For an 82-year-old theater company, Haddonfield Plays and Players has a thoroughly 21st-century outlook.
At a dress rehearsal for last December’s production of White Christmas, local theater buff Derek Davis sat in the audience, cell phone turned on. “Shout out to the lighting designer,” he tweeted. “Nice FX. #hppwhitechristmas #LoveYouDidntDoRightByMe.”
Davis was among a group of hand-picked attendees to the company’s Social Media Night. An HPP intern, Taylor Brody, developed the concept. Now, “all our shows are assigned a hashtag,” says vice president of marketing Tami Gordon Brody. Even cast members are encouraged to use the hashtag when posting on social media.
HPP, founded in 1934, has always had a social bent. “In the early days,” says board president Dave Stavetski, “we functioned as a social club where lovers of theater would gather monthly for a night of entertainment, food, drink and occasionally a little dancing.” The company achieved federal non-profit status in the 1960s. Today, it operates in a 145-seat performing arts center in the Crows Woods section of Haddonfield.
HPP’s productions feature both novices and professionals. Its most famous alumnus, the late Michael Landon (Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, Highway to Heaven), appeared in several shows while in high school in nearby Collingswood. Recently, Julia Udine, currently Christine Daaé in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, starred as Maria in HPP’s West Side Story.
The repertoire is a mix of dramas, musicals and comedy. Pat DeFusco, vice president of production, provides artistic oversight for the mainstage shows. This month, HPP is staging Aida; this summer’s production is the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Each spring, HPP also presents Number the Stars, a play about the rescue of Danish Jews from the Nazis. It earned author Lois Lowry a Newbery award in 1990. “We have performed the show for thousands of students across the Delaware Valley,” says Stavetski. Through a partnership with the Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Cherry Hill, the performances are followed by interviews with Holocaust survivors.
The company also partnered with Amazing Transformations of Stratford to launch the Shining Stars Theater Program for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. “HPP has been an instrumental part of building the program,” says Amazing Transformations facilitator Joy Blatherwick.
The common denominator for HPP is affecting people’s lives with entertainment. “I want the audience to feel differently than when they arrived,” says Ed Doyle, chair of the plays committee