Everyone has his or her own “Summer Stage Story.” Whether you are an alumnus, a staff member, a parent, or a participant, Summer Stage has played an important part in all of our lives.
Throughout the summer we’ll be asking people to share their Summer Stage stories with us. This is the first in a series.
Recently we sat down with Anthony Paparo, who will enter his senior year at Upper Darby High School this fall. Anthony has been involved in Summer Stage since 2007 and “was hooked since day one.” When he was younger, he had the choice to do either baseball or theater. “While playing baseball, I was one of those kids who would pick grass in right field. So I said, ‘let’s do theater instead!’”
The first show he saw at Summer Stage was “Once Upon a Mattress” and his brother, Joe, was in the production. When he was an Apprentice, Athony was recognized by Vicky Towne who selected him as “Apprentice of the Year,” and he became smitten with the entire experience. After the Apprentice program he participated in Rising Stars, and “I’ve been doing two children’s theater shows ever since I could.”
When asked what keeps him coming back, he quickly replied, “Everything keeps me coming back. The people, the music, the dancing, the love of theater, singing ‘To Fill the World with Love.’ I keep coming back to be a part of the magic.”
More than any other environment, Summer Stage has provided a place where Anthony feels comfortable just being himself. He feels accepted, welcomed, and loved. “I’ve always said, ‘I wish life were more like Summer Stage,’ because once you get out of here, you can’t be yourself, you have to conform [to the outside world] again. But you can be yourself here and this is a family. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or smart, etc. Once you come, you’re just a part of the family.”
It was the nurturing environment, his friends, and the family atmosphere that helped support Anthony when he needed the support the most. Last summer his father took Anthony aside and told him he had stage-four lung cancer. Outside of Summer Stage, Anthony had to grow up fast as he found himself taking on additional household responsibilities. But while he was here from 9 am until 4 pm each day, “That’s seven hours of not thinking about my dad or the sadness.”
More important than a place to escape the reality of his father’s terminal illness, Summer Stage helped him become stronger and confident. If it weren’t for Summer Stage, “I could tell you I’d be a different person. I used to be very shy and during my time here I’ve become more comfortable with myself.”
“You can be yourself and people will love you for it. You can put away life and sadness. And suddenly,” said Anthony, “you’re able to be yourself.”
Anthony’s father lost his battle to cancer this past May. Certainly, Summer Stage has not only helped him cope with his loss, but it has provided a strong foundation for him as he prepares to move forward in life.
When asked what he has learned from Summer Stage, without hesitation Anthony replied, “To never judge a book by its cover. Everybody has his or her own personality. This place teaches you to open up. I could have been a shy kid who stood in the corner, did the dance moves and went home. But I opened up, made friends. Here, everyone has a genuine care and love for one another, and that’s what makes Summer Stage so great.”
We appreciate Anthony sharing his story with us. We can understand why his father was so very proud of him.