Celebrating the Revival of Community Theatre with Hedgerow’s Executive Artistic Director Marcie Bram
Updated: a day ago
As the pandemic winds down and social restrictions diminish, local theatre is making an exciting comeback. For many theatres, this means a complete resumption of pre-COVID practices. For others, however, it means only a partial revival, with most COVID protocols still in place. At Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, reopening has entailed both returning to cherished in-person traditions and introducing robust new programming. I spoke with Marcie Bramucci, Hedgerow’s new Executive Artistic Director, to discuss her vision for the theatre, which includes a commitment to greater diversity and inclusion in current and upcoming productions, and uses the power of theatre to unite communities in times of loss and division.
Hedgerow Theatre is, according to Executive Artistic Director Marcie Bramucci, a company with “deep roots;” Hedgerow has served the community of Rose Valley for ninety-eight years, hosting the historic debuts of many renowned artists and developing an impressive range of creative opportunities and traditions. According to Marcie, Hedgerow has been described as, “the mother of Philadelphia theatre” because since it became a theatre in 1923 (it was originally a gristmill), several prominent theatre companies have “grown out of it,” such as People’s Light, Freedom Theatre, and Curio Theatre. Marcie was drawn to Hedgerow not only for its status as “the starting place of Philadelphia’s regional theatre,” but for its “atmospheric” environment and role in promoting emerging playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill. Additionally, Hedgerow’s Rose Valley location makes it an “enclave of artistry and invention” that is also one of the oldest boroughs in Delaware County.
Prior to her employment at Hedgerow, Marcie’s involvement in the performing arts was extensive. Marcie has served in the producing office at SNL, worked in film production and talent management in California, and obtained degrees in theatre from Villanova University and Columbia University. In her various occupations and academic endeavors, she pursued her passion for “theatre practice,” producing, and “educational programming,” all aspects of her current position at Hedgerow. As Executive Artistic Director, Marcie is responsible for “establishing the vision of the organization,” and she also manages and participates in “artistic programming, community programming, marketing, fundraising, and supervising productions.” Marcie’s wide purview means that she is able to “engage a lot of different skill sets throughout the day,” and she often views her job as an exciting “puzzle” because it’s so unpredictable.
One of the most distinguishing elements of Marcie’s work at Hedgerow and beyond is the emphasis on diversity and “intentional inclusion” that she has implemented. Marcie believes that “meaningful representation of the whole community is essential” because theatre is “no longer relevant when a representative of only a part of the community,” especially when that part displays “the dominant narrative all of the time.” She defines her mission as one of “making intentional space for individuals who might not feel specifically welcome,” and her production choices reflect her conscious commitment to increasing diversity “across all realms of identity.”
Because “part of [her] ambition is to have a diversity of thought and experience,” Marcie has selected productions for Hedgerow’s upcoming season that “folks of all political ideologies” can enjoy. She noted the importance of making a conscious effort to welcome people and to make them feel “validated,” which often requires “suspending unspoken theatre etiquette” and hosting more participatory productions. Marcie’s first production at Hedgerow was The Weir, a Scottish play by playwright Connor Mcpherson. Combining her talents for behind-the-scenes work and acting, Marcie both produced and performed in this play. Marcie explained that although there is certainly a “heavy white male perspective” in The Weir, the play fits well “in the context of other (more diverse) productions in the season” such as the rom-com Cowboy vs. Samurai, which is by Chinese American playwright Michael Golamco, and Good Grief, a coming-of-age play by Nigerian writer Ngozi Jane Anyanwu.
Like these productions, The Weir deals with collective loss, something we all experienced during the pandemic. However, Marcie reflected that it also “acknowledges the life that’s in us” and is “a gentle play in a lot of respects;” it brings people together and allows them to find humor in times of grief and fear, and because it’s driven by monologues rather than interactions, actors can perform it while observing safety protocols. To “balance out the male perspective” that pervades the play, Marcie’s production team (pictured below), consisted only of women and non-binary individuals. In combination with this, Marcie’s diverse product selections and her newly initiated Relaxed Performances, which aim to make theatre more accessible and enjoyable for folks with disabilities, demonstrate her mission: to “make Hedgerow a porous organization where everyone feels included” and to “make people feel validated in their existence when they visit Hedgerow,” regardless of background, ideology, or individual needs.
Marcie brought Relaxed Performances to Hedgerow from People’s Light, a theatre organization where she served as Director of Community Investment for eight years. Relaxed Performances are designed to be “sensory and friendly” experiences that accommodate everyone’s needs; while they have particular benefits for disabled people, anyone can enjoy them, and Marcie even said she’d see a Relaxed Performance over a “standard” performance any day! In Relaxed Performances, house lights might be up so that people can see the exits, or fidget toys and noise-canceling headphones might be provided for folks who are easily overstimulated. Any show can be Relaxed, not just those that are “jarring or startling,” and Marcie has built a network of “stakeholders” to help her create experiences that are “anchored on the needs of neurodiverse individuals.”
The shows Marcie has planned for the 2022-2023 year have not yet been publicly announced, but Marcie did reveal that next year will be “robust and vibrant,” especially with Hedgerow turning 100 in April 2023. The 100th anniversary season will last from September 2022 to August 2023, and Marcie is planning “a breadth of offerings” as well as various regional and possibly global premiers. Marcie is all about creating a celebratory atmosphere at Hedgerow by making each production a joyful, family-oriented event, and she invites everyone to join in the fun as volunteers, employees, or audience members. Anyone interested in taking advantage of Hedgerow’s innumerable artistic opportunities can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s time to celebrate the revival of theatre and the arts! And what better way to do so than to attend a community production? Hedgerow’s next play, the community classic A Christmas Carol, runs from November 23 until December 24; don’t miss it!
Image: The all-female and non-binary team behind The Weir! Photo provided by Hedgerow.