A Hometown Comic and Scribe Exits the Stage

In 2008, Andy Hedden taught a playwriting workshop that culminated in a festival of one-act, student-written plays.

The production required klieg lights, a set lectern, and pre-recorded voice-overs for the two actors wearing full body costumes.

The show’s main characters, though, stepped into the floodlights on the Laguna Playhouse stage in 1979 without a script. Dave Barrett and his fiancé relied on a friend, Andy Hedden, to devise a non-religious wedding ceremony for them in a place with enough space for all their other friends.

True to his penchant for comic timing and theatrical flair, Hedden cast a giant penguin as the minister, who extracted a vow of “until divorce do us part” from the couple. But before the groom could seal the pact with a kiss, a polar bear stalking prey lumbered onstage and attempted to carry off the bride.

Beneath the fur? Hedden.

“I’ve never been to a wedding like it since,” said Mark Vuille, the nuptial’s lighting designer, recalling the many antics of his childhood friend, Andy Hedden, who died unexpectedly from a heart attack on Saturday, May 5.

“You never think it’s going to stop like that,” Vuille said.

The day before his death, Hedden spent his 55th birthday in the company of his older brother, Rob, and their mother, Barbara. After lunch, the three enjoyed the scenery of Heisler Park, seated on a memorial bench dedicated to the boys’ father, who died in 1985. Hedden sat between them, an arm draped around each. “His spirits were high,” said Rob. “I’m trying to make sense of it.”

Hedden, a disciplined actor also adept at writing for film and television, locally was well known for his contributions to the Indy and for his years managing the Playhouse box office, where his sweet temperament and recall for names and faces endeared him to ticket-flustered patrons and demanding directors. “There were so many people who adored him,” said former managing artistic director Doug Rowe, who cast Hedden in several plays but also hired him into the box office job in 1979. “Andy was such an important piece of the chemistry,” Rowe said.

“Andy served our patrons like nobody else could,” said Greg Renoe, a Playhouse spokesman. “I cannot recall the number of times that I personally heard Andy address our patron family on a first name basis with warmth and regard.”

Aside from the spoof wedding production, Hedden earned professional credits onstage and in film and shared his knowledge with students teaching playwriting in a spring workshop at the high school.

In a favorite theatre scene, Hedden rode across the Playhouse stage on a Vespa in 1994’s “A Liar,” according to Wally Zeigler, the theater’s audience services manager, a 21-year colleague and a recipient of several of Hedden’s signature Hawaiian shirts.

Hedden’s other sartorial trademark barely cloaked his feet. Not even in a tuxedo for a fancy gala would he give up sandals, recalled Zeigler.

Without any doubt, though, Hedden most joyously relished his roles in “Boxboarders!” directed by his brother, Rob, and based on the escapades of one of his nephews and a friend, who fly down a steep hill in a refrigerator box converted into a wheeled bobsled.

Told in a mockumentary style, the 2007 independent film shot on location throughout Laguna portrays the fictional tale of two high school surfing slackers. Adding wheels to a large refrigerator box and careening down a hill, the pair unintentionally create the new sport of boxboarding. Media coverage wins them instant fame. A high-stakes competition ensues for rights to the sport.

Though Rob wrote a part with his brother in mind, Hedden still had to audition for casting directors, but nailed the role. “It wasn’t his big brother getting him the part,” recalled Rob.

During the shoot, “he would hang out with everyone. He was the first one on the set and the last to leave,” Rob recalled. “He spoiled me.”’

The brothers started filmmaking together as kids. June and Terry Neptune, owners of Tivoli Terrace restaurant, financed their first projects, irreverent, politically incorrect spoofs. The brothers also held down the hottest high school band, Quayton and the Maxiwackers. Andy, the drummer, was known as Stix Herculite.

Perhaps Hedden’s greatest love, though, was for his hometown. Prized possessions included a fragment from the old Main Beach boardwalk, demolished in 1968, and a chunk of asphalt from Laguna Canyon Road before its recent realignment.

His fierce pride in Laguna found an outlet in “Hedden for God’s Country,” chronicling local history, often autobiographical, told in a folksy, conversational style and published intermittently in the Indy.

“He would recount, in stunning detail and subtle nuance, the things that made Laguna so unique and wonderful when he was young, and still make it wonderful,” said Mark Christy, a grade school friend. “Andy’s descriptions of sunny days at Riddle Field were so vivid the reader could smell the freshly cut infield grass. But of his many brilliant tales, I think my favorite was ‘A Little Off the Top’, the story of his experiences with early haircuts, and in particular, his encounters with Rudy Campos and Wally’s Barber Shop. He put you in Rudy’s chair.”

“It’s inconceivable his light is gone,” Christy added.


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