By Rachel Hauben
Summer Stage has many memorable elements, but few are as iconic as Mama Moscotti’s cookie jar. As Summer Stagers start their day, it’s no rare sight to see kids and staff members alike ask to grab a cookie on the way to rehearsal. Kathy (Mama) Moscotti has been involved with Summer Stage for over 30 years, starting in 1991 when her daughter Stacy first joined Children’s Theatre. Stacy’s daughter Olivia (now 12 years old) grew up coming to see Children’s Theatre shows and now participates in Summer Stage programs, and all three generations are truly part of the Summer Stage family. We sat down with Kathy, Stacy, and Olivia to learn more about their experience with Summer Stage and how it has helped them to grow closer as a family, just as Mama’s cookie jar brings together Summer Stagers both new and old.
Q: How did you first get involved with Summer Stage?
Olivia Smith: The first time I got involved with Summer Stage was when my mom and grandma took me to shows when I was younger. I was three months old when I saw my first show here and then I just kept coming back. When I was old enough I did Theatre Bugs, Star For A Day in the winter, and Rising Stars.
Stacy Moscotti: In the spring of 1991 I didn’t want to go back to summer camp, so my mom gave me a choice between space camp and Summer Stage. I chose Summer Stage, and my life has never been the same in the best possible way.
Kathy Moscotti: In 1991 I was told I should bring her [Stacy] here because she loved theatre, and she absolutely loved it from day one. I started volunteering here and just kept getting more and more involved. When they were looking for a new head of the parents’ organization they asked me, and I said I’d be glad to. The summer of 1995 they were redoing the high school, so we were at Beverly Hills Middle School. I am a nurse by profession, so I would go every day to take care of the kids because it was so dreadfully hot. The following February, Harry Dietzler called me up and asked if I would like to work for him at Summer Stage. At that point my daughter was getting ready to go to college, so being able to take care of more kids was just wonderful. At first I was just doing little bits of administrative work, and then as the years went on I started to do more and more. I’ve been here 27 years on staff, and everyone calls me “Mama” because Chris Sapienza (who was the Artistic Director for Children’s Theatre) always used to tell kids if something was wrong to “Go to Mama, she’ll take care of you.” The job just kept growing, and I found I was always looking forward to the summer.
Q: What has your Summer Stage experience been like?
O: My Summer Stage experience has been very fun because I know a lot of the people who work at Summer Stage from coming here as a kid. My nana is Mama Moscotti, so she knows everybody, and I sort of know everybody from that. It’s very fun to see and say hi to everybody you know. I love seeing the shows every year; it’s amazing to see all the performances that Summer Stage does. And now to be part of the programs and not only sitting in the audience, it’s even more fun.
S: I never felt like I fit in at school, during my first year at Summer Stage I was standing offstage with a microphone as Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio. At that time there was a commercial going around that said, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” And so one day in rehearsal when the Jiminy Cricket prop was in Pinocchio’s hands, I jokingly said that sentence from the commercial. I just remember hearing everybody laugh, and it was the first moment in my whole life that I felt accepted and cool. I fell in love with performing at Summer Stage. Harry Dietzler was the director for the very first show I was in, which was called Freedom. It was just the greatest experience ever, and I just kept coming back year after year. It had such an impact on me that I wanted to come back as a director and choreographer so that I could give kids what I received. I got my first job with Summer Stage at age 15 as a full-time choreographer for The Little Mermaid in 1994 with Dewey Oriente, who taught me everything I know about choreography and making pictures within dances. As the years went by I continued to choreograph, and then one year I went to Harry and asked if we could have a dance cabaret just like there was a singing cabaret, which is how Dance Troupe was born. I directed my first show at 19, which was Annie, Jr. in 1999, and then went on to direct The Wizard of Oz in 2000. I was also part of Outreach, the original Shooting Stars, and we performed all over Delco. In my adult career, I went on to professional theatre work where you have two-and-a-half weeks to rehearse, and I was already so acclimated to it because that’s what we do here. It was such a great training ground for what I went on to do; everything I teach my current students originated from Summer Stage.
