Mt. Airy theater company boosts Sedgwick’s profile

The Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy is now home to the Quintessence theater company. This partnership, if it lasts, could be a major step in Germantown Avenue’s revitalization.

Alexander Burns recalls putting on plays with the neighborhood kids at yearly block parties on Devon Street while growing up in Mt. Airy.  So, he says, it was a natural choice to return to his artistic roots to look for a home for his new theater company, Quintessence. What he found was a grand old art deco movie palace in the middle of downtown Mt. Airy – the historic Sedgwick Theater.

Opening in 1928, the Sedgwick continued to show movies until 1966, when it closed and became a warehouse. After years of neglect, the theater was bought in 1994 by Mount Airy residents and property owners Betty Ann and David Fellner, who then converted it into the Sedgwick Cultural Center. After 10 years of an eclectic mix of programs and performances, the center closed due to financial difficulties.

But Betty Ann and David didn’t give up on searching to find an identity for this old gem. For the past three years, the Fellners rented the space out for artistic and community events, but nothing seemed to stick.

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Then along came Quintessence Theatre Group, which is now in the middle of its inaugural 2010-11 season. Productions include the recent presentation of Shakeseare’s Henry V, the current production of Plato’s Apology, and upcoming productions of Molière’s Don Juan and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Burns and his associate artistic director, Pamela Reichen, founded Quintessence in 2009 to adapt works of classic literature and drama for contemporary audiences. They see the classics as an excellent way to focus on the human condition and to explore the big questions of the day – the nature of leadership, how a society spends its money and why countries start foreign wars.

For example, Plato’s Apology has hints of “Court TV,” and the soldiers in Henry V resemble the characters in HBO’s Band of Brothers. After one play, a teenager was overheard saying, “I wish they taught the classics like this at my school.”

As soon as Burns walked into the inner lobbies of the Sedgwick last year, he knew this was the place for his company. “It transports you to a different world. It tells the audience to leave the world behind and come to this magical space where your imagination will take you on a new journey.”

The performance space is intimate, flexible and still captures the grandeur of a bygone era.  A huge oval dome, celestial ceiling and gigantic chandelier encompass you. Art deco paintings surround you.

With many of the plays performed in-the-round and a capacity of 100, the audience will likely stay engaged. In fact, in Plato’s Apology, the audience becomes the jury as it experiences the theatrics of the Socratic method as Socrates defends his life.

Having a company in residence brings more people to downtown Mt. Airy, which has been experiencing a renaissance in the last several years. Peggy Zwerver, co-owner of Earth, Bread & Brewery restaurant is seeing an uptick. “Now, we see people coming in for dinner before the show and players often come in after for revelry.”

The company has a one-year lease and hopes to attract enough audiences from the community and the region to continue an even longer run at the Sedgwick.

See more photos of The Apology


The Quintessence Theatre Group performs at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Phila., Pa. 19119. 215-240-6055.

APOLOGY plays Nov 10 – Dec 5, Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. No performances Nov 22 – 30.

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