By Patt Keith
Former Altoonan Tom Sweitzer returns to familiar surroundings to host the one-man show “Meatballs and music” at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 3 at The Church in the Middle of the Block Cultural Resource Center at 217 Fifth Ave., for the first official performance after renovations.
The performance features Sweitzer in an autobiographical portrayal of his early life in Altoona and how a Sunday School teacher introduced him to God’s saving grace and music.
First presented in February 2020, the pandemic stalled the show’s theater festival series, but has been revised and relaunched, Sweitzer said. The show returns to Altoona to officially open the renovated Sweitzer Theater, which organizers named after Sweitzer in honor of his support and dedication to creating performance space in the former Second United. Brethren Church.
Tickets for “Meatballs and Music” will go on sale for $15 per person at 2:15 p.m. — 45 minutes before the show, said Christopher Cook, executive director of the cultural center. Due to its mature themes, the show is recommended for adults only. For more information, visit www.tomsweitzer.com.
The solo show is a preview of the revised work ahead of its airing at the Fringe Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., July 16-24 and a three-week August run at the INDY Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Today, Sweitzer, 50, is an accomplished music therapist, writer, and composer in Virginia. Sweitzer, who married her husband, Andres Uribe, on June 11, said the COVID-19 pandemic has upended her plans for “Meatballs and Music” after debuting in February 2020 in Altoona.
He played the show twice more before the world shut down.
In July 2020, Sweitzer found himself hospitalized with the virus and spent the next few months battling long-lasting COVID symptoms of neurological and memory issues, he said in a phone conversation. with the Mirror.
Sweitzer hasn’t let his health issues slow him down. Throughout it all, he continued to help others through his music therapy practice, used the COVID intermission to revise his solo show, created an online long COVID support group, met, fell in love and got married. He is currently working on his first novel, a work of fiction about love, healing and resilience.
The revised version “Meatballs and Music” is 15 minutes leaner, but has 950 lines that Sweitzer had to memorize.
“It’s a marathon for my brain” he said. “I won’t let COVID catch me and stop me for long. I think it’s a better show because I had two years to make it happen. It is also a personal goal (to execute it) again. It’s an amazing workshop for my brain.
Upcoming festivals allow Sweitzer to pick up the threads cut by the pandemic and revise his goal of bringing the show to a wider audience. Producers and theater representatives attend these festivals to evaluate new works and see if they want to give a work a home performance in 2023.
“I want to bring it somewhere so more people can experience it. Of course, the dream is to have it on Broadway or off Broadway, but I think the show also has greater potential, he said. “It could be linked to a conference on mental health, healing and forgiveness that would go around the world. Maybe we take it to institutions and places and talk about healing and forgiveness. It would be like a platform or a workshop – like a traveling TED talk.
The show’s inception came after Sweitzer spent “years” in therapy to overcome the wounds inflicted by an unstable and abusive family life while his mother suffered from serious health problems that would eventually cost her her life. Her father suffered from schizophrenia.
At age 8, he followed the music emanating from the neighborhood church and found Erdean, the Sunday school teacher, God’s acceptance, love and music.
This church, The Church in the Middle of the Block, became his refuge and creative outlet as he became involved in music and theater. He was instrumental and worked with John Rita and his friend Cook to transform the space into a community cultural center. Rita remains involved as Artistic Director, and Cook assumed the role of Executive Director on January 1.
“He was the first person who really brought theater to the church,” said Cook. “Before, it was an art studio. Then, in 1995, he produced and presented shows there. He spearheaded it.”
Sweitzer said he was touched by the renaming of the theater.
“The naming of the space is very sweet of them (to do)”, Sweitzer said. “I am totally honored because I am close to all the people who brought it back to life. It’s almost too much honor, but I’ll take it. I don’t really feel like I deserve it, but I accepted it just like I learned to accept love in my life.
Write and act in “Meatballs and Music” he said, marked a turning point in his journey of forgiveness and reconciliation. He had reached a level of acceptance with his traumatic childhood, reconciled with his father before his death, and managed to accept himself.
“It took being vulnerable and telling my story so that I could take the next step in my life,” Sweitzer said. “I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m completely who I am and I’m proud of it. I’m not a flag-waving human being, but having lived where you can’t be 100% and Who you are is very trying.The last few years have been an eye opener for me.
Representing the show and surviving her near-fatal battle with COVID opened up her heart and her path to meeting her future husband — first virtually as he recovered, then in person when he no longer tested positive.
“As soon as we met, I felt it. It’s the most mature, beautiful, non-dramatic, accessible and fulfilling relationship I’ve ever had. said Cook.
As he healed into this version of himself, the church in the middle of the block was undergoing its own transformation with a $100,000 renovation. Upgrades include custom heavy draping to further transform the space into a black box theater; cushioned bench seats, air conditioning and the creation of fire escapes so that actors can exit from either side of the stage without entering the audience space, Cook said.
The upgrades will help Cook and The Church in the Middle of the Block expand use of the 125-seat community arts hall as it nears its 30th anniversary in 2023.
If you are going to
What: “Meatballs and Music”
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, July 3
Where: The Church in the middle of the Block Cultural Resource Centre,
217 Fifth Avenue, Altoona
Tickets: $15 per person, on sale at 2:15 p.m., 45 minutes before