Upper Darby Summer Stage fights to keep the performing arts alive despite battle with township and school district

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (WPVI) – Upper Darby Summer Stage, a popular performing arts program, likes to thank the community by providing live entertainment. But there is a drama going on behind the scenes.

On one side is the Township of Upper Darby and the School District, which has funded the program for 46 years. On the other side, there is the theater arts program.

“We just don’t trust the district or township to run it the way it should be run,” said Summer Stage founder Harry Dieztler.

“People ask me why are you cutting this program, and that’s not true,” Upper Darby School District Superintendent Daniel McGarry said.

While the school district wants to keep control of the high school program, Summer Stage wants to cede control to the nonprofit Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation.

“Arts and government are like a square peg in a round hole. It takes two months for a bill to be paid by the school district, and all of these things make it very difficult to open a show that must open on Friday, ”Dietzler said.

The district argued that they needed to have a seat at the table when the program took place on their property, and they have poured millions of dollars to fund it over the years.

“When people think of this program, they automatically associate it with school district, number one. Number two, it’s so easy to give up on something. There are a lot of details that go into it,” he said. McGarry said.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, about 200 residents showed up to convince the district to put Summer Stage in the hands of those who can handle it.

“This makes them eligible for corporate grants, which we cannot get as a government entity,” said Peggy Schmidt of Upper Darby Township.

“Something doesn’t smell right,” Stacy Mascotti said. “It smells like they could take the name and start a program here called Upper Darby Summer Stage, but it won’t be the same program. There are songs, there are traditions, there is a reason why people come here instead of going elsewhere. “

School board officials want to reassure attendees that Summer Stage is not going anywhere and have asked for patience as they continue negotiations.

Meanwhile, Dietzler said the operating budget is $ 1.2 million. So far, the program has raised $ 500,000, including a contribution from “Saturday Night Live” star Tina Fey.

He says the accolades list includes several stars who have made it to the main stage, but Summer Stage is much more than that.

“We’re talking about everyday kids standing up in front of an audience, and they say their lines, and they gain confidence and become better students,” Dietzler said.

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