scenes from a 95th birthday party (for hedgerow theatre, and also honoring penelope reed)

Into the Old Mill at Rose Valley we went to celebrate Hedgerow Theatre (America’s oldest repertory theatre) turning 95 and to also properly fête their beloved Director Emeritus, Penelope Reed for her many years of service.

We entered into a party that was alive and electric.  It was marvelous! During the cocktail hour, people mingled, nibbled on wonderful butlered hors d’oevres, and enjoyed things like the signature cocktail named “Essence of Rose.”

Penelope Reed, left, with guests

People mixed and mingled, and enjoyed a fun photo area set up with props. I loved meeting all of these new faces!  Everyone was open, friendly, and welcoming.  The colors of the gaily attired guests were such a welcoming sight after this past week’s 4th Nor’Easter.

I so enjoyed meeting the “Belle of the Ball”  Penelope Reed (also a 2017 recipient of the prestigious Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award) and the event co-chairs Jane McNeil and Richard Taxin!

Rose Valley is such a magical place, and it is truly fitting that it is the home of The Hedgerow Theatre.

Founded in 1923 by Jasper Deeter, Hedgerow was an old mill re-imagined by one of my favorite architects (and Philadelphia Quakers), William Lightfoot Price (Will Price.)

Will Price began his path to being an architect by working in the offices of Addison Hutton (Quaker architect who designed Beechwood House in Bryn Mawr on Shipley’s campus and Loch Aerie in Malvern/Frazer for example.) Price also designed things like Woodmont in Gladwyne (pretty much his largest and grandest residential commission), and he and his brother Frank worked for Frank Furness before setting up their own shop. In  1888 their first joint commission was to design homes in Wayne, PA.

Price came to Rose Valley at the turn of the 20th Century. Rose Valley (although founded with William Penn land grants)  and in the early 20th century evolved into a hub of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Philadelphia area, and was also somewhat of a Utopian community.

Gala Co-Chairs Richard Taxin and Jane McNeil having fun with the photo “booth” and props!

 

Rose Valley Borough in their history of the area writes:

In 1901, Will Price bought eighty acres in the name of the Rose Valley Association from the bankrupt estate of Antrim Osborne. With the financial backing of a group of wealthy liberal Philadelphians interested in social reform, Price set about creating the Arts and Crafts movement’s vision of “the art that is life.” The Rose Valley Association was to be an association of shops whose purpose was the manufacture of handcrafted items. The Association would rent space to these shops and work that met the standards of the Association would be stamped with the Rose Valley seal, a wild rose superimposed by a ‘V’ and circled by a buckled belt to symbolize fellowship. On the social side, true to his democratic philosophy, Price envisioned a community where “the tiniest cottages may be built side by side with a more spacious neighbor.”

….Although the commercial side of the experiment was not a success, the social and artistic sides were. From its beginning Rose Valley was attractive to people who saw an opportunity to use their creative talents in their living environment. The Rose Valley Folk, initially organized to deal with the practical problems of self-government, became more a social organization. The Folk organized all sorts of community events – picnics, swimming and canoeing parties, baseball games. At night the Guild Hall was kept in perpetual use with concerts, plays and dances. The community threw itself into these productions, writing the plays, designing sets, making costumes, printing programs and acting.

 

The Hedgerow Theatre was founded in 1923 by Jasper Deeter, the now benevolent spirit referred to many times during Friday evening’s gala event.  Built in 1840, the theatre was originally a grist mill. It was reconstructed and turned into a theatre by Will Price before Mr. Deeter came to town.

As per Hedgerow’s website:

Hedgerow is inextricably entwined with the legacy of the Rose Valley Arts and Craft Movement. A movement that defines itself by independent thinkers resisting the wave of industrialization rushing over society. Founding Artistic Director, Jasper Deeter, recognized in this movement a kindred spirit after visiting his sister and watching her perform at what was Guild Hall. He saw here was the place to create an independent theater and transformed Guild Hall into Hedgerow Theatre.

In this act, he foreshadowed the regional not-for-profit theatre movement, and pushed for a racially integrated company of artists both near and far crafting an identity for Hedgerow as a beacon for artists throughout the country.

Beginning in 1923, Hedgerow launched the first resident repertory theatre that, over its 94 years, has become a magnet for many national theatre personalities, from Richard Basehart to Edward Albee; from Ann Harding to Susan Glaspell; to—more recently—Keanu Reeves and Austin Pendleton.

Visionary actor/director Jasper founded Hedgerow in 1923 as a haven for cutting edge artists of the early 20th century, and the theatre quickly gained a national and international reputation as a proving ground for era defining artists such as Eugene O’Neill, Henrik IbsenGeorge Bernard Shaw, Theodore Dreiser, and Wharton Esherick.

In a sense, the very history of Rose Valley and The Hedgerow Theatre are inextricably linked.

Hedgerow is now in the capable hands of Julliard trained, Jared Reed. He is also Penelope’s son. As event media sponsor Main Line Today Magazine in their March, 2018 article writes:

Penelope’s step-grandmother was with Hedgerow in its early days, and her mother began taking classes with Deeter in the early 1960s. A young Penelope soon joined in, though she spent much of her career on different stages, including the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, where she was a principal actor, and New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center, as a lead actor, director and teacher. In 1991, Penelope returned to Hedgerow, where she would take up tenure as the artistic director, bringing new life to the theater. “My goal was to get the community to embrace the theater, because a lot of times they saw Hedgerow was in the community, but not of the community,” she says.

For over 20 years, Penelope worked on that goal, upping programming. Jared, meanwhile, pursued a career in New York. He’d been involved with Hedgerow, but left to attend Rutgers University and eventually Juilliard. “I did my time in New York. I did my 10 years—and I was successful—but it never was a family thing,” he says.

Jared’s early years spent at repertory theaters with his mother made him want to return. “When you’re in a company and everybody does everything, I think that’s what drew me back here,” he says.

Jared returned to Hedgerow in 2012. Over the course of the next few years, he worked with his mother before being named producing artistic director. Penelope now focuses on teaching master classes. “A lot of times, I feel I’ve been tending the place until Jared came,” she says.

 

At the event on Friday, we also heard from Hedgerow’s young artists.  Amazing children, eloquent and talented.  We had a song from the Beauty and The Beast Cast, “Belle”. What I loved about some of these theatre kids was how some of them carry themselves already.  In some cases it was uncanny to see their confidence and knowing full well when cameras were on them (even if they weren’t looking at a camera.)

I am appreciative of theater, but as a kid I never got further than helping on stage crew and being in the chorus of Oliver! in either 8th or 9th grade, so when I see these kids who are the real and talented deal, I love to watch them.

Dinner was served buffet style, and the caterers outdid themselves. Of particular note were the two salads,the cod fish, and of course the beautiful dessert buffet complete with a marvelous cake replica of the Hedgerow Theatre.

What stayed with me as we drove home is how Hedgerow is quite literally a family affair, and how devoted people are to the continued success of Hedgerow and it’s various programs. 

Charitable giving keeps organizations like this alive.  Click HERE to check out how you can support Hedgerow Theatre Company, including through “Amazon Smile” which is what I have chosen to do.

Thanks for taking the time to read about Hedgerow and Rose Valley today. Any photos featured here were taken by me, and I am giving all of the photos I took to Hedgerow for their use as long as they would like.