Pamela Madger Sommerfield, 83; founded theater troupe

Pamela M. Sommerfield
Pamela M. Sommerfield
Posted: July 16, 2014

Pamela Madger Sommerfield, 83, cofounder of the American Historical Theatre, a Philadelphia troupe, died of complications from Parkinson's disease Tuesday, July 8, at Foothill Acres, a rehabilitation and nursing center in Hillsborough, N.J.

Born in Singapore, Mrs. Sommerfield grew up near London and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama there, a daughter, Lynn Berry, said.

She and friends established the Saints, an amateur drama group, outside London while she worked for a time at Canada House near Trafalgar Square. The venue is now a host of conferences and special events.

After interrupting her studies to marry George Buckley, she moved with him to Seattle in the early 1950s.

She studied at Community College of Philadelphia and, after a divorce, married William Sommerfield in 1965.

With him in the 1980s, she organized the Royal Pickwickians, a Philadelphia troupe that performed 19th-century British music hall entertainments at venues such as Plays and Players, their daughter said.

"She was always a member of the Victorian Society, wherever we have lived," she said, and from 1991 to 1993 was president of its Philadelphia chapter.

In 1992, the Sommerfields formed the American Historical Theatre, "a nonprofit that they built around my father's character of George Washington," she said.

The troupe's actors have performed individually and with one another locally and across the nation, said Kim Hanley, a performer who was Mrs. Sommerfield's office assistant.

"She was the producing director. Bill was the artistic director," Hanley said.

A 2009 obituary of William Sommerfield reported that his wife was the producer of "educational programs with actors portraying historical characters."

The Sommerfields also sent their performers "to many school programs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," Berry said.

In a 2008 Inquirer interview, Mrs. Sommerfield said the troupe also trained teachers and students to interpret historical figures, such as "a captain of a boat that brought coal into the port of Philadelphia."

On her own, Mrs. Sommerfield portrayed the Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott in a hour-long 1987 drama about Mott on PBS.

"She was a wonderful performer," Hanley said.

Besides her daughter, Mrs. Sommerfield is survived by sons Stephen and Michael Buckley and Scott Sommerfield; a daughter, Debbie Grimes; and four grandchildren. She was predeceased by her former first husband.

A life celebration was scheduled for noon Wednesday, July 23, at Christ Church, Second Street north of Market Street.

Donations may be sent to the American Historical Theatre, 124 Elfreths Alley, Philadelphia 19106, or www.ahtheatre.org.

Condolences may be offered to the family at www.brucecvanarsdalefuneralhome.com.


wnaedele@phillynews.com

610-313-8134 @WNaedele

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