'Brave new world' for acclaimed Mt. Airy theater director

Posted 6/11/20

Director David Bradley, of Mt. Airy (right), gives direction to the actors in “The God Project” — Joilet Harris, of Germantown (from left), Sean Close and Jennifer Childs. Produced by 1812 …

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'Brave new world' for acclaimed Mt. Airy theater director

Director David Bradley, of Mt. Airy (right), gives direction to the actors in “The God Project” — Joilet Harris, of Germantown (from left), Sean Close and Jennifer Childs. Produced by 1812 Productions, “God” was performed in May of 2019 at Plays and Players in Center City. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

by Len Lear

What does an acclaimed theater director do when there are no plays to direct because there are no audiences in the seats? We put this question to

DavidBradley, 53, who lives in Mt. Airy with sons Jacob, 20, and Noah, 18, and wife Margaret, and just may be the Philadelphia area's most prolific, highly respected theatrical director in addition to teaching at local universities.

His more than 30 productions as a long-time company member at People’s Light in Malvern include “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Cinderella,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Crucible” and “Doubt.” He’s directed frequently at Act II in Ambler and the National Constitution Center, and David is Founding Director of the music non-profit LiveConnections, and he was a producer on their three albums with city schools.

A native of Wynnewood, David graduated from Episcopal Academy and Yale University (1988, English major) and has lived in Mt. Airy for more than 20 years. “I love being close to the Wissahickon and getting to run Forbidden Drive often,” he told us. “I love the community feel of Mt. Airy.”

Last fall he directed “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder” by longtime collaborator James Still at Act II Playhouse. It’s a powerful one-man play about Alonzo Fields, who had trained to be an opera singer, but due to racism and the Depression could not pursue that and became Chief Butler at the White House from 1931 to 1953.

“I was preparing to go to Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Florida this spring to direct 'The Niceties,' a very recent play by Eleanor Burgess, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic,” he told us last week. “Over the past year I’ve been quite involved in my work with music education nonprofit LiveConnections, which has just merged with longtime partner World Cafe Live to become a unified non-profit dedicated to music, education and community engagement.

“Our education work reaches 5,000 participants a year with free music education, including interactive performances at World Cafe Live, an album making partnership with Northwest Philly high school Hill-Freedman World Academy, songwriting and percussion programs for youth and more.

“But now the work is continuing virtually. Students were brainstorming lyrics with a Grammy-nominated songwriter last week; a girl played guitar over her phone; another student took over the screen to share a rhythm he’d created. These students didn’t have to show up, but they did. They wanted to create. And we’ve got a partnership with Mighty Writers, with a teaching artist creating songs with students, based on poems they’d written.”

As if that was not enough work during the pandemic, Bradley is also doing a Zoom workshop of a new adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol'for People’s Light, written by the theatre’s Producing Director, Zak Berkman. “We’ll have eight days total to work on the script and music, all virtually. I’ll also be part of PlayPenn this summer, directing Philadelphia playwright Emma Gibson’s great new piece, 'When We Fall,' and that will be done virtually. Brave new worlds!”

And when he is not Zoom-ing, you just may see Bradley running along Forbidden Drive and along the streets of Mt Airy — with a mask on, of course. “I feel so lucky to be so near the Wissahickon in these times; it offers a restorative power for which I’m grateful.”

Speaking of virtual creating, Bradley has also written a couple of songs with his friend/World Cafe Live collaborator Andrew Lipke, a sell known musician/songwriter/producer. They were inspired by Andrew's “Songs from the Quarantine” project, a general invitation on Instagram to make music across distance, and by the times.

One was also in part inspired by an inscription on a bench near Valley Green Inn, where Bradley often stops to stretch after a run. The bench is a memorial to a woman I never met named Maryann Matlock-Hinkle, and the inscription's from 12th century Japanese poet Saigo: "Every single thing changes/always in this world/yet with the same light the moon/goes on shining.” The song’s called “The Same Light.”

Bradley's son, Noah, a senior at Masterman, is captain of the track team there. He would have run at the Penn Relays this year, as he did last year. His other son Jacob, a first year student at the University of Pittsburgh, had just started a great job with Pitt’s football team, which of course also was put on hold. “I really feel for young people in this moment,” said David.

Ed note: This interview was conducted on May 13. On June 5, Bradley said, “In light of current events, I probably would have answered some things differently or with a different tone.” For more information, visit liveconnections.org/about/staff-board. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com