Throughout the 40 seasons of Upper Darby Summer Stage, thousands – literally – have participated in the program.
Many remain active in the Philadelphia-region theater community and are taking what they learned from Founder and Executive Director Harry Dietzler of Upper Darby Summer Stage and passing it along to the next generation of theater lovers.
Not including those who have branched out beyond the Philadelphia region, alumni of Summer Stage oversee theater programs in all three local states. And in addition to running the theater companies, dozens of alumni direct and choreograph regional high school and middle school productions. Not only are the alumni passing along the values they learned at Upper Darby Summer Stage, but they are fueling the regional arts and cultural community by teaching and entertaining thousands of individuals each year who seek out – and support – quality theater in the Philadelphia region.
One of the most successful Philadelphia-based theater companies run by alumni of UD Summer Stage is the Arden Theatre Company, co-founded by Terrence J. Nolen and Amy Murphy who, coincidentally, met at Upper Darby Summer Stage.
“I became friends with Terry the summer of 1984 when he was the Children’s Theatre Producer [at Upper Darby Summer Stage.], said Amy Murphy. “I was a Children’s Theatre show director and Costume Designer for Children’s Theatre that summer. He charmed me with his passion and vision for a theatre in Philadelphia someday. When he was actually ready to start that theatre (1988) I was happily working as a professional Stage Manager in New York with no intention of leaving. But Terry’s vision was one that I believed in.”
We never gave up or settled for half done at Summer Stage. The Arden would not exist without the “grit” that we learned at Summer Stage. We have carried that same sensibility through to the Arden family as well. – Amy Murphy, co-founder and Managing Director, Arden Theatre Company
The impact from Amy and Terry’s time at Upper Darby Summer Stage is significant in their daily work at the Arden. “We never gave up or settled for half done at Summer Stage,” said Amy. “The Arden would not exist without the “grit” that we learned at Summer Stage. We have carried that same sensibility through to the Arden family as well.”
A more recent theater company Mazeppa Productions, came upon the scene within the last decade and has been receiving rave reviews. Rob Henry, a Summer Stage alum said, “I founded Mazeppa Productions because I wanted to produce theater in the city with adult performers. I wanted to have the freedom to choose musicals that excited me. Having done educational theater for years, I wanted to try my hand at more mature subject matter and themes.”
Working and performing at Summer Stage taught me how to work quickly and efficiently; when you only have 13 days to produce a Broadway musical, you have no other choice. I learned how to work with theater professionals — understanding and appreciating the talents that they bring to every project. Overall, Summer Stage gave me invaluable theater experience. – Rob Henry, co-founder Mazeppa Productions.
Establishing a new professional theater company in Philadelphia has been a challenge, but well-worth it as Mazeppa receives excellent reviews from local critics. “I learned so much at Summer Stage that I use everyday. Harry Dietzler taught me to dream big and gave me the freedom and opportunity to experiment as a director,” said Rob. “Working and performing at Summer Stage taught me how to work quickly and efficiently; when you only have 13 days to produce a Broadway musical, you have no other choice. I learned how to work with theater professionals — understanding and appreciating the talents that they bring to every project. Overall, Summer Stage gave me invaluable theater experience.”
Multi Barrymore award-winning Villanova University Theatre Department is run by Department Chair, David Cregan, O.S.A., PhD. who spent five summers at Summer Stage in the early ‘80s. He along with the staff in the Theatre Department at Villanova University see the primary focus of the program as a place to prepare students “to be leaders in the Arts.”
The professional work ethic that Harry asked of me as a young person continues to be a motivating factor in the way I teach theatre. It taught me the value of this work and the importance of it in our culture. – David Cregan, O.S.A.,PhD and Chair of Villanova University Theatre Department
Father Cregan’s “aha” moment about theater came when he had a one-on-one rehearsal with Harry Dietzler and he came unprepared. “Harry said to me something like ‘I hear you want to do theater professionally. If you do, you have to take this seriously because it is not only fun, but it also requires hard work and dedication.’ That was an ‘aha moment’ for me and a piece of advice that propelled my career. The professional work ethic that Harry asked of me as a young person continues to be a motivating factor in the way I teach theatre. It taught me the value of this work and the importance of it in our culture.”
In Chester County, Summer Stage alum Ann Pinto McCarney who performed professionally for over 20 years at the Walnut Theater Company, the Arden Theatre Company and Society Hill Playhouse, established West Chester Summer Stage for young people fifteen years ago. During the winter months the Ann and her team provide theatre education with their Limelight Performing Arts Center program.
In New Jersey, Summer Stage alum Ed Fiscella runs Mainstage Center for the Arts and a Summer Stage program there in Blackwood, NJ. “What I learned from Harry and the lesson of Summer Stage is that it is not just a theatre program. It is a FAMILY and the engine that keeps it going is HEART,” said, Ed.
Upper Darby Summer Stage alum Mark Morgan runs Moorestown Theater Company, Inc. “While the Moorestown Theater Company primarily focuses on productions for children,” said Morgan, “we do have an all-ages musical every summer (in which such local ‘celebrities’ as 6abc’s Rick Williams participates with his wife and son), as well as an adult-only musical every fall, plus a couple of other smaller productions for adults during our ‘Season’.”
Morgan continually passes along the values he learned from Dietzler while at Summer Stage. From his first day at UD Summer Stage in 1981, Morgan learned “the idea of not letting anyone be a ‘stranger’ or feeling unwelcome. Since then, I always tell Moorestown Theater Company casts at their first rehearsal, that ‘divas’ are not tolerated, that ‘cliques’ are not allowed, and that every cast member, from the first-time chorus member to a ‘title character’, will all be treated equally.”
In Delaware, Summer Stage alum Michael Gray established the professionally-based City Theater in Wilmington, Delaware, with a mission to “create a body of work for the stage that is consistently high-quality, provocative and new; a body of work that takes risks and breaks barriers in order to engage new theater audiences in an exciting exchange of ideas, images and energies.”
Each summer at least 750 young people come to Upper Darby Summer Stage to learn values instilled by Harry Dietzler and the professional staff. In 40 seasons, just imagine how many young people have participated in the program! Multiply that by those who annually participate – or have participated – in theater companies throughout the region run by Summer Stage alumni and you can appreciate how the dream of one young man, back in 1976, has made a major impact on our regional arts and cultural community!
-Lauren Stevenson Yacina