Upper Darby Summer Stage fights to keep theater arts alive despite battle with township

So far, the program has raised $500,000, including a contribution from SNL's Tina Fey.
UPPER DARBY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Upper Darby Summer Stage, a popular theater arts program, likes to credit providing live entertainment to the community. But there is drama taking place behind the scenes.

On one side are the Upper Darby Township and the school district, which has funded the program for 46 years. On the other side is the theater arts program.

"We just don't kind of trust the district or township to manage it the way it needs to be managed," said Summer Stage founder Harry Dieztler.

"People are asking me why are you taking this program away, and that's not true," said Upper Darby School District Superintendent Daniel McGarry.

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Upper Darby Summer Stage, a popular theatre arts program, likes to credit providing live entertainment to the community. But there is drama taking place behind the scenes.



While the school district wants to remain in control of the program that happens in the high school, Summer Stage wants to hand the control over to the nonprofit Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation.

"The arts and government, it's like a square peg in a round hole. It takes two months to get a bill paid for by the school district, and all of those things make it very difficult to open for a show that has to open on Friday," Dietzler said.

The district argued that they need to have a seat at the table when the program takes place on their property, and they've poured in millions funding it over the years.

"When people think about this program, they automatically associate it with the school district, number one. Number two, it's just so easy to give something up. There's a lot of details that go into this," McGarry said.

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

"It makes them eligible for corporate grants, which we can't get as a government entity," said Peggy Schmidt of Upper Darby Township.



"Something doesn't smell right," said Stacy Mascotti. "It smells like they might take the name and run a program here called Upper Darby Summer Stage, but it won't be the same program. There's songs, there's traditions, there is a reason that people come here instead of going other places."

School board officials want to reassure attendees that Summer Stage is not going anywhere and 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 list of accolades includes several stars who have made it to the main stage, but Summer Stage is about much more.

"We're about everyday kids that get up in front of an audience, and they say their lines, and they get confidence and become better students," Dietzler said.

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