro and con, were used as themes.

The elaborate production emphasized honest feelings, both good and bad.

For instance, one of 10 large painted billboards on 4-by-8 sheets of plywood installed on Hegarty Avenue reflected a malcontent's sentiment about the town. He wished to "Burn It Down."

Naturally, that didn't happen. Just the opposite.

Scores of possibility thinkers joined forces to light the town up.

The grand finale fireworks at 9:45 p.m. on a picture-perfect night exploded in full color over the skyline.

The spectacle was shot from north and south mountains, perhaps suggesting that Tamaqua had heard from both sides. The consensus appeared to be: "We're all in this together and nobody intends to give up."

"This is a landmark event. Nothing like it has ever been experienced in Tamaqua," said Leona Rega, arts center director.

"The most wonderful part of this project is that the community was given a voice."

And those who immersed themselves in the concept won't ever forget how they saw their town illuminated.

Dark shadows disappeared in a new light.

If it turns out that inspiration and optimism spread like a contagious fire, maybe Dear Tamaqua ignited the spark.

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