K: It’s so wonderful to see these kids learning to work together, learning to create a product and realizing it takes a village for them to do all this. Back at the beginning, the kids worked a lot more in costumes and tech, so they would learn about the different areas. I’ve learned so many things from watching the kids and doing my administrative work. I admire Harry [Dietzler] to no end. He’s a really genuine, upstanding, ethical, real person, and his wife Dottie is too. Along the way we became very good friends. My world is Summer Stage, and I can’t believe I’m here after all these years. I love the kids, and seeing so many of them running the place now is so interesting because I’ve known them all since they were little girls and boys. And it’s so sweet to see the kids who come in with their kids, because they all make a stop here to see Mama. I’m also very well-known for my cookie jar, which was actually an idea my husband had. Whenever I had to discipline anyone, I would give them a cookie afterward. Over the years the news spread, and now the directors will come in and grab a cookie at the start of the day, the kids will visit me and grab a cookie, and it’s just so funny to me that it’s become a symbol of who I am. It’s about the joy of being around the kids and the people I work with. They’ve helped me through so much; generations of Shooting Stars even sang at my husband’s funeral. The community here is just so wonderful and I love everyone here. I’m very, very proud to be part of this program.
Q: What is your favorite part of Summer Stage, and/or what is your favorite memory of Summer Stage?
O: Some of my favorite memories are the memories that my mom gives me about her time at Summer Stage. I also love the friendships I have made here.
S: My brain just exploded into 30,000 memories; this is like trying to pick an era of my life. I’ll just name a couple off the top of my head. I did The King and I when I was 12 years old and they allowed the younger kids to perform in the Mainstage show. I also remember sewing my costume together from many different fabric pelts when I played King Louie at age 14. Of course an unforgettable story is when I played Pippi Longstocking and was rushed to the orthodontist in full Pippi regalia because my tongue got caught in my braces during dress rehearsal. My first time watching a show I choreographed was just incredible, as was my first time watching a show I directed. Being blown away by the spectacle of “Be Our Guest” when I directed Beauty and the Beast for Mainstage was simply amazing. I’d have to sit here for hours remembering everything. I’ve been here for 31 years, and all I have to say is that Hogwarts is cool, but Summer Stage has the true magic.
K: There are so many memories. Of course, watching my child grow into who she became because of Summer Stage and the opportunities that Harry gave her personally is just incredible. There have been so many shows that taught so many beautiful lessons over the years. Getting to see the growth of Summer Stage to where it is now has also been amazing. When I started, there were maybe 200 kids, and we’ve just kept growing and growing; in the summer of 2019 pre-pandemic we had almost 800 Summer Stagers. Another favorite personal thing was when Harry gave me the “To Fill the World With Love” award and my husband could share that moment with me. Before my husband passed away, we would always have the staff parties at our house. They were wonderful times with wonderful people who I am so grateful to have as my closest friends. Summer Stage is like coming home every summer. Even if we don’t see one another at all over the winter, as soon as we get together to start the Summer Stage season it’s like no time has passed. We’re still the same as we were, and I think the kids feel the same way.
Q: How has being part of Summer Stage brought you closer as a family?
O: I just love being able to listen to all the stories my mom and nana have told me. Now getting to be in Theatre Bugs and Rising Stars myself and tell them my stories, it’s just so cool. Also since I know a lot of the people here because of them, I’m able to talk with a whole bunch of people which is really nice.
