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Picking a Season of Shows from 1923 to 2016

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Jared Reed and Brock Vickers in The Servant of Two Masters

“Good art comes from clarity of vision” is not just a firmly held belief of recently named Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed, but also the principle he plans to follow as he guides the Hedgerow Theatre Company into its 94th season.

As he takes the helm of the company from his mother, Penelope Reed, Jared continues her efforts in raising the standard of excellence at Hedgerow, but also seeks to make it a voice in modern American theatre.

Previously, Jared served as Artistic Director and Penelope functioned as Executive Director. Jared has now assumed the duties that fell under both of those titles. Penelope continues with a new title of Emeritus Directors, working in three of her favorite areas: outreach, community relationships and teaching.

As a member of the fifth generation of a professional acting family, there was little doubt Jared had inherited the theatre gene. He first became involved at Hedgerow as a teen in 1990, the year his mother was asked to bring her vast experience to the efforts of rebuilding after a disastrous fire. Jared went on to graduate from the prestigious Juilliard School with a degree in acting. He then worked in New York and at multiple theatres around the country before settling in the Philadelphia area to raise a family.

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Mark Swift, Meredith Beck, and Trice Baldwin in Boeing Boeing

Jared considers the craft of theatre a “noble purpose.” It is the art form’s ability to unite the arts, “the synthesis,” that drives his passion for the medium. “The purpose of theatre today is the same purpose as it’s always been,” he explained, “to entertain, to educate, to grow our human experience, and to give hope.” It also provides “freshness, a universal truth seen in a new light,” he continued. “It comes from intellectual and emotional honesty, a deep and open personal truth.”

Founded in 1923 by actor/director Jasper Deeter, Hedgerow quickly became a home for artists of all disciplines, including such famous names as Eugene O’Neill, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, Theodore Dreiser, and Wharton Esherick.

“When Hedgerow started, it was the only theatre around, really (the Walnut was more of a booking house at the time),” Jared observed, “so Jasper wanted to start a theatre for actors, a place where they could do their art outside the pressure of New York, and explore the kind of theatre they were interested in.”

Deeter fell in love with the intimacy of the 1840s grist mill-turned borough hall, the aesthetic appreciation of the Rose Valley community, and the opportunity to create a theatre with an artistic rather than commercial center. He foreshadowed the regional not-for-profit theatre movement, established a racially integrated company of resident, local, and visiting artists, and maintained an identity for Hedgerow as a seminal theatre for theatre artists throughout the country.

“Today, we exist as one of many Philadelphia theatre companies, and so we must make our way in this new landscape,” Jared commented. “We are still a training ground and a resident ensemble, and we are still exploring the shows that interest us, as well as the types of stories our audiences want to see.”

From its earliest days until now, Hedgerow has always been about uniting the actor and the audience. Deeter’s vision was one about simplifying the process and bringing the stories that needed to be told to the people who needed to hear them.

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Allison Bloechl and Kittson O’Neill in Or,

“Hedgerow’s strongest asset is its ability to connect with our audience,” Jared noted. “We are small enough that we can know our audience quite well, and they can feel they know us. It’s a personal experience when you come to Hedgerow. You know the actors on stage, you’ve seen them working in the lobby, or you’ve seen them in previous shows and met them. We pride ourselves on making each time an audience member comes to our theatre a unique experience they cannot get anywhere else,”

With adaptations such as The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Prisoner of Zenda, audience favorites like the Summer Farce Boeing Boeing, the Autumn Thriller Gaslight, and the A Christmas Carol, and the Russian drama Uncle Vanya, the 2016-17 season features a mix of new works and classic stories.

“When I pick a season for Hedgerow, I consider how the plays fit together,” Jared clarified. “For us, as a theatre that produces many different styles of plays year round, we look to marry this broad range of play styles with the artistic ensemble’s abilities.”

In the last year, he introduced a regional premiere with Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, and produced three new adaptations: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Servant of Two Masters, and A Christmas Carol. With each story, Jared has combined a classic story Hedgerow audiences love, such as Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, with a fresh new take from an adapter and director.

“I love new works, new art, new minds creating new plays to work with,” Jared reflected. “I have a belief that theatre is always at a crossroads and has to ‘reinvent’ itself for the current generation. What we hope to do is take our company of artists and give them material that fits their talents and is interesting to this particular audience.”

Hedgerow’s goals have not changed much from the time of Deeter. The Theatre Company seeks to create compelling works that inspire its audiences, as well as give Philadelphia theatre artists a home to create and collaborate. Though the tide of the time is changing, the mission remains the same: craft.

Hedgerow still places its Fellowship program as one of its best assets,” Jared said in closing. “We’ve had so many artists come through here over the years, artists who went on to be vital members of the Philadelphia theatre community, and artists in America. The Fellowship’s purpose is to educate and guide young arts professionals as they transition into mature professionals. It’s great to watch an artist grow from their first show here to their last, and you can see them get their legs under them with each performance,”