UPPER DARBY, Pa. (CBS) — A well-known theater program for children in Upper Darby is facing an uncertain future. At issue is where the money should come from and who should be in control.
“Seven summers I’ve worked there and performed there,” Summer Stage instructor Pat Walsh said.READ MORE: Pennsauken Police Searching For Hit-And-Run Driver Who Killed Shadid Fauntleroy While Crossing Route 130
Walsh said he couldn’t believe the drama embroiling the long-successful Summer Stage program at Upper Darby High.
An internal dispute over the theater program’s management and direction spilled out onto the public stage this weekend. Its founder told thousands of alums it was suddenly in jeopardy.
“It can’t be, there is no world without Summer Stage. It simply can’t be,” Walsh said.
We’re told Summer Stage is mostly financially independent. Its 46-year operations are managed through a joint recreation department and shared oversight by Upper Darby Township and the school district.
Founder Harry Dietzler argues the joint agreement disintegrated and says that left Summer Stage vulnerable to political interference and government overreach.
“The program is in jeopardy because a limited vision of the township and district thinks they can maintain it the way it’s been,” Dietzler said.READ MORE: Upper Darby Mayor Unveils Plan To Resolve Battle Over Control Of Summer Stage
Dietzler wants Summer Stage management under the oversight of a nonprofit foundation. And there’s the dispute.
Dietzler tells CBS3 he approached officials almost a year ago. He says they only got back to him on Sept. 30.
Township and school officials publicly back Summer Stage, but say they’re disappointed the unresolved dispute still in negotiations dropped into the spotlight.
“We certainly think it’s unfortunate that people have manufactured a crisis and gone to social media. That’s really not helpful,” Upper Darby Deputy Mayor Vince Rongione said.
Dietzler argues in going public his hand was forced. He choked up at what he says Summer Stage is about.
“It’s about the kids who come to our theater, it’s about a young girl who came to me and said, ‘Mr. Dietzler, years ago when I was little you told me someday I’d be on our stage and now I am.’ That’s what it’s about,” Dietzler said.MORE NEWS: Man Robs 16-Year-Old Girl At Knifepoint At SEPTA Station, Police Say
Summer Stage has some star power in its ranks, and access to some big dollars. Alums Tina Fey and Everybody Loves Raymond’s Monica Horan Rosenthal spearheaded a funding campaign this summer, raising a half-million dollars in a month.