S: Well, my mom is Mama to 25,000 children here, so as an only child it’s so wonderful to see the world fall in love with your mom. When I went off to college, Harry came to her and asked if he could pay her to do the things she volunteered to do while I was in Children’s Theatre. She’s been working here ever since, and I’ve loved getting to see her blossom. And then from bringing Olivia when she was a little baby to seeing her do the Summer Stage song in the aisle as she got a little older to this year watching her perform at Rising Stars, I just can’t believe it. She did Star For A Day and was the Witch in Into the Woods in sixth grade, and seeing her love performing is just amazing. I do know that she wants to go into engineering, and that’s the beauty of Summer Stage; this isn’t a training ground exclusively for being a professional performer, it’s so much more than that. It’s about how much the arts give to the community and these kids at this formative time. My mom and I love to go to all the shows and talk about how great everybody was afterwards, and it’s so wonderful to see kids who started out in the ensemble grow up and get these larger roles. Every summer I look forward to coming to Summer Stage with my family, and even more so with my little toddler coming to see the shows as well.
K: Always from the beginning, the whole family would be part of whatever Stacy was doing. She was my only child, so my husband and I were able to spend lots of time with her. I was always a volunteer parent when she was young, and then with her growing up I got involved in different ways. The little one – who is now 12 years old – grew up coming to see the shows. She has been to almost every show starting when she was only a few months old, and she absolutely loved it. She loves doing the shows, but another of her passions is in being an architect or an engineer so I can’t wait to see where her creativity takes her. We just did everything together as a family, and so much of our lives revolved around Summer Stage.
Q: Why is it so important to keep Summer Stage going for future generations?
O: I think Summer Stage should keep going for future generations because hearing all these fun stories about my mom doing Summer Stage made me excited to do it too. It’s also so great to be able to do theatre in the summer, because the only show that I can do during the school year is my school show and I love how Summer Stage offers the opportunity to just do more. That’s why I think it should just keep going on and on.
S: It’s so important because Summer Stage is an essential part of life. This is home, these are my people, this is the magic. It gives kids such joy and confidence and fun in a time when they are burdened down by school pressures, especially now coming out of the pandemic. It’s a chance to be free. I remember being Olivia’s age and counting down the months until I could go back to Summer Stage. Summer Stage not only has to continue, but I think it will continue, no matter what people may say about it. It’s very easy not to understand how absolutely incredible Harry Dietzler and this program are without experiencing it. We want to open it to everybody. Come experience the magic, because you’ll never want to stop that experience.
K: It’s so important to keep Summer Stage going strong for the very reasons that my daughter and my granddaughter are experiencing all these wonderful experiences that you get from being part of this amazing program and community. To me, there’s always been this sense of community, learning confidence, learning how to respect others’ talents, learning how to share your own talents and give back to others, and figuring out how to create something beautiful together. There are so many benefits to the arts, and taking them away from the kids is just wrong. It helps them to grow into wonderful, well-rounded people and teaches them to appreciate art, music, and theatre. That’s what I’ve always believed even before I was involved in Summer Stage. This program is a good place, and I’m glad it’s here.
Q: What does “brave, strong, and true” mean to you?
O: I think that being “brave, strong, and true” means stepping out of your comfort zone and being yourself, whether you’re doing theatre or anything else. There might be things you’re scared to do, but being “brave, strong, and true” lets you face those things head-on and keep pushing forward.
S: The first person that pops into my mind is Terrence [Calvert]. I directed him in his last show in 2010, which wasn’t at Summer Stage but had a lot of Summer Stagers in it. Watching him on his whole arc, he embodied “brave, strong, and true.” Those three words come together to form a guiding principle, a mission statement. From 12 years old to where I am now, I get the lyrics in a different way. I’ve moved from the morning of my life to the noontime, and then there’s the evening of my life at the end. And every time we sing that song, you’re singing it in spirit with everyone you’ve ever met at Summer Stage. It’s hard to be brave and strong and true sometimes, but what you learn at Summer Stage gives you that bravery, strength, and integrity.
K: To me, being brave is daring to try. No matter what it is, you’re daring to try and are brave enough to do it. What these kids do is amazing; I could never work up the courage to do this. Strong is to be able to handle the rejection and still be willing to push on. I always said, “From every bad thing, something good comes around the corner.” And it does; bad things happen and you just have to be strong enough to weather them. True is being true to yourself and your beliefs and being able to stand up and follow through with that. Just be who you are inside.