We had the opportunity to talk with some alumni about their experiences at Summer Stage and asked them how the program has made an impression on their lives.
“I think you would be hard-pressed to find a Philadelphia native who is working in the industry or teaching the discipline in the area who didn’t somehow pass through the hands of Harry Dietzler.”
-Father David Cregan, Chairman: Theatre Department, Villanova University
We talked with Summer Stage alum Father David Cregan, O.S.A, Ph.D., Chair of the Theatre Department and associate professor at Villanova University. He spent four years working as a professional actor in New York City, where he did three tours (one in Europe), an off-Broadway production with the Light Opera of Manhattan, and various regional work around the country. He earned his doctorate from the Samuel Beckett School of Drama at Trinity College in Ireland. He also has an M.A. in Irish Studies from the Catholic University of America, an M.Phil in Irish Theatre and Film from Trinity, and an M.Div. from the Washington Theological Union. He has published several articles on contemporary Irish Theater and has written a book about the plays of Frank McGuiness. He directs and performs at Villanova University.
Father David started at Summer Stage in 1982 and spent at least four summers with the program. His first show was the Children’s Theater show “The Adventures of Pinocchio” where he played the Harlequin.
You are one of the many who went through Summer Stage and continued afterwards with a career in theater. How did the program and Mr. Dietzler prepare you for your career as a performer, writer, and the head of a university theater department?
DC: Well you know what’s funny is that I have this memory of working on a solo that I was doing with Harry and I was probably 15 or something at the time, and I sort of hadn’t done my homework, and I showed up with that attitude of “Oh, you know, I can sing, I’m talented” and Harry just halfway through the rehearsal looked at me and said “If you’re going to be serious about this, you’d better become more disciplined.” And really that’s one of the most influential things anyone has ever said to me about my theatre career. You know, you can look at it as a game, or you can start looking at it as a professional; as an artist. I still work with that kind of ethic, and teach the same ethic to my students. You know it’s not just Harry that’s made an influence; I’m not sure how many people talk to you about Nancy Santamaria.
Nancy continues to teach dance to the participants in the Apprentice program and was a part of Summer Stage from day one!
DC: She is unbelievable. Because they empower young people to be confident and creative, and they gave something to an entire community. They gave the experience of what it means to be working in collective with like-minded individuals, and boy does that give a young person confidence and passion.
What are the important things you learned during your time at Upper Darby Summer Stage?
DC: What I learned…wow! First of all, I learned that theatre is not only fun but it’s a discipline, and it’s requires collaboration and community. I think those are the two most important things that I’ve really made the hallmark of my entire life, and I think Summer Stage has really been an important part of that. By recognizing any success that you really achieve is always dependent on your ability to work with, compromise, and create with other people. What I love about the theater is that when I direct, the quality of my work is only as good as my ability to work with an entire team of people, going all the way from designers, to business people to actors. That’s a pretty valuable skill set beginning to accumulate. You learn to trust people, you learn to discern when leadership is important, and you learn when being a team player is important.
When you heard from us and thought about Summer Stage, did you take a walk down memory lane? You probably haven’t thought about it in quite awhile.
DC: Well actually that’s not entirely true because I have friendships that I still have from that time period, and I’m constantly dealing with young people at Villanova that have been part of Summer Stage. Those people continue to be influential people in my life including Harry [Dietzler]. I would describe Harry as…if not the – than one of the most influential theater people in the Philadelphia region. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a Philadelphia native who is working in the industry or teaching the discipline in the area who didn’t somehow pass through the hands of Harry Dietzler.