The beginning of every new season at the Penobscot Theatre Company is always a fresh start — new shows, new actors, new characters, new stories to tell.
For the 2018-2019 season, which kicks off this weekend with PTC’s production of the stage adaptation of the iconic 1960s film “The Graduate,” it’s a fresh start not just for the company, but also for its new executive director, John Hedges, who began his position in May, replacing outgoing executive director Mary Budd.
Hedges’ nearly 40-year career in theater has taken him all over the country, onstage and behind the scenes. As an actor, he’s done everything from Off-Broadway in New York to a 10-year stint as a company member at the acclaimed Barter Theatre in Virginia, where he played roles as diverse as John Adams in “1776” and Charlie in “The Foreigner.”
As an arts administrator, he’s served in a number of roles, including seven years as the executive director of the Weathervane Playhouse in Akron, Ohio, and, most recently, as managing director of the Civic Theatre in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Regardless of what capacity he’s working in, as long as he’s in a theater, Hedges is happy.
“At the end of the day, all I really want to be able to do is work in theater. Theater is my home, on stage or off,” he said. “My whole career has been centered around making sure I get to be a part of the world I love.”
Coming to Bangor brings Hedges full circle, in a sense. His first job in arts administration was as executive director at a now-defunct summer stock theatre company in Sanford. Coming back to Maine 30 years later is a bit of a homecoming.
“What’s most exciting to me, coming here, is the opportunity to cement the theater’s role as an integral part of the community, as much as the grocery store or a school,” Hedges said.
In particular, Hedges and artistic director Bari Newport plan to work closely together, to choose plays and musicals each year that are similar in scope and variety to this year’s season. For 2018-2019, a running theme throughout the six announced shows is how mainstream society views people that are different.
In “The Graduate,” the protagonist — 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, as played by Bangor-area actor Alekzander Sayers — is floundering after graduating from college. At odds with society at large and confused by the growing generational divides, he is famously seduced by an older family friend (Mrs. Robinson, played by PTC stalwart AJ Mooney), and he ends up falling in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Boston-based Kelly Davies, making her PTC debut).
Though “The Graduate” is, in many ways, a time capsule of the 1960s — right down to designer Sean McLelland’s groovy mid-century modern set, and the iconic Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack — its exploration of sexual politics and youthful ennui still resonates after all these years.
“‘The Graduate’ was the film my parents saw on their first date, 51 years ago,” said Newport, who is directing the show with Dominick Varney. “In a way, this production is my gift to them.”
“The Graduate” opens Saturday, Sept. 8, and runs Wednesdays through Sundays through Sept. 23 at the Bangor Opera House. Two preview performances are set for Sept. 6 and 7. For more information, visit penobscottheatre.org.
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