Transitional stage: New president looks to enhance and refresh EPAC image

By on April 6, 2017
The EPAC Board of Directors from left to right are David Dierwechter, president; Lynne DeMers-Hunt, secretary; Steve Sellers, treasurer; Robin Payne, member at large; and Greta Laube, vice president.

The EPAC Board of Directors from left to right are David Dierwechter, president; Lynne DeMers-Hunt, secretary; Steve Sellers, treasurer; Robin Payne, member at large; and Greta Laube, vice president.

Coming off EPAC’s recent successful run of a sold-out production of “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” (the first such sell out run in recent history) the mood of the regional theatre’s board, staff, and volunteers is elated … and driven.

Not necessarily a turning point, 2017 is poised to become an important year for what was once known only as the “playhouse in the park.” EPAC looks to spread its influence and recognition far, wide, and especially close to home.

“A lot of people in the community are not aware (of EPAC),” said board President Dave Dierwechter “We’re an extremely important part of the community.”

The incoming president of the board cited the Ephrata Library, Ephrata Main Theatre, the Rec Center, and EPAC as vital cogs in the cultural machine of the community. He feels his stage may not get the visibility it deserves and wants to rekindle a spark.

“When I returned, I realized EPAC needed revitalization in the community,” said Dierwechter, who previously served on the EPAC Board of Directors through 2015.

Dierwechter also served as president of the EPAC board in the ‘90’s. His latest term became effective this January after he started to notice a trend as he met new people who lived in the Ephrata area. Many of these people had heard of the theatre, but admitted they had never visited or seen a show since the playhouse’s major renovation in 2003. Artistic Director Ed Fernandez echoes these sentiments.

“Some people don’t know that we were even renovated. They still think we are a non-air conditioned theatre,” said Fernandez. “We need to get people out to Ephrata. Ephrata is not some foreign country or a one-schoolhouse town.”

The 2003 renovation brought the now-named Sharadin Bigler Theatre into the 21st century, but at a price. EPAC is sitting on a large mortgage, which — along with numerous donations — helped create the 300-seat renewal. Dierwechter is looking to renew a capital campaign, which started last year with a performance by Lancaster County native and EPAC alum Jonathan Groff. The Tony-nominated thespian was available to help start the campaign with “An Evening with Jonathan Groff” in January 2016, but little has been done to bring in more funds since his visit. Now, Dierwechter wants Ephrata businesses to know about opportunities to promote themselves and help EPAC.

“We are a non-profit (organization) and doing an extremely good job at remaining a non-profit,” said Dierwechter. “But, we need to increase funding.”

The current capital campaign’s goal is to eliminate the building’s mortgage by raising $350,000. The mortgage, explained Dierwechter, is holding the company back from achieving future goals. Dierwechter said the theatre is looking into a couple fundraising events starting this spring, as well as a New Year’s Eve Gala to end out the year.

For day-to-day operations and show production, the theatre relies on generous individuals and resourceful businesses.

“Only a small portion of our income is ticket sales. We rely heavily on advertising and sponsors and also individual donations,” said Dierwechter.

For a fixed donation, sponsors receive a variety of benefits.

“Show sponsors are very important because (their donations) go right into the general operations fund,” said Fernandez. “All fundraising is important, but show sponsors are extremely important because they keep the theatre going.”

Essentially, the show sponsors are the producers of the show, which can run upwards of $40,000 for a big musical. Show sponsors get a private show, which past business owners have used to treat employees, customers, or potential clients. Most recently for “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” (which Fernandez dubbed the “Hamilton” of Lancaster County), Ameriprise Financial Advisor Ted Williams was the Kids4Kids Show Sponsor.

