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West Deptford Little Theatre Gets Tentative OK to Move to Green-Fields

The school board gave approval, pending a signed agreement specifying requirements for the use of the school this summer.

Several years after a disastrous run at the high school, including a fire during a production, the West Deptford Little Theatre program could be back in the district for the summer.

After close to an hour of heated debate on the topic, the West Deptford school board tentatively approved, in an 8-1 vote Monday night, the organization’s use of for this year’s run, pending a signed agreement of terms.

“As you can see, there’s still apprehension,” school board President Christopher Strano told Little Theatre director and vice-president Laura Trace and treasurer Bill Bennett, who came out to speak on behalf of the organization.

For their part, Trace and Bennett emphasized the shift in leadership and a desire to repair—at least figuratively—the damage that had been done by past incidents, including a fire during a production.

“We are willing to cooperate in any way we can,” Trace said.

The group has already taken some steps to show that, she said, working with West Deptford’s recreation advisory committee to improve their operations.

And facing at least $6,000 in costs to rent out the same rehearsal and performance space—roughly 10 percent of their annual budget—Trace and Bennett said the move to Green-Fields would help ease the pressure on the group.

They would still face some costs—if more than 35 percent of the children participating in the program live outside the township, there would be a cost to use the school, and the organization would have to foot the bill for night custodians during shows.

But Bennett and Trace said they’d do whatever it took, including laying their own reputations on the line via an agreement on specific guidelines for the Little Theatre’s use of the school, including stringent supervisory rules for the 150-plus kids involved in the summer-long program.

“We have vested interests in this,” Trace said.

Countering Trace and Bennett at every step was school board Vice-President James Mehaffey, who was the board’s president at the time of the debacle at the high school, as he leveled serious concerns about the group’s leadership and practices, given the Little Theatre’s track record.

“I’ve heard this before,” Mehaffey said. “When it was implemented, it was complete chaos in the school.”

Mehaffey cited everything from the backdrop catching during both one production and a rehearsal, damage to school property and outright theft, and raised the point that the school board’s solicitor previously said the school board could have heightened liability, should another accident take place.

His criticism was primarily aimed at the group’s old leadership—former Little Theatre heads Sue and Joe Schramm, —but Mehaffey also singled out new Little Theatre President Joey Schramm, who was not at the school board meeting, given his ties to the old guard.

“Even though you’ve changed structure, you still have a president that’s related back to the old organization,” Mehaffey said. “You really don’t allow the board the opportunity to escape that liability.”

But the younger Schramm is already moving to push the group in a different direction, Trace and Bennett said.

“He does not see eye-to-eye with his parents on many, many issues,” Trace said. “We want to change. We want a good rapport with the community.”

The other school members were ultimately convinced by the plan for a signed, spelled-out agreement, which still has to be drafted and OK’d before final approval.

Mehaffey, who cast the lone no vote, continued to push against that move up until the vote, and questioned whether it was a smart move to rush the decision.

But as Trace and Bennett pointed out, the timing made a vote important, given the need to potentially lock up an alternative site in time for the summer program, which will start in late June.

“You have some work to do, and there are still details to be worked out,” Strano said after the tentative approval, and warned further slip-ups by the Little Theatre could spell the end in a hurry.

Strano said the board will also check with its solicitor to ensure there are no lingering issues with liability.

T.J. Patch April 24, 2012 at 04:07 PM
This is a god thing for West Deptford, not just the theater but for the community. The events of the past are not always prologue and knowing Bill Bennett personally, there is no more standup guy in this township. If he says he will lay his personal reputation on the line for WDLT then that is as solid a guarantee as you will get. WDLT has moved on from the errors of the past, is looking to move forward under new leadership and is making every attempt to put the past behind them and move forward. Mr. Mehaffey needs to do the same and give the new members of WDLT the opportunity to implement the changes they want to implement and then judge them on how the organization is moving forward, not by past mistakes by previous members no longer running the organization.
Concerned parent April 24, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Why does the township need 2 Theatre programs. there is already a good program at the high school run by very good people the Krasting's?????
Eileen Kane Flynn April 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Dear Concerned parent, WD Little Theatre has been in the township since 1973 prior to the theatre group currently run by the Krastings and has been an enriching and talented environment for children of all ages to learn the various aspects of theatre. There is no role too small in the WD Little Theatre community and each person is given the opportunity to be in a show. The prior president and vice present taught many people in this community to be patient, kind, respect, and the belief and that there is no role too small it is how you portray your role to the audience that could make you a hit. It is also a family atmosphere in which you have friends for life.
Concerned parent April 25, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Ok understood but that does not explain the need for two separate programs that teach the same values.
WD Alum April 25, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Why didn't you ask that back when the second program was established? WDLT has been around 39 years and has benefitted thousands. I believe there is room for borh programs, especially since WDLT doesn't cost the township anything.
Grand April 25, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Both programs have very good attendance leading me to believe there would be children turned away if there was only one.
T.J. Patch April 25, 2012 at 03:53 PM
There are several theater programs in the local area, the two here in WD as well as a program in Pitman and another in Washington Twp. There is also a theater group in Woodbury although my understanding is that is geared more for older kids and adults. Also, a group in Vineland recently re-opened the Landis Theater and is staging performances there year round. Each program has something to offer a variety of children from first timers to seasoned performers. The cost to participate also varies widely. I've had kids in WDLT as well as the Pitman program and the WDLT program was much more cost effective. That's not a knock on the Pitman program. That was very well run and the production was excellent, the people running the program were great people and my kids had a lot of fun, but, for many WDLT is a more cost effective option that keeps kids busy during the summer months.
trop May 03, 2012 at 09:11 PM
As a resident of the Green-Fields community and a close neighbor to the school, I look forward to the summer when the traffic and speeding cars in the neighborhood finally die down. It does not come as good news that this summer there will be continued activity as well as out-of-towners driving down these roads again. Sure wish the residents could have a say on this decision.

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