Month: January 2015

Repost: The Art that is Life

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The Art That Is Life

This article is a repost from Brandywine CVB about our Executive Director Penelope Reed and our history in Rose Valley. 

The Hedgerow Theatre engages minds and hearts in shared expression to be a cultural resource for audiences of all ages.

Theatres can be wonderful places. They are places of imagination and inspiration. They can deliver social commentary…or timeless life messages…or whimsy and fun. They can bond an audience together for a few hours and take them on a journey far away from the four walls that surround their seats. There are many magical theatres like this in our region, but Hedgerow stands apart with one unique quality.

It is truly part of the community’s DNA.

To understand the mutualistic relationship that the Hedgerow Theatre has with the community of Rose Valley, one needs to know the story of how both came to exist…and that story begins all the way back with the Native Americans, the Quakers, the Industrial Revolution and a man named Will Price.

Hedgerow Theatre is located on Rose Valley Road – which is a narrow, curvy, up-and-down lane really – and many locals use to travel from Media to Wallingford or on to Chester or even Philadelphia. Well, a few hundred years ago, it was no different. The ground on which the theater now stands was a trading spot for the Minquas and Lenni Lenape tribes to conduct business with the Europeans. Eventually, the Quakers arrived in the area, fostering a deeply held belief system that all people are created free and equal.

It was into this type of environment that Will Price – a student of Philadelphia architect Frank Furness – decided to buy 80 acres of land in Rose Valley in 1901 to establish his iconic arts and crafts community. The Arts and Crafts Movement had gained momentum as a reaction to the industrial revolution which had quickly changed the agrarian/craftsman system in America to one where almost everything was mass produced with little skilled craft involved. With the backing of a group of wealthy liberal Philadelphians who were interested in social reform, Price designed a new community based on the Arts and Crafts movement’s vision of “the art that is life.”

Famous artisans came to live and create in this almost medieval-like community where everything was done by hand and people worked together. Art, creativity and craftsmanship were very important. Price and his four architect siblings designed many of the area’s homes and buildings. They would also act out different plays in the natural setting of the countryside. It would be into this type of community – one with a rich artistic sensibility – that Hedgerow would come.

As it would turn out, the commercial side of Price’s experiment would not be a success. However, the social and artistic components were. From its beginning, Rose Valley attracted people who saw an opportunity to use their creative talents in their living environment. The Rose Valley Folk (which still exists today) was initially designed to deal with governmental issues but became more of a social organization. They would organize all types of social events, including elaborate productions in the Guild Hall with community members joining together to write plays, design sets, make costumes, print programs…and, of course, perform.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Jasper Deeter was a top director and actor at the Provincetown Players, a seminal theater in New York.  He was getting tired of all the “non-theater” work he had to do as part of the New York business of theater and came to visit his sister who was in a show with the Rose Valley Players. The community’s rich artistic heritage of must have grabbed a hold of him because in 1922, this is where Deeter decided to build his theater. Much like when Will Price attracted artisans from all of the country, theater artists were soon traveling from all over the country for the chance to be a part of Deeter’s theater.  The theatre quickly grew into being America’s seminal repertory theater. It became the only American theater in which George Bernard Shaw would allow his plays to be staged. A public transit system was established to bring theater-goers from New York to Philadelphia to the trolley to Media. To put it bluntly, Hedgerow was a big deal.

In 1985, an arson fire devastated the Hedgerow building and the community. All that was left of the theatre was a shell and for the first time in 63 years, the fairytale dell in Rose Valley was dark – but not for long. In 1990, the Rose Valley community asked Penelope Reed – a student of Deeter’s and whose mother had once been the theatre manager – to come save Hedgerow.

Reed’s vision for Hedgerow included making it – once again – a strong, repertory theatre. A repertory theatre is a theatre that has a specific building and a group of actors who stay in residence and build a repertoire of material. The theatre performs the shows the actors love and repeat the shows the audience loves.

“It’s very known in Europe,” Reed says. “It’s kind of like a jazz group that plays together. The idea is the more you play together you’re going to sound better, so its very collaborative in nature. So instead of a star turn, everyone is important.”

It would be this repertory tradition that would enable Hedgerow to come back to life. With tremendous community support – from everything to clearing the debris of that 1985 fire to voluntarily staffing the theatre to lending financial support, Rose Valley drew on its heritage once again and made sure that the transformed mill was a place “for the art that is life.”

“Hedgerow is called the heart of the community,” Reed continues. “When I first came, people said Hedgerow is in the community but not of the community. So I worked very hard to make it of the community.”

