Young actress wants to make the most of acting life

In some re­spects, Har­ris­burg nat­ive Jes­sica Bed­ford’s ca­reer could be com­pared to a Cinder­ella tale.

“Grow­ing up, I had no in­terest in the theat­er. In fact, I came to it later than some, and that was when I changed high schools,” she said. “I star­ted do­ing plays when I was sev­en­teen. I wasn’t the ath­let­ic type, but I did fit in with the theat­er kids. That’s when I dis­covered theat­er for my­self, and I loved it. I fi­nally found a shoe that fit.”

Bed­ford is mak­ing her de­but at Act II Play­house in Am­bler in Sylvia. A.R. Gurney’s play tells the story of a love tri­angle between a man, his wife, and his dog Sylvia, played by Bed­ford. The ro­mantic com­edy runs Sept. 6 through Oct. 2.

Sylvia re­volves around a New York power couple. When Greg, the hus­band, brings Sylvia, an ad­or­able stray mutt, to the home he shares with his wife Kate, the wife finds her­self ig­nored — and sur­prised by Greg’s oth­er changes.

The ques­tion is, can a long­time spouse com­pete with the un­deni­able ap­peal of un­con­di­tion­al love?

“In read­ing the role ini­tially, I real­ized that much about the char­ac­ter re­volves around im­pulse,” Bed­ford said. “I wondered what life would be like if I could just fol­low any im­pulse in the mo­ment and what that would be. To me, Sylvia is so much like an ad­oles­cent in that way.”

Also, Bed­ford con­tin­ued, there’s some phys­ic­al­ity in­volved with the role.

“I’m not al­ways walk­ing around on all fours, but when I do, I have to be care­ful about my knees,” she said. “I also walk around think­ing if I had a tail as a per­son, what would wag­ging my tail look like? I’ve al­ways grown up with dogs, and I have one now, so I feel re­war­ded by this role, be­cause I like hanging out with my dog, Peter. I watch him very care­fully and do get to use him for re­search.”

Be­fore tak­ing the role — one which helped launch Sarah Jes­sica Park­er’s ca­reer — Bed­ford, 28, ad­mit­ted she pur­pose­fully avoided see­ing the show.

“And I’m glad I did be­cause the real danger in see­ing an icon­ic per­form­ance is no mat­ter how hard you try to make it your own role, you can’t help but be in­flu­enced by what you’ve seen,” she said.

Some of Bed­ford’s oth­er cred­its in­clude the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Fest­iv­al, People’s Light and Theatre Com­pany, and Vil­lan­ova Theatre, where she re­ceived her mas­ter’s de­gree. Sylvia is be­ing dir­ec­ted by Act II as­so­ci­ate artist­ic dir­ect­or Har­riet Power, who was Bed­ford’s pro­fess­or at Vil­lan­ova. 

In ad­di­tion to her mas­ter’s, Bed­ford re­ceived her un­der­gradu­ate de­gree at De­Sales Uni­versity. She is on the ad­junct fac­ulty at the school.

“I feel really blessed that I got this role,” Bed­ford said, “and that I get to pur­sue a ca­reer I’m really pas­sion­ate about. I feel so lucky that I get to do something for a liv­ing which ex­plores the hu­man story and ex­plores it through dif­fer­ent per­son­al­it­ies. I’m fas­cin­ated by hu­man emo­tion and hu­man psy­cho­logy.”

She ad­ded that she also loves the people who are in the theat­er, “par­tic­u­larly here in Phil­adelphia. I lived in New York for three years, and it’s not that I had a bad time there, but Phil­adelphia has a theat­er com­munity that is truly a com­munity, and that is a very rare thing. As an act­or, you lead a very gypsy-like ex­ist­ence. But in Phil­adelphia, with so many won­der­ful theat­ers and such a tal­en­ted pool of act­ors to choose from, you get to es­tab­lish a bond with all the artists in the com­munity. That’s a won­der­ful thing.” 

Bed­ford hopes to con­tin­ue act­ing, writ­ing plays and teach­ing, and she ad­vises oth­ers to get as much edu­ca­tion and ex­per­i­ence as they can while just con­tinu­ing to be them­selves.

Said Bed­ford: “You know, as Shakespeare once said, ‘To thine own self be true.’ And know that there’s a shoe out there some­where that will fit.” ••

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