Penelope Reed to be Awarded Barrymore October 30

In Philadelphia, no one has started more careers than Penelope Reed. Now more than 25 years after starting her career with Hedgerow, she will be honored by Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for a Lifetime of Achievement for her service to Hedgerow Theatre Company, “The Mother of All Philadelphia theatre companies,” as well as the Philly theatre community at large.

Penelope Reed as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit with Stacy Skinner.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is a Barrymore award designed to honor “individuals who have made substantial contributions to the life of the Philadelphia theatre community over a significant length of time.  Nominees can be from any area of the theatre field or philanthropy.”

Named in honor of the famed Philadelphia-based first family of theatre, the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre have served as Philadelphia’s professional theatre awards program since 1994. The Barrymore Awards are a nationally recognized symbol of excellence for professional theatre in our region, raising the bar for the work produced by local theatres and individual artists while increasing public awareness of the richness and diversity of our city’s thriving theatre community. Each fall, theatergoers, and artists come together to celebrate the theatre season and honor that year’s Barrymore nominees and award recipients at the annual Barrymore Awards Ceremony.

“We look for candidates whose work has been a vital part of the Philadelphia theatre community, whose work has made the community richer in some way and who has influenced generations of artists, audiences, and companies,” said Jennifer Childs, Chair of the Lifetime Achievement Award Committee.

Each year nominations are solicited from the community.  Nominees do not nominate themselves and, very often, do not even know they are being nominated.  There is a panel of artists from the community who then review the nominations and decide on an honoree.

Ms. Reed as Madame Arcati

“We chose Penelope for several reasons…in looking at that list of past winners, so many of them got their start and/or worked at Hedgerow.  It has been one of the cornerstones of this community before there even was a theatre community.  Penelope’s leadership was integral to carrying forward the legacy and vision of her mother.  This felt like the right year to honor her as she recently transferred that leadership role to her son Jared.   That theatre and all it stands for is a wonderful legacy,” said Childs.

Previous winners include Albert Benzwie, Kitty Minehardt, Doug Wing, Frank CP McGlinn, John Allen, Adele Magner, Kaki Marshall, Marcia Salvatore, Tom McCarthy, Louis Lippa, James J. Christy, Robert Hedley, Carole Haas Gravagno, Dolly Beechman Schnall, Dugald MacArthur, Ted and Stevie Woolf, Harry Dietzler, Jiri Zizka, Ceal Phelan, Carla Belver, Johnnie Hobbs Jr., and Sara Garonzik.

“The one hand that selflessly influenced so many theatre artists in the Delaware Valley during this epoch… You’d be blessed to know her. A humble legend.  Penelope Reed, all the love!”

–  Kirk Wendell Brown, Actor and Friend

Ms. Reed’s illustrious career and Hedgerow connections extend back into her youth.  A fourth generation professional theatre actor on her father’s side, Reed worked in her teens playing many roles locally with the Wilmington Drama League, the Brandywiners, and at the Robin Hood Equity Summer Stock Theatre.  After winning a full summer acting scholarship to Colorado’s Perry-Mansfield School of Theatre and Dance, she began her senior year in High School, and her family moved to Rose Valley.  Her mother, Janet Kelsey, would become a cherished member of the Hedgerow company as leading actress, director, teacher, business manager, managing director and long-term board member at Hedgerow.

In November, a month after her father, Jared Reed,  died, Ms. Reed and her mother Janet Kelsey began studying Advanced Acting with founder Jasper Deeter.  Miss Reed has had the great fortune over the years to study with significant Hedgerow instructors, including Richard Brewer, Delores Tanner, Ralph Roseman and Rose Schulman.  

Little did Ms. Reed know that many years later, she would return to the “intrepid HedgerowTheatre” as its Producing Artistic Director, reviving the theatre to national prominence and, like Jasper himself, creating new theatre artists along the way.

“When Penn first arrived at Hedgerow as the leader in 1990, I was saying whenever tech week and hard work for the season of mainstage plays rolled around, “Hell week at Hedgerow High” in a frustrated manner! Penn would say positively, “Week of opportunity!” I knew I was in for a great ride!”

Susan Wefel, fellow actor, board member, and company member

At 18 with her union card in hand, she headed off to four years at Carnegie Institute of 

Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). In Fall 1963, during her freshman Thanksgiving break from college, Ms. Reed came home to Rose Valley for the holiday, expecting rest and relaxation; however, after the actress playing Cora in Iceman Cometh had been an accident and couldn’t play. The company sought Penelope to learn the part in an afternoon.

With director Louis Lippa in the wings coaching her between scenes, Ms. Reed performed the part without a book.  Hedgerow flew her in the next and final weekend to finish the run.  Carnegie training introduced a technique to complement the extraordinary Hedgerow approach to truthful acting.  After four challenging and glorious years Reed graduated with a BFA honors and received the RCA/NBC most valuable senior award.

Immediately after college, she took leading roles Cleveland’s Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, followed by a 12-year tenure as leading actress, director, teacher and playwright at The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.

While there she played such roles as Blanche Dubois in Streetcar Named Desire, the title role

Ms. Reed as Madame Aracti

 of Mary Stuart, Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days, Helena in A Midummser NIght’s Dream and many other roles. During the time she taught acting and speech at the University of Wisconsin,  founded both the Pac Players and the Summit Festival Theatre, and served as Alverno College Drama Department Chair and Director of the Robert G. Pitman Theatre.

