STORY WRITTEN BY PATTI MENGERS
Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has scored many lofty titles in the last 12 years.
She was called “the thinking man’s sex symbol” by Maxim in 2002, one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007 and 2008, one of the “10 most fascinating people in America” by Barbara Walters in 2010 and “the funniest woman in the free world” by Entertainment Weekly in 2013.
But one of the longest-held personas of the award-winning comedienne, writer, producer and Sarah Palin-look-alike, is one that she clearly never forgets — that of, “Delaware County girl.”
Tina Fey is coming home once again this Saturday night, Aug. 16, when she is set to appear at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center to help raise the estimated $300,000 needed for the center’s new sound system. It is not only the auditorium for her alma mater, Upper Darby High School, it is the theater where she performed and directed for at least five years as part of Upper Darby Summer Stage.
It is the place where the 44-year-old “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” veteran most likely came into her element, said Harry Dietzler, who founded Summer Stage in 1976 and is now executive and artistic director of the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center.
“She was a nerdy kid — she will tell you that — really intelligent and smart. This was a way for her to get with other creative people like herself,” said Dietzler.
In her 2011 autobiography, “Bossypants,” where Fey gives Upper Darby Summer Stage the fictitious name of Delaware County Summer Showtime, she talks about her first season there and notes: “When the summer was over, I had made about 25 new friends and was no longer weeping into my mom’s radiator cover.”
“Here’s the mega-star writing a book, ‘Bossypants,’ and she devotes a whole chapter to Summer Stage. It was important to her in helping her personality come out, being part of Summer Stage,” said Dietzler who Fey has dubbed “Larry Wentzler” in her book.
Obviously Dietzler made an impact on Fey. In 1989 she helped establish the “Harry Awards” for distinguished Summer Stage participants as part of the end-of-season festivities. When Fey learned recently from Dietzler that the 1,600-seat Performing Arts Center needed a new sound system, she suggested she appear for a 10th anniversary screening of her hit film, “Mean Girls,” followed by a question-and-answer period emceed by another Summer Stage veteran, TV Guide writer Damian Holbrook. Tickets ranging from $40 to $100 are still available for the 7:30 p.m. screening that will be preceded by a limited “meet-and-greet” which is reportedly sold out.
“I told her of the need and the event was all her idea,” said Dietzler.
It is not the first homecoming for the 1988 Upper Darby High School graduate since she has won fame and fortune. Fey wrote the script and appeared in the 25th anniversary alumni fest for Upper Darby Summer Stage in 2000 and in 2004 appeared at the high school for an “NBC Dateline” interview with Katie Couric about “Mean Girls.” Fey wrote the screenplay and portrayed math teacher Sharon Norbury in the movie.
Mrs. Norbury, in fact, is Dietzler’s favorite of the many characters Fey has portrayed during her television and screen career. He noted that while Fey based some of “Mean Girls” on her years at Upper Darby High School “we had no mean girls at Upper Darby!”
Fey was also supportive of her alma mater in 2012 when she urged friends via e-mail to oppose budget cuts to the arts in Upper Darby School District.
The daughter of Donald and Jeanne Fey, who still reside in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby, Fey was born eight years after her brother, Peter, who, she noted in her book, “has always looked out for me like a third parent.”
Fey wrote about how, during her spring semester of kindergarten, she was slashed on the left side of her face by a stranger in the alley behind her house and how the fuss people made over that scar has had an impact on her life.
“I accepted all that attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I were really extraordinary. And I shall keep these Golden Globes, every last one!” wrote Fey.
She is a graduate of Cardington-Stonehurst Elementary School and Beverly Hills Middle School where, at age 11, Fey reportedly read “Seventy Years of Great Film Comedians” by Joe Franklin for a school project. At Upper Darby High School she was a member of the choir, the drama club, and the tennis team and co-editor of the school newspaper for which she reportedly wrote an anonymous satirical column. And she began her involvement with Summer Stage which lasted until she graduated from the University of Virginia with a drama degree in 1992 when she moved to Chicago to take improvisation classes with The Second City Theater.
In 1999 Fey became the first female head writer for “Saturday Night Live” where she was on staff from 1998 through 2006 and, starting in 2000, served as co-anchor of the Weekend Update segment with Jimmy Fallon. She returned to “Saturday Night Live” in 2008 in guest appearances as her look-alike, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, which earned her the Associated Press Entertainer of the Year Award and an Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. In 2010, Fey, at age 40, became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor joining the ranks of Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal and Bill Cosby, among others.
