A Reflection: Looking back on 11 seasons with Upper Darby Summer Stage

Author’s Note: I would like to note early that this post will be longer in length, but might I mention that the content [in my opinion] is worth the read. 11 magical summers simply cannot be summed up in five minutes, wouldn’t you agree?

My first show, "Disney Heroes To The Rescue" in summer of 2006. // Photo By: Cate R. Paxson
My first show, “Disney Heroes To The Rescue.” (2006) // Photo By: Cate R. Paxson

Eleven summers ago, I sat as an apprentice waiting for the staff to call us in for the first day. I don’t remember my exact thoughts, but I do recall a lot of uncertainty. Most of the kids around me looked older, which I’d realize in later years did not matter when it came to friendships made in the program. Heading into middle school that same summer, recognizing a lot of changes in my life, I hoped that this would become something that would ground me.

Coming full circle, that uncertainty has become certainty. Many “kids around me that looked older” have become lifelong friends and in a week, I’ll be closing the book on my 11th season at Upper Darby Summer Stage [my fifth on staff].

And while I’ve worked long hours, shed a lot of sweat and slept little during many nights throughout these summers, I can honestly say that nothing else has prepared me so well for what is often deemed, “the real world.” It is most certainly bittersweet to think that next season I will mostly likely be back solely as a customer, but I’ll be leaving the building with a variety of experiences, a firm set of values and countless memories.

The Experiences

Starting off with the experiences – As a participant in the program I learned [a little later than most] that the shows we put on in this special place are more than just the role we are handed on day two. After a few shows, I firmly accepted my castings and really tried to make those roles as real as they could be for the audience members that watched me on stage. I admit, I never was star material [meaning I wasn’t often in the spotlight], but I always attempted to make my characters come to life.

Receiving the Breakthrough Performance Award at my final Harry Awards as a participant. (2011) // Photo By: Cate R. Paxson
Receiving the Breakthru Performance Award at my final Harry Awards as a participant. (2011) // Photo By: Cate R. Paxson

Much to nobody’s surprise, my time on the stage eventually came to an end [shocking, right?] and I had to start thinking about these absurd concepts such as “college” and “future plans.” After my experiences in children’s theater, I decided I didn’t want to pursue a job at Summer Stage on a show’s creative team. Luckily, at the time I was looking for the “different” staff experience, the marketing team was in the process of expanding and I was selected as one of the first three marketing interns in program history.

I spent two years as an intern where I gained valuable experience. In marketing, you are immediately challenged to think creatively and intuitively. You have to factor a lot of different variables [and many subsets] that all pile into the task of getting audiences in the seats. I was taught right away to step out of my comfort zone – To “THINK BIG!” While at the same time, I learned that I’m not going to agree with everybody, which was probably one of the most valuable lessons [from an early perspective].

These lessons would help me as I climbed the ranks in the department across the past three summers. As an assistant manager of the department, I had to keep my work going out the door [press releases, blog posts, etc.] but at the same time, I had to keep a broad view of all the moving parts that were going on in order to assist and ensure that the team was meeting short-term and long-term goals. The better way to phrase that was that I learned to hold my own while overseeing others. And I didn’t forget my prior lessons learned as an intern – I still thought big with ideas such as our virtual choir at last year’s 40th season celebration and stepped out of my comfort zone as I oversaw the pre-show experience for four out of my five seasons on staff.

The Values

And while I could go on about many experiential moments, I must continue into some of the values instilled in me across my time here. The first being the sense of community – I won’t bother writing down words, for you can listen to me say [so eloquently, might I add] as a part of last season’s alumni memory series.

Staff Appreciation Day with participant Jack Denman. (2015) // File Photo: Dan Luner
Staff Appreciation Day with participant Jack Denman. (2015) // File Photo: Dan Luner

The second value I learned here was to be myself. There are going to be people in life who don’t like you. At the same time there are going to be people who do like you. And the bottom line is you shouldn’t change for either of those groups. Love who you are, love who you want to be and forget anybody who tries to take you on a path you don’t want to. Write your own story – to sum it up utilizing this week’s production of “Mulan,” choose your own destiny.

The last piece of values that were driven into me is to “Be A Light.” Something I didn’t truly learn until I was a senior in college, but something so essential to living a happy life – And something I’m reminded of each day here. There’s so much darkness that we’re reminded of outside of rehearsals and performances and I do my best and recommend everybody outshine that darkness. We have a light within us and we should ultimately use it for the greater good. Does this concept sound familiar to you…? Be a light is better known in Summer Stage terms as… “Fill The World With Love.” Either phrase works as long as you are living it out each day.

The Memories

And no reflection would be complete without some reminiscing. Wow… so many moments to choose from, but again – to keep it brief, I’ll keep it to one from each portion of the experiences.

As a performer, my favorite memory would have to be hearing my father audibly laugh during the Thursday night performance of “Disney’s High School Musical 2” when I did my comedic bit as a part of the talent show scene.

As a staff member, highlights include giving out my annual greeter of the year awards, working endless hours in a variety of ways to bring audiences the 40th anniversary gala and in general all the laughs shared amongst colleagues in the closet we call, “The Marketing Office.”

And while I spend my last few days walking the building, collaborating with some of the best and brightest colleagues and watching magic happen every single day… my experiences can be summed up in this quote [soon to be famous]:

“With every major change in life comes a time of looking back on what was – I hope you look back with a smile, cause I know I will.” – Dan Luner, 2016

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Comment section

3 thoughts on “A Reflection: Looking back on 11 seasons with Upper Darby Summer Stage

  1. Harry Dietzler says:

    You are a treasure, Dan! Thank you for all you have done for Summer Stage!

    1. Dan Luner says:

      Mr. Dietzler,

      Thank you so much! You know I couldn’t have done it without your guidance and support.

      All the best,

      Dan Luner
      Public & Community Relations Manager

  2. LynAnn M says:

    I really enjoyed your reflections. Dan you are an inspiration to all and to our young summer stagers. Thank you for the inspiration!

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