Dear Tamaqua ... In a New Light
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua dancer Amanda Carson performs with a saber on South Swatara Street about 8 p.m. during the peak of the Dear Tamaqua extravaganza.
Tamaqua's summer spectacle was a showpiece of collaboration and the poster child for cooperation.
Dear Tamaqua ... In a New Light was a multimedia walking experience presented by the Tamaqua Community Arts Center on Aug. 4.
The event culminated two years of devotion by 70 volunteers who corralled their own talents and drew on strengths of others.
At the heart of the project was an aim to encourage participants to explore their hopes, fears and dreams. To set the stage, guests were invited to walk a 1-mile route, part of which was serviced by a shuttle system of two trolleys and a hay wagon.
Along the way, they were entertained and fed by intrinsic tastes of Tamaqua: musicians, street theater, artwork, a block party, electric light shows, a 400-foot tunnel and three jumbotrons featuring current scenes of town along with rare 1938 film footage.
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 Tamaqua's unique identity and serve as a catalyst for positive local change.
When the dust settled, those who experienced the once-in-a-lifetime production realized they'd journeyed through the story of their lives, with sounds, tastes and memories presented in two to three hours.
The unique venture was put together by the arts center, the Tamaqua Safety Initiative and the Dear Tamaqua Leadership Committee.
The program took its theme from 600 letters written by local residents over the past two years.
How'd they do it?
The free-to-the-public extravaganza, including National Night Out, were supported by a $25,000 grant through LISC, or the Local Initiative Support Corporation, as part of its Community Safety Initiative model, and bolstered by countless donations and sponsors.
To pull it off, the group pooled a diversity of talent centered in Tamaqua but extending north to Hazleton and south to the Lehigh Valley.
A key player was Touchstone Theatre, a Bethlehem-based group with experience in generating powerful, original community-based art.
The group drew on its own membership and worked with Tamaqua area residents as well.
"This was the largest out-of-Bethlehem area event we've produced," said Touchstone's JP Jordan.
"The community participation and response was overwhelming and we felt it could not have gone any better. The support of the community as a whole was phenomenal."
In some cases, entire local families lent a hand, such as the Gursky family.
Micah Gursky, town council president, helped to spearhead the project, assisted by wife Penny.
Daughter Sophia entertained crowds with a belly dancing performance, part of Bare Toes Yoga.
Her brother Jake was one of 10 actors who brought Dear Tamaqua letters to life, portraying their essence on a public stage. Sophia and Jake are members of Tamaqua's League of Literaries group.
Joining Micah in conceptualizing the project were Leona Rega, Kathy Odorizzi, Lisa Jordan and JP Jordan, the latter also serving as musical director.
Rega served as production manager, assisted by Amber Finn and Emma Chong, and also as house management.
Designers were JP Jordan and Christopher Shorr, with Lisa Jordan as costume designer and house manager.
Sewing was tenderly handled by Dina Depos and the Tamaqua Salvation Army Needlebugs.
Acting coach was Bill George, assisted by Anna Russell with acting coordinators Adriane Drum and Erica Cassell.
"Dear Tamaqua was awesome," said volunteer Kyle Whitley.
"Definitely one for the record books. Great to see how any people came out and walked through. Everyone that helped pull this off also did an amazing job beyond anyone's understanding."
Angela Cassell, Tamaqua, posted on Facebook: "Great night! Everyone involved should be really proud of how well things went."
Tamaqua native Charlie Odorizzi, now of Omaha, Nebraska, said he visited home at just the right time.
"I was so glad to be here for the celebration," said Odorizzi. "Tamaqua continues to get better all the time. Thank you to the huge number of people that made the entire event possible."
Donna Hollywood, Tamaqua, said: "Had a great time tonight. Tamaqua should have more of these events!"
Gladys Neff, Tamaqua, agreed: "I think it would be a nice annual event. Thank you to the people who planned it."
Leona Rega said the organizers are hoping the high energy will continue.
"As a community, we need to not let go of this momentum; but each and every one of us who felt impacted needs to find that place where we feel we can give of our ourselves in whatever capacity each person is able, and continue the journey."