Marcie Bramucci comes off much taller than she is—and her mysterious, knowing smile certainly must have its advantages in a business like hers. In the summer of 2021, Bramucci took over as executive artistic director at Hedgerow Theatre Company. A Villanova University theater arts graduate with a master’s degree in arts administration from Columbia, the Delaware County native appreciates the fantastic opportunity she’s been handed as Hedgerow celebrates its 100th anniversary this season. “There’s huge adaptability and a spirit of possibility in everything,” she says. “I just keep pinching myself.”
Situated along the Vernon Run tributary of Ridley Creek, Hedgerow is the oldest continuously running repertory theater in America. A product of Rose Valley’s enigmatic Arts and Crafts movement, it’s been called the mother of Philadelphia theaters. The People’s Light and New Freedom companies both grew out of its renovated 19th-century grist mill. Even during an extensive rebuild after a 1985 fire, Hedgerow adapted its shows for in-home performances and nearby stages. At one point, the company had up to 100 works ready for the stage. “Everyone knew multiple plays,” says Bramucci. “They were able to push each other in wonderful ways.”
Jasper Deeter was Hedgerow Theatre Company’s founding director for the first 50 years, from 1923 to 1973. Born in Mechanicsburg, he honed his theatrical chops in New York City before returning home—much like Bramucci did. She can’t say enough about Hedgerow’s performances at the time. “They presented bold works of theater by living artists like George Bernard Shaw that are now classics. But when Hedgerow did them, they were a risk,” Bramucci says. “It’s the living, breathing history of American theater.”
Hedgerow’s educational offerings came into their own under the direction of Penelope Reed from 1990 to 2013. Lifelong learning is now intertwined in everything they do, while the repertory mission is carried out with a rotation of children’s plays. “Part of the pulsing heart of the organization now is the goal is to have something for everyone,” says Bramucci. “The hope is that everyone will feel creatively engaged and activated as artists.”
Inclusivity has always been a part of the Hedgerow mission—and it was a big draw for Bramucci, who notes that Lynn Riggs, a Cherokee writer, first performed at the theater. “These were not only era-defining artists,” she says. “Hedgerow was a place that empowered artists by employing rigorous theatric standards.”
In that spirit, the regional premier of first-generation Nigerian American Ngozi Anyanwu’s Good Grief will run in February and March as part of the 100-year celebration. It’s the story of a woman coming into her own in Bensalem. “It’s never been produced in Philly, so it’s a homecoming for her too,” says Bramucci.
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In April, the centennial celebration will feature readings of milestone plays, luring as many returning actors as possible. Ann Harding, Richard Basehart, Austin Pendleton and Keanu Reeves are among the artists who’ve graced Hedgerow’s stage at one time or another. Wynnewood native J. Harvey, of WIOQ-FM’s Harvey in the Morning show, started taking acting classes at Hedgerow in 1980, falling in love with theater in his 20s. “I’d take it a hundred times over touring in a rock band,” says the former guitarist. “In music, there’s an interface—you’re miles away from the audience. In a play, there’s nothing but you. When you create an effect, it’s intense and immediate.”
Harvey started acting classes at Hedgerow around the same time as Philadelphia-based actor Greg Wood, a regular at most theaters in the area who also does voiceover work. “We were both pretty crappy, and then he went away,” recalls Harvey. “The next time I saw him, he was really great and I was still kind of crappy.”
When Harvey got to the advanced level, he studied under Rose Schulman. “She’d lived at Hedgerow and worked with Jasper Deeter himself,” says Harvey. “Everyone was scared of her.”
Schulman was considered one of Deeter’s “true believers,” wrote Barry B. Witham in the 2013 book A Sustainable Theatre: Jasper Deeter at Hedgerow. “She believed in Deeter’s vision of a theatre about living a meaningful life.”
Back then, Hedgerow actors lived and worked communally, even parking cars and tending the garden. As for Schulman, she eventually “got tired of people” and wanted her own room, according to Witham’s book.
Today, Bramucci is opening Hedgerow’s doors to wider audiences, including neurodiverse spectators who require more relaxed performances and easier access. At these shows, audience members can move around and interact in ways that would be inappropriate in a formal production. “The arts should be for everyone,” says Bramucci. “It’s a basic human right.”
Now that the first 100 years are in the rearview mirror, Harvey has the utmost confidence in Bramucci’s leadership. “I once saw Marcie looking 2% fatigued dealing with an issue—the most you’ll ever see in her,” he says. “If anyone can get Hedgerow into their second hundred years, she can.”
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