How the virtual show went on at Upper Darby Summer Stage

The pandemic threatened one of the Philly area's oldest and most celebrated summer theater camps. Hear how they managed to pull it off.

Listen 15:43
Julia McLean sings “Honey Bun” at virtual summer camp

Julia McLean sings “Honey Bun” at virtual summer camp. She kept a diary of her experience. (YouTube)

The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to make the Upper Darby Summer Stage go dark. But one of the oldest and most popular theater camps in the region (whose alumni include former Saturday Night Live cast member Tina Fey,) was determined the show would go on.

Children’s Theater Director Dan Matarazzo and Founder and Executive Director Harry Dietzler tell the story of how Summer Stage was able to overcome early jitters, Zoom latency and power outages to pull it off.

Note: This episode also features the voices of three camp participants, high schoolers Julia McLean, Andy Brown and Rachel Hauben, who documented their experiences.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview Highlights

Dan on taking the rehearsal process virtual

Some of the directors were really interested in allowing the kids to  build a show within the structure of  Zoom rehearsals … so using the breakout rooms to work with the kids in small groups or when we had to to split up to accomplish multiple things within the same time frame, it was, as simple as it sounds, using the chat feature and using the reaction icons and just trying to find every way we possibly could to allow the kids to interact …

Our music director would play the notes through her piano, which was linked up through Zoom. So her sound was being shared through all the kids, the speakers. So she would play them their notes and they would sing them in their own home. But there was no way to get the full group to sing anything back to us, because with latency, that is just wouldn’t be possible. And so Nora and I joked that for years we’ve been asking for quiet in our music rehearsals and we didn’t quite mean to take it this far, but there it was.

On the staff’s initial apprehension

I felt terrified at the beginning. I think we all did. We were charting unknown territory and trying to see if we could make something like this work … But when we let the kids into the Zoom call, we’d get all these great energetic and enthusiastic greetings. And it just did a lot for all six of us. It came from the kids. They hit the ground running. They were so unabashedly enthusiastic about this, about this whole process, warts and all. They were there because they wanted to be there. And it was really special. 

On a unique final performance

A typical performance would be, you know, we do our vocal and physical warm up and we get the kids ready in the green room. And then we walk on the stage and there’s an audience. And for this one, it really was we sent out the YouTube link … One of the cool things is that with with YouTube, I guess the way the premiere function works there is that kids were able to talk in the chat. And so we had kids and staff members and parents in the chat in life time reacting to the stuff that they had seen. And so it was wonderful for the kids. I mean, nothing I think can replicate that live feeling of applause. But it was wonderful for them I think to be able to see that feedback and for people who have been so supportive and so enthusiastic about the work that they were doing.

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