Her television series, “30 Rock,” which she created, wrote, produced and starred in as Liz Lemon, head writer of a TV comedy series, earned her six Emmys, two Golden Globes and five Screen Actor Guild Awards during its run from 2006 until 2013. In 2011 “Bossypants” topped the New York Times Bestseller List for five weeks and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album in 2012. Fey earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011 and in 2013 and 2014 co-hosted the Golden Globe Awards with fellow “Saturday Night Live” almuna Amy Poehler.
Fey has also made her mark in promoting such charities as Autism Speaks, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Mercy Corps which works to end world hunger and Love Our Children USA, an organization that fights violence against children whose officials included her in their 2009 list of Mothers Who Make a Difference.
Fey has two daughters, Alice, who will turn 9 in September, and Penelope who is 3, with her husband of 13 years, composer Jeff Richmond. They met while performing with Second City in Chicago and now live in New York City.
Dietzler said that when Fey was part of Summer Stage, she started in the box office part-time and later directed six children’s shows.
“It’s a fantastic program that continues to this day, and I can’t recommend it highly enough,” Fey wrote in her book.
Two weeks ago Summer Stage performers were rehearsing for the children’s theater production of “School House Rock” on the set for the main stage production of “Shrek.”
“One of our missions is to give people their first opportunity to design a set or direct a show or design costumes. Most of the staff are in college. Several are working in the field,” said Dietzler.
“Strong arms!” “Smile!” urged “School House Rock” choreographer Joanne McBride from the front row, while the disembodied voice of stage manager Rosie Jowers issued the order to “Hold up your planets!” via a microphone that made her sound like Big Brother. Keeping a close eye was director Rachel Stevens, herself a product of Summer Stage who just earned a master’s degree in directing from New York’s Pace University.
Rehearsals for “Alice in Wonderland” were in progress in the band room and in the theater lobby while across the courtyard in a ground floor high school room, performers were practicing for a modern rendition of the Ugly Duckling called “Honk Jr.” Over in the arts and technology building, Summer Stage technical director Kevin Katze, 20, a Summer Stage alumnus who is now a sophomore engineering major at Temple University in Philadelphia, was supervising the set construction crew for “Shrek.” Across the hall, Sarah Ganek, 23, a scenic painting apprentice at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, was overseeing Summer Stage apprentice Peniella Guerrier, 16, and intern Mary Kathryn Jardine, 19, who had painted set pieces for “Shrek” and “Honk Jr.”
Ganek is hoping to be in the audience for Fey’s fundraiser, especially since Shelley Locke, the mother of her boyfriend, Tim Laskey, graduated with Fey from Upper Darby High School in 1988. Costume intern Aidan Miller’s mother attended Upper Darby High School with Fey, but graduated three years earlier. The 20-year-old Upper Darby resident is a Temple biochemistry major who hopes to do research some day at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but he has spent his last 10 summers with Summer Stage, six working on costumes.
Outside the theater, costume shop manager Lauren Perigard led a train of costume racks down the hill to the high school courtyard, announcing, “Here comes ‘Shrek’!” Among the racks was “Shrek” costume designer Julia Poiesz, 30, of Ridley Township, who is assistant costume shop manager at the Walnut Street Theater. Perigard is costume shop manager for Drexel University’s Mandell Theater in Philadelphia. Their destination was the family and consumer science room, which was full of industrious interns and volunteers such as Loretta Cohen who drives her teenaged daughters, Jamie and Hannah, to Summer Stage from West Goshen Township in Chester County and then helps with costumes while they rehearse.
“I just come down and help out the costume crew. It’s just too much fun to say ‘no.’ They’re a great bunch of kids. They’re wicked talented,” said Cohen.
Nick Bruce, 20, of Upper Darby, is group sales manager for the Summer Stage box office and he portrayed Peter Pan in “Shrek.” He is also a big fan of Tina Fey.
“She’s so funny and entertaining and she just seems so down to earth,” said Bruce who is in his eighth year with Summer Stage.
He is looking forward to the fundraiser this Saturday and meeting the famous Upper Darby Summer Stage alumna who once graced the box office where he now sits.
“It’s actually exciting to see how far she went starting in here, so I have high hopes for myself,” said Bruce with a smile.
IF YOU GO
Tickets for the 10th Anniversary screening of “Mean Girls” featuring Tina Fey to raise funds for the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center‘s new sound system are available for $40 to $100 by calling the box office at 610-622-1189 or online at www.udpac.org . The movie starts 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the arts center adjoining Upper Darby High School, 601 N. Lansdowne Ave.