Upper Darby Summer Stage, the Philadelphia region’s award-winning summer youth theatre program, is back for its 47th season and recently opened its doors with much fanfare with both a joyful homecoming for returning Summer Stagers and a warm welcome to new ones. For the first time ever, the iconic opening meeting was run not by Summer Stage founder and visionary Harry Dietzler, but instead by Chris Luner, its new Artistic Director. In typical Summer Stage fashion, the evening was filled with music, dance, and magic.
Born and raised in Upper Darby, Luner was a frequent Summer Stage participant throughout his youth and then became a regular staff member for nearly a decade. After graduating from Upper Darby High School, Luner studied Arts Administration at Wagner College in Staten Island, NY. Since graduating in 2013, he has spent most of his time pursuing his dream of managing Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
In a recent interview, Luner spoke about how Summer Stage founder and former artistic director Harry Dietzler helped him get where he is today. “I always loved theater, but I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do with it. All I knew was that I loved what Harry did, so I actually went to him and asked, ‘I want to do what you do, so how do I do it?’ He encouraged me to look into Arts Administration and helped to guide me in figuring out which schools [colleges] have those programs.” Luner’s wish has come true, and he is now stepping into the very role which Harry held for 46 years.
Harry Dietzler is also stepping into a new position as executive director of the Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation (UDAEF), Summer Stage’s nonprofit sponsor. In this executive position at the Foundation, Dietzler’s role is to grow Summer Stage and keep his vision for arts education opportunities alive on a larger scale.
With Summer Stage now under the direction of UDAEF, Dietzler will remain highly involved but Chris Luner will be the new face and voice of the program. Luner says that his vision for Summer Stage is “not only to do what we know, but to move into the unknown by making sure our summer program offers as many opportunities as possible and expanding arts programming into the community year-round.”
By moving under UDAEF, Summer Stage is now fully non-profit. The program is now eligible for more local, state, and national-level funding. “This will only open up more arts education opportunities for students throughout the Philadelphia region,” Chris remarks, “which is ultimately the number one goal at the end of the day.” Luner and his staff are focused on enhancing the mission of Summer Stage to become even more of a beacon of arts education in the community, and bring youthful energy and showmanship to a well-established program on the brink of exciting new growth.
The first Summer Stage show under Luner’s leadership will be a review of both classic and new Disney songs, called Disney Around the World, presented on July 6, 7, and 8 at 10:30 am and July 7 at 7:00 pm. The remainder of the Summer Stage season features Disney’s Moana, Jr., Elf, Jr.; How I Became A Pirate; James & the Giant Peach Jr.; and Disney’s Descendants. The pinnacle of every Summer Stage season is the Mainstage show where the cast and crew of Summer Stage pull out all the stops. With a full professional orchestra and a cast comprised of actors ages 18-29, The Spongebob Musical is this year’s highly anticipated Mainstage show and is a family show for everyone from 8 years and older to enjoy. Summer Stage is also proud to announce Little Women as part of its new “Summer Stories” series. Tickets are available now and seats are filling up fast.
Chris Luner believes that the arts are at the heart of a community, and that theater is a gift which is invaluable for everyone around it. He says “We need to reinvest not only in our audiences and our community but also in our participants and staff, not take things for granted, and cultivate a community that takes care of one another.”
More information about Chris Luner, his background in the arts, and his vision for Summer Stage is available on the Upper Darby Arts & Education website. Read an interview with Chris here!