Today, the mission of the theatre is not just to entertain their audiences, but to grow their minds. There are two major aspects of Hedgerow: education and production. In addition to the theater building, Hedgerow has a school house up the hill with 2.3 acres. There are six residences, two rehearsal halls, a set shop, a costume shop, and – hopefully soon – a big, black-box theatre. There are year-round classes for adults and children and lots of summer camps. None of this is new to Hedgerow…the classes started in the 1930s in order to fill Deeter’s need for trained actors. In the 40s, it became a well-known school and resource for returning GIs.

During the year, the theatre produces a diverse repertoire. There are classics, such as Don Quixote (on stage May 7 – June 7), mysteries like “A Murder Has Been Arranged” (February 19 – March 29), and master performances such as “Post Haste” and “Underneath the Lintel” (April 9-26.) There are also comedies, cabarets, childrens’ performances and a local tradition – “A Christmas Carol” for several weeks in December. The popular children’s performance series called “It’s Storytime!” celebrates traditional tales with a twist on Saturday mornings at 11am. This spring, “Snow White” takes over the stage from February 28 through March 21. Then, from May 16 through June 16, Dorothy and friends will journey to “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I took my daughter to Hedgerow to see “Charlotte’s Web and we absolutely loved it,” says Kathy Krueger of Springfield, PA. “I almost went back to see it again. The theatre has the greatest old world charm, and the cast gave out lemonade and animal crackers after the show. It was just lovely!”

Hedgerow also takes the show on the road and conducts numerous outreach programs throughout the region. They have an “Arts to the Schools, Schools to the Arts” program and a “Arts to the Seniors” program which includes a very popular collection of songs from the decades gone by. Every year, Hedgerow has a collaboration with the Brandywine River Museum and performs shows there. This is all done – in addition to the full calendar of shows put on at the theatre – with about 15 staffers, 6-8 residents, a phenomenal board of directors, a dedicated guild (groupies, basically) and 150 volunteers.

“We’re trying to grow what we do best which is a residency company working together,” Reed explains. “The people we have here love doing more than just one area of theatre. They love sharing it with others. There’s a kind of generativity around here.

“We have great people,” she continues. “Not “star turn” people who are all about self but people who are all about others. Because of that, more work happens. We try to keep healthy egos that are collaborative.”

Reed goes on to explain that a core belief at Hedgerow is establishing a connection between the actor and the audience. It’s not just about actors performing for people, but really being a part of their lives. Actors are in the parking lot before the performance assisting with parking and they greet audience members after the shows in the lobby.

“I love visiting Hedgerow Theater because I have never seen a show that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy,” says Marni Dougherty of Bensalem, PA. “I also love the old stone building it is housed in – it creates such a pleasing atmosphere with the actors and actresses greeting you after the show as you are leaving. There are even soft drinks and cookies during intermission. It is such a humble environment with so much good will toward its visitors.”

Just as the actors at Hedgerow are called on to do many jobs, so too does the building itself. When not being used for performances, the rustic beauty of the old grist mill makes for a terrific corporate event location or banquet space.

In the summer of 2014, the theatre unveiled a long-awaited, glass-enclosed welcome center that allows all theatre-goers to enter the theatre in greater comfort and elegance. Called Wyncote Way, guests now have a straight, level, paved path from the parking lot to the entrance. The atrium opens into a gorgeous new lobby that allows for a flexible meeting space and easier handicap access while keeping the natural setting as a star attraction.

“We now have a truly functioning, kind of unusual theatre and we’re choosing to keep it that way…people are very fond of it,” Reed says. “We are a real community resource. It’s a professional playhouse which isn’t too big. We love the intimacy. You can come see a play, you can have a party, you can have business meetings, you can combine a party and a play, you can rent out a play. Because it’s so intimate and in nature, it really can get you away and be a retreat.”

After almost a century of drama – including a creative opening, a talented cast of characters, unforeseen plot twists and challenges…the Hedgerow Theatre is poised to raise the curtain on an ambitious second act. With a beautiful set and a strong supporting cast, Hedgerow promises to bring the community together through its artistic endeavors for a very long time – and thus living out the legacy that Will Price envisioned for the community of Rose Valley, bringing “the art that is life” to everyone in the community.



Some information for this article gathered from RoseValleyBorough.org, RoseValleyMuseum.org, HedgerowTheatre.org

If You Go

The 132-seat Hedgerow Theatre is located in an historic old mill at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. For tickets or more information, call 610-565-4211 or visit HedgerowTheatre.org.

For a “Did You Know? Box

1)  At the 2001 National Theatre Communications Group conference held in Philadelphia, Hedgerow was lauded as the Mother of all Philadelphia theatres.

2)  Wharton Esherick – who has been called the “dean of American craftsmen” – designed a staircase, a banquet table and chairs (which he made in exchange for his daughter’s acting lessons) inside the Hedgerow Theatre.

