Practical and dynamic, Janet Kelsey truly embraced the attitude that Jasper Deeter expounded as he brought this theater to life. In her words and speaking of Deeter, “He was a terrific man, a marvelous teacher. If I ever met a genius, I’d consider him to be one. Some of the things he did were so filled with such a love of theatre. The aura of this place shows in the creativity of the everyday things.” And Janet knew the every day. Still a presence in the Hedgerow Farmhouse Studio, she has been involved with the company now for 55 years and they have been the most exciting.
After a circuitous path through college and in and out of theater, married and with kids to come, Kelsey moved to the Rose Valley area with Hedgerow Theatre just in grasp of her house. The treat too sweet, Janet had to have a taste. She joined Hedgerow Theatre as an actress and costumer, and couldn’t stop there. Through her 55 years, there are few roles she hasn’t filled at this theater and they culminated in her roles as Managing and Artistic Director. When Janet was pressed on her journey with this theater she remarks, “I did what I loved doing and lucked out,” feeling very fortunate throughout.
Janet performed in numerous roles that gained critical acclaim while here, but, more stoically, she persevered. She continued through the death of Jasper Deeter, Dolores Tanner, the segmentation through the arisal of People’s Light & Theatre, and, catastrophically, the consumption of the theater in the vicious lick of flame. Mourning the building with the words, “’I would work my fingers to the bone to get it going again. It won’t be the same; it will never be the same – but we might still be able to have a wonderful little theater down here. It wasn’t only a building; it’s all the love and caring that have gone into it for so many years.”
And so much love did Janet Kelsey put into this theater. Her belief in the place articulates why it is still here and is seen in the lineage of artistic directors she has left in her wake, Penelope and Jared Reed, who continue to cherish the theater just as much as she did. She understood the magic of Hedgerow, the importance of a core and resident company of theatrical professionals, “to create a living theater with people devoted to that particular art and have those people live together.” There is nothing more true about Hedgerow Theatre than in its status as a living theatre, bursting with the exuberance that only a committed group of people can create. It is Janet who best understood what it meant for Hedgerow to produce original works, foster a community of independent thinkers, and, above all, maintain the signature intimacy Hedgerow has with their audience.