The used to be the largest family in town, a 400-member extended family of brothers and sisters and cousins united not by blood, but by love of the theater.
But difficult years and pressure from other activities and organizations shrank that family, to the point where WDLT had dwindled below 100 members, and the sense of connectedness wasn’t nearly as strong.
Joey Schramm, the group’s new leader, literally grew up in the theater—he toddled around the stage in the early days of WDLT, and has spent 36 years performing, producing and directing—and said he misses that feeling.
But with new leadership, a new home at Green-Fields Elementary and a new approach, getting back to that sense of family is one of Schramm’s goals as they make their transition this summer.
“It’s a rebuilding year,” Schramm said.
And a major one, at that—the theater moves to this year, and instead of breaking the group up into various age-group shows and putting on a bevy of musicals, including a community show and a teen show, they’re mixing everyone from 7 years old on up to 18 and staging just three productions.
This year, they’re doing Disney’s The Little Memaid and Aladdin, as well as Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.
They moved into Green-Fields this year after petitioning the school board to get back in the schools, as they had in the past, and , the board agreed.
It brings the organization back under one roof after being split between two spots for rehearsals and performances over the past few years, and Laura Lynn Trace, the group’s vice president, said having everything in one spot is going to be key to making things a success.
“It’s going to help immensely,” she said.
Having everyone in one spot will make it easier to get kids involved in all aspects of the production and get them to learn what it takes to succeed in theater and beyond.
“At heart, we’re a teaching organization,” Trace said.
With that comes a focus on getting the most out of the program for every member of the group, from those playing leads, to the backstage crew to everyone in between.
“Each kid has to have a purpose,” Schramm said. “It has to be hands-on.”
If there’s a down side, it’s that Green-Fields is much smaller than their previous venues, but they’ve opted to add an extra performance for each show, running things Wednesday-Thursday-Friday this year, to make up for the lack of space.
Ultimately, Schramm said they’re concentrating on improving the quality of the productions, getting kids a solid foundation in the theater and getting more community involvement.
“This was a family—we want that back,” he said.
The group has one more , from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Little Theatre building at Grove Avenue and Crown Point Road.
“There’s always room for more West Deptford residents,” Trace said.
The summer program begins in less than three weeks, on June 21, and performances begin mid-July and run through the end of July. The Little Mermaid performs July 11 through 13, Aladdin goes on July 18 through 20 and Willy Wonka will be staged from July 25 to 27.