3)  The book “A Sustainable Theatre: Jasper Deeter at Hedgerow” by Barry Witham won the 2013 John W. Frick Award for best book on American theatre and drama.

Famous Hedgerow alumni include:
Ann Harding – a founder of Hedgerow and an Oscar nominee for Best Actress in the 1930 screen adaptation of Philip Barry’s play “Holiday.”

Richard Basehart – studied at Hedgerow from 1938-1942, performed on Broadway and in Hollywood including the television series “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” He was also the narrator of the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Van Heflin – enrolled in Hedgerow in 1931 and made his film debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in the 1936 film “A Woman Rebels.” He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Johnny Eager (1942).

Keanu Reeves – studied acting at Hedgerow in the summer of 1972 and has starred in many popular films, including The Matrix trilogy, Speed and Point Break.





Blog: Eyes of the Viewer

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by Ashley Labonde
Wide Eyed Studios
www.wideeyedstudio.com

My grandmother was a big believer in the arts. Thanks to her, my childhood was peppered with trips to the local theater, the orchestra, and yearly journeys to Broadway as I entered high school. As a long time ticket holder, she always had great seats, and I would sit at the edge of said seat wide eyed, watching masterpieces like Into the Woods, Ragtime, Miss Saigon, and Les Mis long before I could drive. 

 There was, however, one problem: I always wanted to be closer. I once said I wanted to be so close that I could see the sweat on an actors face as he performed. That, I thought, was real intimacy. In live theater you are a participant in the story, not just an audience member. And boy, did I want to participate!

These days, I still go to the theater regularly, but I no longer sit in a seat. Instead, I get to play the role of photographer. After acquiring degrees in Visual Anthropology, Gender Studies and Photojournalism, I opened my own business: Wide Eyed Studios. My camera has allowed me to adventure far and wide, creating stories and memories for my clients in a variety of settings, and although I love shooting weddings, births, babies and non-profits, among other things, there is a special allure to capturing live theater.

It’s always a joy shooting at the Hedgerow, thanks to a beautiful old space and a great cast of staff and actors. I am occasionally called to create a posed portrait for a poster, but more often than not they bring me in to photograph a run with no audience to document the show for posterity and promotion. 

I’m a little odd in how I shoot these shows; rather than standing where the audience sits, I’m usually creeping in the wings, sneaking around the back or just plain on the stage right up next to the actors. It’s always interesting when one of the actors is unfamiliar with my process as it can be distracting to act and sing when my big lens is right in your face! However, my purpose is not to be annoying. 

 As a photographer, I have the opportunity to provide unique vantage points for my viewers rather than simply recording the show as one might see it from the audience. We all watch movies–our eyes long to zoom in, to see the tear not just hear a hunched over body crying.

 I’m still that little girl who wants to be so close to the action that I can feel it, and I bring that vision to my photography. I run around, I lay on the ground, I have almost been hit with a flying suitcase, all to create a set of images that surprise and delight and give you a sense that you are inside the show. I use interesting angles, I layer my subjects, I accentuate the beautiful lighting and set design and costuming, but most importantly, I try to make images that make people feel something.

Photographing a show is truly a group effort. I can’t make someone feel something if the actor isn’t doing their job well. The cast provides the words, the music, the emotion, and I use my imagery to try and convey that emotion and a larger meaning in a visual story form. Together, we can create theater images that are more than just a smiling face: we can open the eyes of the viewer to a whole new world.


Blog: The Friendship of These Women

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Philadelphia Director Leads Hedgerow’s On the Verge
By Sue Tiedeck

Anyone looking for a cure for the winter or post-holiday blues should head to Hedgerow Theatre to see On the Verge, the comedy its director Kittson O’Neill calls a “tonic for the soul,” which runs through February 8.

Eric Overmyer’s witty, inventive and imaginative play follows three Victorian-era explorers who travel the globe hoping to find new lands. That they do, indeed, as they manage to somehow travel forward in time from 1888 into the future, encountering unusual characters and unknown, mysterious objects. In addition, the trio of ladies discover new possibilities within themselves.

O’Neill, currently the Artistic Associate for Interact Theatre Company in Philadelphia, has acted in many local venues and appeared in commercials and independent films. She’s delighted to be making her Hedgerow directorial debut with On the Verge. “It’s such a joyful play that embraces the theatrical in its writing and conception,” she explained. “It says very boldly that it’s a story happening in a very magic space, and there’s no more magical place than a theater. It invites us to dig down into who we are as humans and grab the optimum part of ourselves. It teaches us that going unafraid into the future is always better than letting fear guide you.”