She immersed herself in civic endeavors, reaching out to inner-city youths, guiding teachers on the infusion of theatre to enhance existing curricula. While in Milwaukee she branched out to play Laura in The Glass Menagerie with Maureen Stapleton in Chicago’s Drury Lane Theatre, which brought the Williams classic to Philadelphia’s Playhouse in the Park.  While in Milwaukee Reed received her MA in Speech and Directing from Marquette University.

She has directed over 100 plays and taught at Carnegie-Mellon, Grinnell, the University of Wisconsin, Marquette University, and the Princeton Theological Seminary.  Ms. Reed has served on the Wisconsin and New Jersey State Councils on the Arts, where she has been instrumental in the development of pilot programs in theatre education.

As a leading member of the McCarter Theatre for six years, she played such parts as Hannah Jelkes in Night of the Iguana, Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, Winnie in Happy Days  she started the Shakespeare Summer of teens, joined the Princeton Theological Seminary speech faculty, and served as master Acting instructor at the theatre.  

She also started New Jersey Dept. Ed. pilot projects for teachers teaching theatre arts in basic curricular theatre arts. In 1985 she began as Director of the Allan P. Kirby Theatre and Drama Chair at The Lawrenceville School, where after 12 years Vanity Fair chose Hedgerow as the top prep school for theatre in the country.  She had also served as Chair of Drama and director of the Robert G. Pitman Theatre at Alverno College.

“To work with Penny, one is constantly astonished at her unflagging energy, relentlessly fertile mental searching, and most of all, her untainted positivity. For Penelope Reed, whatever it is is always possible, and always excites her in the effort. Congratulations”

– Tom Teti, friend, and collaborator  

After the devastating fire of 1985, Ms. Reed participated in the company’s and community’s efforts to restore the theatre, including presenting her performance of Women of Heart that opened the shell of the theater in December 1990, serving as board-appointed Artistic Consultant in 1991 and in 1992 Producing Artistic Director 1992.

Ms. Reed as Madame Aracti

With her mother, long-time Hedgerow icon, Janet Kelsey, returning as business manager, husband as general manager, and the industrious, creative company, Ms. Reed took the helm of Hedgerow, bringing her years of experience to Hedgerow to build a company with intent to return the theatre back to its National standing as a theatre of excellence and an incubator of talent, works of art and spawning theaters.

Crucial to the task was bringing forward the next generations of a long line of actors and educators at Hedgerow, as, from its roots, the theatre has focused on the training and creating of future actors.  

The Collaborative Company has been able to assemble an amazing series of passionate company members, board members, community leaders, audience members and patrons, who brought about the rebuilding of the theatre, the  reigniting of the educational programs and the strengthening of the company mindset of Hedgerow by reinvigorating the emerging artist fellowship program, the institution of professional theatre artists to work with emerging artists and major Philadelphia veterans working under both Equity Guest Artist and and SPT contracts.

Hedgerow in the city featured a three-play repertory including the World Premiere of Richard Wilbur’s Don Juan in Hell; Love Letters with Suzanne Roberts; and The Bell of Amherst.  Later, The Lives of Bosie, winner of the Barrymore Award for Outstanding new play, moved from Hedgerow to Philadelphia.

Ms. Reed pictured with her son Jared Reed as well as fellow actors Michael Fuchs (left) and Stacy Skinner (right)

Ms. Reed has also twice made the foray to Bristol Riverside Theatre to play Gertrude in director Douglas Campbell’s Hamlet and Leading Lady in Moon Over Buffalo.  Reciprocating, Bristol’s Keith Baker directed his wife and Barrymore nominee Jo Twiss in Dancing at Lughnasa, and Susan Atkinson directed Demetria Bailey as Ethel Waters in His Eye is on the Sparrow.  

International playwright and director, Nagle Jackson, annually brought a new play to the Hedgerow stage. For an anniversary writing  Kafka in the Hedgerows, featuring Jared Reed, Penelope Reed, Zoran Kovcic, Susan Wefel and fellows in a world premiere celebrating Hedgerow’s beginnings.

In short, Hedgerow changed from a burned-down shell of a building with a great history, back into a professional theatre with an identity both for theatre production and education.  Penelope believes the collaborative efforts created a platform that has led to Hedgerow’s current dynamic thrust under the Artistic Leadership of Jared Reed. In its 95th year Hedgerow is alive building its tradition of “Making a Scene since 1923”.

“I love directing Pen. She is one of those wonderful actors who drives you crazy in all the right ways – constantly questioning choices and moments and words, always digging deeper and pushing farther. When an actor is talented, it’s easy for them to coast on their gifts and experience. Penn is a shining example of the rigor and drive to excellence we all want to have and preserve in ourselves as artists. Plus she’s a lovely human and she laughs at all my jokes. I’m delighted the community is recognizing her years of service to young artists and her lifelong devotion to the craft of acting!”

Kittson O’Neill, director of On the Verge and Uncle Vanya

Today, Ms. Reed is a Director Emeritus at Hedgerow Theatre, serving as both an actor and an artistic consultant. The company is now led by her son, Jared Reed, who is following his mother’s example and strengthening the core company of the theatre.

Ms. Reed featured with her grandchildren Sebastian and Quentin Reed, her son and Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed, and her mother Janet Kelsey

Ms. Reed is appearing as Madame Arcati alongside her son until October 29 in the fall thriller, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

For more information email,  call 610-565-4211 or visit Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media). Adult ticket prices are $35, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as for students, are $20. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change. Shows are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.