By Marimah Branch
Special to The CS&T
LAFAYETTE HILL – It isn’t every day that you hear about a resident theater director at a Catholic school, but at St. Philip Neri School in Lafayette Hill, Colleen Sutcliffe has been the play director for the last 15 years. Suttcliffe has been putting on musicals at the school every year with the help of 80-100 school kids from grades five to eight as actors and stage crew, in addition to a group of volunteer parents.
The group is called the St. Philip Neri Theater Company and this year they are staging the musical “South Pacific.”
Sutcliffe started the group 15 years ago when her own children were attending the school. “There was a drama club at the school, but I wanted to bring something else to the table, like musical shows,” Sutcliffe said. “I was a young mom looking to do something with my kids’ school, but I didn’t have any background in this whatsoever.”
The first show she worked on was “Godspell.” “It was so well received that it just continued for 15 years,” she said.
The school venue holds about 400 people, and the shows are packed every year. The theater company has put on some impressive shows including well known musicals like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Annie,” “Oliver!,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Grease.”
The entire production process is modeled after the traditional professional theater. “We have auditions around the end of November each year, one callback and then casting,” Sutcliffe said. “The rehearsals are progressive, starting with one per week in December, two or three per week in January and February, and just about every day in March up until dress rehearsals.”
What started as a small endeavor has grown into a tremendous school project for the community. “It just keeps going,” Sutcliffe said. “It grows every year. We have a very wonderful production staff. We now have a couple choreographers, beautiful artistic set designers, some great dads who help construct the sets and great moms who are in charge of the costumes.
“I love it, the whole process. I love seeing the children up there,” she said.
She calls it a labor of love. “The parents always say thank you,” Sutcliffe said, “but what I get back is so much more.”
“A good project attracts good people, and that’s exactly what this has done,” she added.
The performances of “South Pacific” run March 25 to 27. For ticket information and show times, call St. Philip’s rectory at 610-828-3082.
Marimah Branch is a freelance writer and parishioner of St. Rose of Lima in North Wales.