For a $3,000 sponsorship Williams received a pre-show reception for 20 guests and a special, invitation-only performance of the show, which he filled with more than 200 clients, guests, and friends. His name and business were recognized in the curtain speech for each show and adorned the outdoor marquee. He also received a full page advertisement in the playbill insert throughout the entire season and a sponsor logo and listing in the playbill insert, as well as other mentions and notifications of his sponsorship in marketing materials and on social media. Williams also was invited to the subscribers and sponsors party earlier this year.

Smaller businesses, which cannot fill a 300-seat theatre, can donate the seats to a local charity (who in turn can sell the tickets as a fundraiser) and the business gets a full year of advertising through the theatre’s marketing, explained Dierwechter. The theatre has several levels of sponsorship.

“For individuals and small business we have opening night performance sponsorship,” said Dierwechter.

If interested in sponsoring, advertising, or donating, businesses are encouraged to contact Dierwechter directly. EPAC welcomes any and all donations.

“No amount is too small,” said Dierwechter. “And businesses can donate, which is tax deductible.”

“We’re not about making a profit. We are here to break even. We’re here for the art,” said Fernandez. “But, if we don’t break even, we don’t exist.”

The theatre is not focusing solely on the Ephrata area. Recent publicity events and fundraising efforts in Lancaster City have been a success by introducing new theatregoers to EPAC and all Ephrata has to offer.

EPAC holds an annual event — a mirror of the subscriber party — at Lancaster’s Tellus360 and a fundraising evening at Iron Hill Brewing. The theatre’s small budget for advertising created a need to find exposure through other venues, explained Dierwechter.

“The idea was to try and pick up an audience who would otherwise not know where we are at,” said Dierwechter. “We sold some subscriptions. Because of our limited advertising, those people would not normally get the exposure and become subscribers (through normal means).”

That is not to say the theatre does not have a reach outside of Ephrata.

“People do travel to come to EPAC. We have people come from Philadelphia and (beyond) Reading,” said Fernandez.

The theatre’s size rests between community theatre and professional venue.

“We are registered as a community theatre, but artistically we have a reputation of a regional theatre. We have actors coming from out of state to perform in our shows. Our mailing list is not just Ephrata or Lancaster County,” said Dierwechter.

But, the ultimate goal is to bring people to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre, like the outpouring of attendees for the recent Kids4Kids production. Both Fernandez and Dierwechter are proud of the theatre’s youth programs. Still in its fledgling years, the theatre’s educational program, which features a summer camp, a cabaret, and full show starring only children, is growing quickly.

“I never thought we would come this far,” said Fernandez, about the theater’s educational opportunities.

Still feeling the high associated with the success of “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” Fernandez gave credit to director Irving Gonzalez and choreographer Kristin Pontz.

In 2017, Gonzalez enters his sixth year as Kids4Kids director and continues to wrangle the young actors at EPAC’s Summer Stage Theater Camp director. (As the run of “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” came to a close, Gonzalez jumped from the Pridelands to pom-poms as director of Ephrata High School’s rendition of “Grease” opening Thursday, April 20.) An EPAC regular, Pontz holds a BFA in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“The (Kids 4 Kids) productions have become increasingly popular … it is extremely successful,” said Dierwechter.

“It is our legacy,” said Fernandez. “We see kids go through our camp and Kids4Kids (productions) and now they are in New York and working (in theater). I’m so proud of EPAC that these kinds of programs can coexist with our mainstage productions, which can be edgy, modern, and cutting edge shows.”

Along the lines of modern shows, and in addition to mainstage productions, EPAC will resurrect the theatre’s reading series this year. Spearheaded by EPAC alum Alex Bannon, EPAC on the Edge will feature three staged readings in 2017.

“It used to be a staple back in the day, but we got too busy. I want to give a big shout out to (Bannon) for bringing it back,” said Fernandez.

Bannon is taking a new approach to staged readings by incorporating other Lancaster theatre companies into the event. Creative Works of Lancaster and Theater of the Seventh Sister will join EPAC to present three readings throughout the year starting with “Appropriate” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkin on Friday, March 31.

