Back Stage Pass

Time for WDLT's crew to get some applause of their own.

Way back when West Deptford Little Theatre started, almost four decades ago, I learned of the legendary backstage crew hand, Elroy Clayton.

Now, I’ve never met Elroy. But the part he played in those early days of WDLT was immeasurable. While I spent my summer memorizing lines, practicing dance steps and learning to hit my mark.

But while I was doing all that singing and dancing, magic of another sort was going on. The older kids who made up the crew were creating the puzzle pieces that, once together, would provide the backdrop for our production.

In the backyard of the Sherwood home of Mike and Anna Cassabian, props were collected or assembled. On their driveway, flats were painted.

Then everything was moved to the stage at West Deptford High School, where the crew–led by theater co-founder Joseph Schramm and fellow teacher Barbara Howdershell–would put those pieces together, add finishing touches, and create a forest, a ballroom, a dwarfish cottage or whatever other scene needed for the show of the week. (Back then, we did four shows in four weeks–a feat WDLT will top this year, with five shows in the same time frame.)

Anyway, back to Elroy. It seems that whenever something went wrong, the rarely seen Elroy Clayton was the one to blame.

Lost prop? Elroy must have taken it. Hammer missing? Elroy used it last. Spilled paint? Oh, clumsy Elroy! What started as an inside, backstage joke grew into a full-fledged legend, with the name “Elroy Clayton” appearing in many programs of that (and future) eras.

In time, Elroy reached the pinnacle of stage crew success–he had an award named after him. To this day, the Elroy Clayton Award is handed out at the Theatre’s end of season banquet to a child who goes above and beyond in contributing to the backstage success of the summer shows.

It’s good to know that Elroy’s legend lives on—and that crew members do get some recognition. After all, when most of us think of the theater, we think of those appearing in the spotlight, not those running it.

I have to plead guilty to that–when I was in the very first production of Snow White that very first season of WDLT, I was all about the acting, the singing, the dancing and not so much the painting or hammering. I worked to become the Evil Queen, but paid little mind to those building the fairy tale world around me. (I guess I was type casted, after all.)

Fast forward 38 years (how is that possible?). My stage days are long behind me. My oldest daughter did her own stint as Grumpy in a WDLT production of Snow White and the Eight Dwarfs in the '90s. My youngest will follow in our footsteps this Wednesday and Thursday nights when she appears as Bashful in this year’s version.

Lots of people have come and gone in 38 years, but Mr. Schramm, the original technical director, is still leading the backstage staff. This year he and a handful of volunteers will provide magical backdrops for not only my little Bashful, but also productions of last week’s Oklahoma!, this week’s Sleeping Beauty, a Community Theatre production of Back to the 80s (July 21-22) and the closing show, The Wizard of Oz (July 27-28).

This Friday, Libby came home and told me all about what she learned at theater that day. “They even had us practice our bows,” she said, eyes flashing.

Maybe that’s something the crew needs to learn as well. After all, they’re just as deserving of the audience applause as the dwarfs (and, yes, even the Evil Queen).

Elroy Clayton may just be a legend, but there are real people behind every costume, every made-up face, every painted flat, and every magic mirror. Mr. Schramm and the rest of those who put in countless hours to put this all together, it’s time to take a bow.

Laura Lynn Trace July 09, 2011 at 02:37 PM
There's no business like show business like no business I know...great article! And oh, so true...I think we have several Elroy Claytons this year, both fictional and deserving!
Ken Hummel July 09, 2011 at 06:01 PM
I think Elroy got blamed that first year for leaving the Cassabians with a techno-color driveway after he came up with the idea to paint the background drops there! Great memories and a great story!
Tom Purvenas July 09, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Break a leg to all this summer! Elroy will be sure to help out here and there. Lots of good times.
Tim Dixon July 11, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Hail to Mr Schramm and all the stage crew past and present! You've transported thousands to other worlds with your plywood and spray-paint.
Susan Schramm July 17, 2011 at 01:42 AM
This is the first year we have no student "Elroy"... there is NO crew other than Mr.Schramm, Scott Lebeau, Rich Waschko, Bobby Poulos... that is it... Nina Anderson (who is helping her mom this summer) and won the Elroy last year came back to do Spot. Elroy must have eaten the crew... Love, SS


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