Bob Falkenstein is a Summer Stage alum and longtime friend of the Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation. He currently serves on the Summer Stage Alumni Advisory Committee, as well as the Alumni Engagement Sub-Committee. In June 2022 he started the exciting “Brave and Strong and True” podcast as an opportunity for former Summer Stagers to both listen to one another’s stories and share their own. We sat down with Bob to talk about how this podcast came to be, and his plans for reaching even more Summer Stage alumni in the future. 

Q: How did you get involved with Summer Stage?

A: I got involved with the second year of Summer Stage all the way back in 1977. I went to Upper Darby High School and I was always in choir, but I was in the musical in my junior year and met a lot of people who had done the first year of Summer Stage who encouraged me to join. My concert choir did a three-week tour of Poland and the Soviet Union that summer, so I was able to join Music Man when we got back in August. That was my first show. I think I did Wizard of Oz as a Children’s Theatre show as well, and I was just sucked in. I ended up getting a staff position and directing a couple of Children’s Theatre shows, and I would do four or five shows a summer if I could. We weren’t restricted by the “two shows a season” rule there is today, but we did have to leave when we were 25, which I guess was the compromise. We would do two Mainstage musicals at night, and then there would be a third show which would be a play or a big band show we used to call Sentimental Journey, in which we’d have people coming down from the audience and dancing on the stage. So yes, it was a little bit different.

Q: What is your background in performance and the arts?

A: I’m not a professional at all, but I live up in Whitehall – which is north of Allentown – and there are a lot of theaters up here. When I relocated up here I worked with a couple of different companies: Cedar Crest College, Muhlenberg College, and others that would cast people from the community. I kind of put a hold on things when I got married, because my wife loves going to the shows, but she hates missing me in the rehearsal process. We took our kids to see Seussical once, and it was a very family-oriented group. She said to me, “I think your daughter would like to do this next year, if you want to go with her.” So I got involved with this wonderful group called CAST (Catasauqua Area Showcase Theatre) and I was pretty lucky to be able to get parts there. When they did Honk I was the Cat, when they did Annie I was Daddy Warbucks, when they did Addams Family I was Fester so I shaved my head, when they did Mary Poppins I was Mr. Banks, etc. I got to perform with my son and daughter on stage, and my daughter was in third grade when she started so she was a pretty seasoned performer by the time she got to high school. 

Q: How did the “Brave and Strong and True” podcast come to be?

A: I’ve been a fan of podcasting since I got my first click-wheel iPod back in 2007. I do not enjoy commercial radio at all, but with podcasting you can control the content, you can stop it, and you can continue it once you get back in your car, and you can replay things. I’ve always been a fan of the medium, and then I found out how easy it is to do on your own. I have always been following technology trends and the different products and services that are out there and offered to people who want to do their own podcasts. I started to listen to podcasts and to watch YouTube videos about people making podcasts, and they said the number one thing is that you want a niche audience. You don’t want to play to the world, you just want to find an audience that’s going to be interested in the one thing that you know a lot about. Then when I came down to Summer Stage in 2015 for the 40th reunion show, of course I ran into all my friends from way back when but I also met a new generation of Summer Stagers. And they all have stories to tell, which is how I came up with my tagline at the beginning of each of my podcast episodes. I always say, “We all have stories to tell, and this is the place to tell them.” I played with that idea for a long time; I just wasn’t ready to pull the trigger, so to speak. 

Last winter, I was asked to be on the Alumni Advisory Committee, which is led by Kevin Dietzler. We had a series of meetings, which I was honored to have been asked to participate in, and then we came to a point of breaking down into sub-committees. One of these sub-committees was for Alumni Engagement, so that’s the one that I joined. I emailed Chris Luner and Kevin Dietzler about my idea for the podcast, and Kevin arranged a meeting with me to talk about it. He wanted to know all about it, and was the one who gave me the green light to get started with it. 

I’m a schoolteacher, so usually I have to wait until the school year ends to start new projects. I created my own artwork for the logo, decided on a hosting and a recording service, selected the music, worked on the format, and more. I did my first recording with my good friend Chuck Nichols, who I met my first year of Summer Stage. I interviewed him, edited it via GarageBand, and once I uploaded it people started to take notice. I had a list of people I contacted about being guests, and then I had people that would respond asking if they could be on the podcast as well. And of course I said, “Sure!” So I’m at a point where I’m interviewing people I never met and having a great time with it. Right now I have… a list of even more people that want to be on the podcast in addition to a list from Harry Dietzler with people he thinks would love to be on it. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of guests because there’s tens of thousands of Summer Stagers. It’s pretty amazing, and I’m really pleased with how it’s going.