The core of the play, O’Neill continued, “is the friendship of these three women. Overmyer has written them as complete, complex people, and it’s a treat to see women portrayed so well.” The challenge in producing the show, she added “is that the situations he places them in are difficult to make real on stage. They’re sent to ice fields and swamps, and we can’t really flood the stage with mud, so it’s up to the actors to pull it off. We watch them use their bodies and reactions to transport us to different places, aided by the amazing work of the designers who created our set, lights and sound to help evoke the spaces.”

O’Neill has enjoyed working with the talented four-member cast, all experienced performers well-known to Hedgerow audiences. The travelers are portrayed by Executive Director Penelope Reed, who’s been active on stage and behind-the-scenes since 1990; Jennifer Summerfield, recently seen in Hamlet, Sense and Sensibility and Macbeth; and Maryruth Stine, who appeared in Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and The Crucifer of Blood. Eight other roles are all played by Brock Vickers, a Hedgerow Fellow seen this year in Sense and Sensibility, Communicating Doors, Hamlet and A Christmas Carol.

If Overmyer’s funny and clever wordplay-filled adventure and good performances aren’t enough enticement, O’Neill encourages people to see On the Verge based on her reaction to it. “When we first began rehearsals, I had had a tough year, and events in the world made it seem like an angrier and more hostile place with a future that doesn’t seem so bright. Then I was surrounded by this wonderful play that changed my outlook and gives me hope. It’s so positive about change and progress and conveys the message that the best is yet to come.”


Blog: The Concepts of Time

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Blog by 
Sound Designer
PATRICK LAMBORN 

The concepts of time and sound are linked like pairs of chromosomes. Notes change over the course of seconds, and genres over the course of generations.  For this reason, On the Verge, a play structured around time travel, was both extremely difficult, and extremely rewarding. 


It provided a platform for me to explore how to gradually collapse parallel timelines into a single sonic collage, and then how to re-emerge from that collage into a later time period. 


The specific musical trajectory for Act I starts from a place of heavy counterpoint (inspired by Bach), and slowly moves into music where voices move more independently of one another (inspired by Dvorak). The three instruments that play this music are Mandolin, Cello, and Bansuri (though the script indicates ocarina, the Bansuri is a bamboo flute made in South Asia that helps the sound lean into the play’s theme of world travel). 


The second act opens in a confused jumble of old radio commercials, political speeches from male politicians (let’s not forget this play is largely about feminism), and music from a time unknown to us.



The chapter book structure of the first act helps dictate where music goes, but things get a little more difficult when it comes to atmospheric sounds in this play. Since our sister sojourners are are traveling from jungle to swamp to arctic tundra, sound plays more of a dominant role than it normally would in informing the audience of our location.


We are then dropped into 1955 where our heroes live out the rest of their days listening to big bands and lounge crooners. 


Or do they? …


Happy New Year from Penelope Reed

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Dear Friends,

What a Wonderful Year!!! Topping the list of wonderful moments were the establishment of our 2-year resident fellows program (setting the stage for longer resident stays) as well as the new Wyncote Way Atrium entrance, accessible to all!  Three cheers for the Wyncote Foundation!

Theatre Highlights of the 2014- 2015 season include: two farces Irma Vep and 39 Steps, and two classics Sense and Sensibility and Hamlet, with Artistic Director Jared Reed in the title role.  Finally, rounding out the year, our A Christmas Carol (with its 62-member cast–all ages) warmed more hearts than ever!

Hedgerow Board and Guild​ Members have been remarkable in stimulating interest and generosity throughout the community​.​ Once again, ​The Suzanne F. Roberts​ ​Cultural Development Fund​ supported top notch visiting artists.

Reaching beyond the theatre, ​we​ ​were chosen as ​a Rose Valley cultural treasure​, ​participated in Media’s Bastille Day and Holiday Caroling​, continued important service in Chester​ by bringing ​creativity to schools, senior centers, and civic organizations; a play for Delaware County’s 225th ​anniversary​, hosted charity ​​benefits such as Rotary Club’s mission to end Polio​ ​and ​we touched thousands of audience member, and reached thousands of audience members.

With the blossoming of our education offerings​, company members ​focused on ​improvements to the Hedgerow ​Farmhouse ​in order to​ serve the increasing number of students.   With the assistance of The Ethel Sargent Clark Smith Memorial Fund and The Swarthmore Rotary Club, ​we ​built a new wrap-around porch. 

Blessed with a fabulous board, a strong company, extraordinary visiting artists and incredible volunteers, we are poised to raise the bar on all our shows, classes and events, from the season open​er, On The Verge, ​to the BIRTHDAY GALA on April 18th and on and on.

Wishing you and your loved ones a most happy, fun and safe New Year, we hope to see you soon.  Thank you so much for being part of the Hedgerow Family.

 
Warmly,

Penelope Reed
Executive Director-Hedgerow Theatre
President- Rotary Club of Media