Actors David Bardeen and Brian McCann, both former Acting Apprentices at Hedgerow Theatre, return to play together for the first time in twenty years as political rivals in Lantern Theatre Companies Coriolanus, which closes April 16.
“Everyone does a little of everything at Hedgerow,” says former Hedgerow Acting Resident David Bardeen. The tradition has continued two decades later as America’s oldest operating repertory theatre fills the stage with three acting apprentices in The Prisoner of Zenda.
Yet as one production begins, another one ends. Lantern Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed Coriolanus pulls into the bus stop, and with it are two former fellows who began their careers over two decades ago.
Actors Bardeen and Brian McCann met each other at the Hedgerow Farmhouse in Rose Valley, PA as Resident Acting Apprentices. This week, these two Philadelphia actors are closing their first show together, Coriolanus at Lantern Theatre Company, since their time at Hedgerow.
In Corioalnus, a war hero from a powerful family, Coriolanus seems destined to be elected consul under the guidance of his mentor Menenius, played by McCann – but the people find his pride an unforgivable insult, and behind the newly elected Sicinius, played by Bardeen, tensions explode fracturing state’s governing elite and deprived masses.
Bardeen and McCann often go out for the same roles, so it has taken more than twenty years in Philadelphia to work together again. Between 1993 and 1995, however, Bardeen and McCann worked alongside each other and people such as current Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed, Rosemary Fox, Annemette Anderson, Heather Cunningham, Paul and Gay Kuhn, Susan Wefel, Cory Solar, Charles Lear, Sean and Kristin Walker, Jason Flannery, Kim Senior, and Elise Miller.
Though the years are a blur at this point for the duo, the two share distinctive memories of learning on the job, be it painting the house to shaving their head to play “Satan.” From Agatha Christie to Moliere to Shakespeare to Aristophanes and everything in between the two actors performed in a gamut of material, which has benefited them greatly in their respective careers.
“We were all actors but had to study some other discipline in theatre. I chose Scenic Design and painting,” said McCann. “They brought in specialists in their field to train us and it is a skill I am still using to this day. Hedgerow is where I really cut my teeth on the classics. I did my first Moliere there, we did Greek tragedy and comedy. Jared Reed was the first person I had informed discussions with about The Bard and that has remained and interest throughout my career.”
Each day began at 9 a.m. to discuss upkeep of the house and theatre, and every Friday night the company would have dinner together. A group of fresh faces and recent grads, as well as mid-career performers and professionals, the Hedgerow Company focused on developing the talents of actors and theatre artists and running one of the oldest theatres in America.
“It was a great learning experience right out of college,” said Bardeen, “I’ve never cleaned so many toilets. I was the box office manager, started one of the first subscription drives, company manager for a time, and acted on stage constantly.”
Under the direction of Penelope Reed, the company worked to produce material year round. Much like today, every company member had duties in the house, kitchen, theatre, and in rehearsal and performance. Each fellow was there to learn and learn they did.
“Penelope was an amazing teacher, director, and mentor during my time at Hedgerow and taught me a lot about generosity of spirit, making big bold choices, and character development and details, “ said Bardeen. “I’m grateful to her for her constant support and love. I’m not sure I would still be an actor if not for her. I probably would have gone to law school or something. Hedgerow gave me the confidence to pursue acting as a career.”
Now, the two have returned to the Bard, and the old friends have returned to old hat to add depth to the show.
“We are like ships in the night. I have had such Joy working with David again; we are much older but it feels as if we haven’t missed more than a month. We have fallen right back into our old familiar patter,” said McCann.
McCann and Bardeen’s relationship was a intricate part to their work on stage. Menenius is a slick talking politician who represents the noble families of Rome in the Senate and Sicinius is a newly elected representative of the people. With the history of Hedgerow under their belt, the two picked up where they left off and brought their past friendship to the forefront of their performances.
“When you have a history with someone, it can make the work better. You have a respect and trust level that can allow deeper and (more importantly) quicker connections. When you’re trying to mount Coriolanus in three weeks while performing other shows at night, and you’re exhausted, it can be invaluable. I’m not going to speak for him, but I hope it’s the first of many,” said Bardeen.
Bardeen and McCann are not the only familiar faces to Hedgerow making an appearance in Coriolanus, as Leonard Haas as the politician Brutus, Kirk Wendell Brown as Cominius, Mary Lee Bendarek as Virgilia, and Brock D. Vickers as part of the Ensemble fill out the Lantern cast.
“It was an extraordinary time to be at Coriolanus on opening night and see so many strong Hedgerow actors playing together. Nothing like playing in ensemble to radiate the impact of connecting deeply. Opening night at Lantern was thrilling to see such an array of talent and generations of Hedgerow players soaring together,” said Director Emeritus Penelope Reed.
Coriolanus closes this Sunday April 16 at 2 p.m., but Hedgerow’s Zenda is in full swing running until April 30. Check out this generation of Actin Apprentices now referred to as Fellows, Mark Swift, Allison Bloechl, and Josh Portera, as they fill out the stage and become the creators of tomorrow.