In 2009 the Quintessence Theater Group signed a lease with Betty Ann and David Fellner, the owners of the Sedgwick Theater, to use the front lobby space as its new performance location. The group discovered the Sedgwick Theater, which is located at 7137 Germantown Ave., through Artistic Director Alex Burns, who was born and raised in Mount Airy. Aside from the building’s dire need for restoration, Burns believes that the theater fits perfectly with the ultimate vision for Quintessence.
“I thought that the Grand Oval Lobby with its domed and vaulted ceiling was an ideal space for the type epic work that we like to do,” said Burns, “and the type of classic plays that we like to explore.”
Burns had taken the Assistant Artistic Director Pamela Reichen to the theater in hopes of making it the new location for stage performances. The two fell in love with the space and a month later it was officially the new home of Quintessence Theatre Group.
“It is so rare that you have buildings in America that are sort of palaces for culture and this is definitely one of those spaces,” said Burns.
Burns and Reichen met about four years ago while working at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. They started talking to each other about the state of theater and where they wanted their careers to go. A few years later Reichen moved to New York to work with Burns at his former theater company, Exignt. Although the company had a slightly different mission than Quintessence, they had their first experience working together with a classic play on the contemporary stage.
From their experiences at Exignt they imagined having a company where they could build a classical repertory theater to develop and produce immediate and necessary performances. In May their vision became a reality when they opened the doors of the Sedgwick Theater for Quintessence’s first play, “Measure for Measure.” Now that their third play, “Plato’s Apology: The Trial of Socrates,” has finished they are starting to consider the future of Quintessence.
“We would like to eventually have a staff of actors who are in all the plays and we will rotate them, so there are always multiple different shows going on with the same cast, different characters,” said Reichen.
Quintessence hopes to achieve its goal to be a major repertory theater group at the Sedgwick Theater within the next five years. In order to do this the group will need the continual support from the local community.
“This certainly won’t work here without the community’s support. The neighboring businesses on the block have been really great. Probably half of our donors are within a five- mile radius of the theater and that is very encouraging to us,” said Reichen.
Local businesses decided to show their support further by providing special deals for season subscribers, which are individuals who purchase seasonal passes to the theater. Some of the benefits that people will receive as a subscriber are free wine or beer when they buy one at Wine Thief and $5 margaritas at Avenida up the avenue and 15 percent off dinners at Earth, Bread and Brewery, which is located across the street from the Sedgwick.
The subscription packages were designed to draw theater enthusiasts from Center City up to Mount Airy. Burns would like to see Quintessence become cultural center not only for the local community, but for Philadelphia and its surrounding areas.
“Hopefully, people will start taking the train out from Center City coming in from the Northeast Extension to Mount Airy to see this great classical theater,” said Burns.
The Sedgwick Theater is located next to two SEPTA Regional Rail Lines, the Chestnut Hill East and the Chestnut Hill West. It will take about five to 10 minutes to walk to and from the theater. The 23 Bus stops on Germantown Avenue, right out front of the theater.
“I think our main challenge is that we would like to be doing theater for our generation. Our goal is to figure out how to get the 20’s and 30’s crowd in and back into the theater,” said Burns.
Although there has been a lot of support from the community, the theater house needs some very expensive restorations. Quintessence is now registered as a non-profit organization, so obtaining funds to restore the theater has been a struggle, but the organizers hope to one day bring back its place as a jewel in Philadelphia’s cultural landscape.
“Our first response to theater space itself was that it could be very similar to the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, New York,” said Reichen. “If we can just go that extra step and sort of finish it and keep it the way it is would be really ideal.”
Quintessence Theater Group is on break for the holiday season but will be back in February with Moliere’s “Don Juan” followed by Oscar Wilde’s the “Importance of Being Earnest.”
For more information about Quintessence Theater Group, please visit the website at https://quintessencetheatre.org/.
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