For immediate release
Contact: Syreeta Combs-Cannaday
Communications Director, 570-441-7173

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble brings life of Northumberland legend Joseph Priestley to the stage this January

BLOOMSBURG, PA- This January, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) is pleased to present its 2017 Project Discovery Production Gunpowder Joe: Joseph Priestley, Pennsylvania, and the American Experiment directed by Ensemble Member Laurie McCants.

Gunpowder Joe will play January 19th through February 5th, with eveningperformances as well as Project Discovery Student Matinees. Gunpowder Joe is a world-premiere play by award-winning playwright Anthony Clarvoe, commissioned by and created with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, about Joseph Priestley, celebrated scientist, radical religious leader, and fierce defender of the American Revolution, who, after making himself the most hated man in England, spent his last years in Northumberland, Pennsylvania.


            Hounded out of his native England, Joseph Priestley hoped to secure a sanctuary along the banks of the Susquehanna.  Would this refugee find America, that great experiment, to be the true democracy he had championed from across the sea?  Would he finally be free to pursue his religion, his science, and his political beliefs in this new “land of liberty”?

            Controversy continued to swirl around him.  Revolutionary comrades turned into bitter political opponents when it came time to actually govern the country they founded. The immigrant Priestley was drawn into the vortex of America’s first major crisis.  “Freedom of Speech” had yet to be tested, and Priestley’s admirers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were engaged in a deeply polarized debate over the fate of our fledgling nation.


  •  Joseph Priestley, celebrated scientist (discoverer of oxygen), political radical, and his wife and soul mate Mary
  •  John Adams, second President of the United States, and his equally famous wife and soul mate Abigail
  •  Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, and Sally Hemings, enslaved servant and mother of four of his surviving children
  •  Benjamin Franklin Bache (grandson of Benjamin Franklin) and William Cobbett (pen name, Peter Porcupine), feuding journalists of the leading newspapers of the time

Though thoroughly grounded in history, the play will be presented in a vibrant contemporary style, featuring live music, projections, and actual science demonstrations:

  • ·         Electricity (Priestley was Benjamin Franklin’s protégée; he wrote the story of the key and the kite!)
  • ·         Carbonation (Priestley invented soda pop!)

According to director and BTE Ensemble Member Laurie McCants, Pennsylvanians should be interested in Priestley because of his connection to our area and his place in history. “As a scientist, Priestley is still world-famous, known as the “discoverer” of oxygen.  He was also considered a "very dangerous man” in his native England because he was a political radical, a religious dissenter, and fervent supporter of the American Revolution.  Thomas Jefferson said that many of the phrases he wrote in the Declaration of Independence were borrowed from Priestley.”   Priestley ended up in Northumberland by chance. “After a drunken mob hired by his enemies had burned down his house and laboratory in England, Priestley chose Northumberland as his home in exile.  Still vigorous but elderly, he imagined living out the rest of his years in quiet retirement on the bank of the Susquehanna, continuing his chemistry experiments and religious studies.”  

ABOUT PLAYWRIGHT ANTHONY CLARVOE Anthony Clarvoe has had three plays produced by BTE: Ambition Facing West, The Deer Hunter’s Bible, and Let’s Play Two. He has received American Theatre Critics, Will Glickman, Bay Area Theatre Critics, LA Drama Critics, Garland, Elliot Norton, and Edgerton New American Play awards; fellowships from the Guggenheim, Irvine, Jerome, and McKnight Foundations, National Endowment for the Arts, TCG/Pew Charitable Trusts, and Kennedy Center; commissions from South Coast Rep, Mark Taper Forum, and Playwrights Horizons; the Berrilla Kerr Award for his contributions to American theater; and many others.  Productions include Pick Up Ax (South Coast Rep, San Jose Rep), The Living (Denver Center), Let’s Play Two (South Coast Rep), Ambition Facing West (Trinity Rep, Theatreworks), Ctrl+Alt+Delete (San Jose Rep, George St. Playhouse), The Brothers Karamazov (Cincinnati Playhouse, Circle X), Show and Tell (Rep Theatre of St. Louis), Gizmo (Penn State Center Stage), Our Practical Heaven (Aurora Theatre), and most recently, a series of experimental movement-based pieces with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland, CA.  His plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. The Art of Sacrifice was published last year by Random House in the anthology Plays for Two. Anthony teaches at UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s College, and Stagebridge. A native San Franciscan and long-time resident of New York City and the Midwest, he lives with his family in Berkeley, CA.

ABOUT PROJECT DISCOVERY Project Discovery is a comprehensive theatre education program with a simple yet powerful mission: make sure every student from every high school in the five counties surrounding Bloomsburg attends professional performances by the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble at least once a year – FREE. Project Discovery 2017 matinee dates are January 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and February 1st and 2nd, all beginning at 10:00 a.m.  Project Discovery school matinees are free to every high school student in the CSIU #16 and only $9.50 per student outside of the CSIU #16. A study guide will provide historical background and details on how Common Core Standards for Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science can be met through the experience of this play and related activities. Because Priestley’s renown and impact covers such a wide range, Gunpowder Joe will interest those studying and teaching these subjects:  American History and Politics; Chemistry and the History of Science; Religious Studies; Creative Writing (not only are Priestley’s own persuasive writings quoted in the play, but the playwright can meet with classes to share his process of transforming historical and documentary material into drama). Please contact School Programs Director Paula Henry for more information about Project Discovery and to see if your school qualifies. 570-458-4075 or

PUBLIC PERFORMANCES are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 3:00PM, January 19th through February 5th. BTE’s traditional “Pay What You Wish” Preview performances are January 19th and 20th at 7:30PM (doors open at 6:30pm, no reservations) and the “Pay What You Decide” Opening Night Performance is Saturday, January 21st at 7:30PM; reserve tickets online at or at 570-784-8181 and pay after the performance.

Gunpowder Joe is sponsored by The Friends of Joseph Priestley House, The Degenstein Foundation, Bucknell University, Penn State University, and BTE’s Season 39 Sponsors WNEP, WHLM, Seven Mountains Media, Press Enterprise, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Project Discovery is supported by businesses, individuals, and foundations; a full list can be found at the website

BTE is celebrating 39 years creating live professional theatre and arts education programming in Columbia County and beyond. For more information please visit