By Brock Vickers
No one has started more careers in theatre than Penelope Reed, director emeritus of Hedgerow Theatre. After 25 years of leadership of Hedgerow, Reed will be honored on October 30 with Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for A Lifetime of Achievement for her service to Hedgerow, “the mother of all Philadelphia theatre companies,” as well as the Philly theatre community at large.
Her roots with Hedgerow extend back into her youth. Along with her mother Janet Kelsey, Ms. Reed studied under Jasper Deeter, the founder of Hedgerow Theatre, beginning in 1962 at the age of 17. Little did she know that many years later she would return to the “intrepid Hedgerow Theatre” as its producing artistic director, restoring the theatre to national prominence and, like Deeter himself, creating new theatre artists along the way.
A leading actress for 12 years at the Milwaukee Repertory Company, Reed was also a director and a playwright. As a leading member of the McCarter Theatre for nine years, her duties included that of Master Acting teacher and director. She has directed more than 100 productions at a variety of theatres across the United States.
In 1992, Ms. Reed took the helm of Hedgerow, bringing her years of experience to return Hedgerow to its standing as a professional theatre, with an identity both for theatre production and education.
She represented the next generation 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. Continuing the mission of Jasper Deeter and Rose Schulman, Ms. Reed reignited the educational programs and strengthened the company mindset of Hedgerow by reinvigorating the apprenticeship program.
Ms. Reed transformed Hedgerow, facing challenges along the way. The company of resident theatre artists has grown even as the members that comprise it come and go. Children’s theatre and theatre school have grown in significance, even as the main stage fare has diversified. With the support of foundations, grants, and Hedgerow’s board, Reed has overseen the creation of a handsome modern theatre inside a historic grist mill building from the 1840s.
The Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre are a nationally recognized symbol of excellence for professional theatre in the Greater Philadelphia region, honoring local artists and theatre companies while increasing public awareness of the richness and diversity of our city’s thriving theatre community.
Each fall, theatregoers 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, this year on October 30 at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia. As a Barrymore Lifetime Achievement honoree, Reed will join Sara Garonzik, Johnnie Hobbs, Jr., and Carla Belver as well as her friends and collaborators Louis Lippa, Tom McCarthy, and James J. Christy. 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, raising the bar for performance and increasing public awareness of the richness and diversity of the region’s theatre community.
Today, as director emeritus at Hedgerow Theatre, Penelope Reed serves as both an actor and a consultant. She appears in the role of clairvoyant Madame Arcati in Hedgerow’s fall thriller, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, which runs from now through October 29 at the theatre, 64 W. Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley.
The Hedgerow company is now led by her son, Jared Reed, who is following his mother’s example and strengthening the core company of the theatre, even as one of his own sons begins to take on stage roles at age 7.
For more information on the theatre and its current season, call (610) 565-4211 or visit www.HedgerowTheatre.org.