“Staged reading is kind of a loose term,” said Bannon. “The main goal of a reading is to focus on the words in the script.”

The readings will feature minimal light, sound, and movement. Actors will have scripts in hand.

“We strip away all the production value for the most part,” explained Bannon. “This is a way to get new work out to our audience.”

Who is EPAC?

The Board of Directors for the Ephrata Performing Arts Center


  • David Dierwechter, president

Recently retired Ephrata High School sixth-grade teacher and Theatre Department Director, Dierwechter has directed several EPAC Main Stage and Children’s Theatre musicals. He is also a past president of the EPAC Board of Directors.

  • Greta Laube, vice president

Laube’s first experience working in theatre came when she began ushering for the Fulton Theatre at the age of 8. The pediatrician joined the board in 2015 and has been a backstage force at EPAC for the past three years.

  • Lynne DeMers-Hunt, secretary

DeMers-Hunt joined the EPAC as an actor in 2008 and her bachelor of science in marketing from Millersville University led her to the board of directors to help define theatre that matters. Using her professional experience from Godfrey Advertising, she is chairwoman of EPAC’s Marketing Committee.

  • Robin Payne, member-at-large

Serving as director of admission and outreach at The Janus School, Payne spent more than 30 years in education. She shares her love of theater with students and has appeared as an actor and musician in several EPAC productions since 2003.

  • Steve Sellers, treasurer

Sellers draws on his experience in banking and education culminating in a master’s in education from Millersville University to serve as EPAC’s treasurer. He has been a loyal patron of the theatre for over 18 years.


  • Richard Repkoe

Repkoe has been an EPAC board member since 2008 and chaired the Development Committee from 2009 to 2011. He is a past vice president and president, and has been involved with EPAC since 1992 as a performer, musical director, vocal director, and director.

  • Andrea Glass

Outside of EPAC, Glass is the executive director at the Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce. She has worked for non-profits for more than ten years and currently serves on the board of directors for the LGBT Center of Central PA and the Ephrata Economic Development Corporation.

  • David Boland

Boland currently serves on the board of directors for The Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Ephrata Inc. His passion for the performing arts started as a child while attending summer theatre at Penn State University and ultimately served as student representative on the board of the PA Theatre Association.

  • Bob Checchia

A regular performer on the EPAC stage, Checchia serves as chair of the maintenance committee and is a member of the personnel committee. He spent his youth performing in New York City and pursued a degree in theatre arts and communication

  • Rebecca Bartos

Bartos developed her love of theater as a child and is passionate about the power of theater to transform lives. Bartos is an attorney and teacher and is currently teaching Mock Trial at Franklin and Marshall College.

  • Ed Fernandez, artistic director

A staple of the EPAC family, Fernandez is celebrating his 20th year as artistic director of the Ephrata Performing Arts Center. He studied theatre arts at the Leonard Davies Center for the Performing Arts at the City College of New York.

Sponsorship options at EPAC


  • Preview night performance for up to 250 seats with custom reception plus advertising. Four tickets to each production and an invitation for two to attend all audition callbacks and more. All mainstage sponsor benefits.

SHOW SPONSOR $5,000 (Musical Sponsor)

$3,000 (Play Sponsor)

  • Preview night performance for up to 250 seats with choice of dessert or wine and cheese reception plus advertising. All mainstage sponsor benefits.

SHOW CO-SPONSOR $2,500 (Musical Co-Sponsor)

$1,500 (Play Co-Sponsor)

  • All mainstage sponsor benefits plus 10 tickets to your show and advertising.



  • All mainstage sponsor benefits plus six tickets to the show and quarter-page ad in playbill throughout entire season.



  • All mainstage sponsor benefits plus four tickets to the show



  • Recognition in curtain speech, listing in playbill insert, marketing recognition, and an invitation to the Subscribers and Sponsors Party





  • Recognition in curtain speech plus invitation to the Subscribers and Sponsors Party and advertising.

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