Q: What can people expect from the podcast (people, stories, etc)?

A: For each episode, I have a series of questions that I ask in a natural order. Some people don’t want to know the questions ahead of time, but some people who have been listening to other episodes seem to know what’s coming next. It’s called “Brave and Strong and True” because I believe those are the pillars of Summer Stage. “To Fill the World With Love” has been sung every summer, and if you’re there you’re invited down on stage to sing. It just means so much, especially for some of us who were there in the beginning when it was the morning of our lives, because we’ve kind of passed the noontime of our lives and now we’re staring down the sunset of our lives. We’ve all managed to keep it together by remembering what it means to be brave and strong and true. 

When I get someone on the podcast, we do this thing that I like to call the “green room” where we’ll just chat for 10-12 minutes and at a certain point when I’m sure everything’s working I’ll let them know that I’m pressing the record button. Then at the end I tell them we’re going to say goodbye to the listeners and stop recording, but then we’ll end up talking on our own. On the podcast itself you’re going to hear a lot of memories, a lot of passion, a lot of seriousness, and a lot of laughter. One of the questions I ask is, “What would you like to say to Harry?” It is just amazing how many people attribute the great things that have happened to them in their lives to the fact that they met Harry and went through Summer Stage. The same themes come up over and over again about finding home in the community at Summer Stage; it’s been the shining beacon in a lot of lives. That’s what we talk about. 

Q: Was there anything that happened with the podcast that you didn’t expect?

A: I’m very pleased with how smoothly everything came together, even in something as simple as being able to get the email address [email protected]. It’s a young podcast; I’ve only been doing it for two months so far (as of August 2022). I appreciate the support I’m getting from people, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. I’m glad I held on to the idea for as long as I did so that I could allow it to mature and come out now, because I think this is a very good time for this podcast. Everyone’s getting excited for the 50th anniversary in a few years and we all look forward to many more years of Summer Stage strong at the heart of our community.

Q: Why does the “Brave and Strong and True” podcast matter so much?

A: When I look back at the original mission of this committee, which was to engage alumni, I think we just enjoy keeping in touch with one another and this is a way to do that. I work that into my introduction: “A podcast designed to engage alumni of all ages.” I’ve interviewed three people so far that live in California and don’t really have an opportunity to come back to Summer Stage as often. I think people are happy that if they want to listen to a podcast about Summer Stage, they can listen. My very first interview was 20 minutes long, and when I recently interviewed Suzanne Smart we went over an hour. We just couldn’t stop talking about Summer Stage. I’m looking for opportunities to involve more people because I can record up to five people at the same time. I’m exploring how to interview married couples, since a lot of people met the love of their life at Summer Stage. There’s also a lot of siblings that work together, so I’d like to interview them together as well. I think it could be fun to change it up a little bit, but so far I’ve been blessed to be able to do this. 

Q: How can former Summer Stagers get involved with the podcast?

A: At the end of the show, I always say, “If you want to be a guest, send me an email at [email protected].” You have to have a desktop computer or a laptop; it won’t work with a tablet or smartphone. It also helps if you have headphones and an external mic, but if you just have the earphones that come with your phone you can use those. I haven’t said no to anybody, so if you’re interested just send an email! 

Q: What does “brave, strong, and true” mean to you?

A: As I mentioned earlier, I think that “brave, strong, and true” are the pillars of Summer Stage; they’re our rules for life. I put the words to that song just behind the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, because they are lifelong principles. And as long as you follow them you’re not going to go wrong, and people are going to notice. If I’m ever asked, “What advice would you give me?” I will always answer with, “Just be brave, be strong, and be true.” There’s a lot in our history about how truth is beauty and beauty is truth, and these days not everybody values the truth. I think people see through that because they are true to themselves, and that’s what matters. If we all figured that out, the world would be a better place, just as our community has become. 
Click here to learn more about the “Brave and Strong and True” podcast and where to listen to it.

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