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Like Valley, Maryland High School believes it was duped by a costume company

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When Angela Smithhisler read a TribLive story about how Valley High School's drama club was likely scammed out of $8,000 in costumes, her heart sank.

“I felt sick because that (dollar amount) looked very familiar,” she said via email. “I opened the article and read it, and when I read 'The Staging Workshop,' my stomach turned. This is the group we worked with to rent 'Shrek' costumes.”

Smithhisler, the drama director at Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland, said the school also paid thousands of dollars for costumes and props to The Staging Workshop, a company reportedly based in Austin, Texas.

But like Valley High, Linganore got nothing for its money.

Smithhisler was at Disney World in Florida with her students when she saw a TribLive story in which Valley lost $8,000 on costumes that never arrived.

“Then, after reading the article on your website last Friday, I sent a few emails and even had my financial secretary call to ask. No Answer. And not since,” Smithhisler said of her attempts to reach The Staging Workshop.

TribLive's efforts to reach a representative from The Staging Workshop for comment were unsuccessful. A company website stopped working and an email to an address listed on the Facebook page was returned as undeliverable. There was no response to a message sent via Facebook and no calls were returned.

Valley High had expected the costumes to arrive on April 1st. Valley Drama Club sponsor Brian Krugle said someone claiming to be a representative of The Staging Workshop contacted them Friday and asked for an additional $2,500 for shipping. The person claimed that the company was bankrupt and unable to arrange the agreed shipping without prior payment.

Valley did not pay the company any additional money. The club has filed a police report and a complaint with the state attorney general's office, Krugle said.

Messages seeking comment from the attorney general's office were not returned Tuesday.

A representative from the Better Business Bureau's Pittsburgh office said Tuesday that it had no information about The Staging Workshop but was checking with the bureau's Texas region to see if any complaints had been reported about the company. That information was not available Tuesday.

Linganore's legal team is continuing to monitor the situation, Smithhisler said.

According to Smithhisler, Linganore initially paid Staging Workshop $8,500 but was unable to avoid paying more. The Staging Workshop used a Linganore credit card on file to charge an additional $900 for shipping costs for a large doll and insurance, she said.

It was Valley's first time trying to rent costumes for a musical. Smithhisler said this was her first contact with The Staging Workshop, which she connected with through a Facebook group for music directors.

“They had posted costume pictures and initial information about their company. Shortly after, they emailed me with more information, including a detailed costume plot and rental agreement,” she said.

Smithhisler said she initially had no concerns. The images were professional, the reviews were positive, the costume action was clear and detailed and communication was timely, she said.

“I only started to feel uneasy early last week when I didn't receive a shipping confirmation or tracking number for costumes that were supposed to arrive this week,” she said. “That’s why I knew that what happened to Valley must have happened to me too.”

Led by Gina Bordinaro, last year's Valley costume chair, the club was able to dress its performers through a collaborative effort between Hempfield and Plum high schools, Valley parents and several former costume designers.

Almost overnight, Nancy Monaco went to work making Morticia's black dress and Wednesday Addams' outfit.

Just as Valley was forced to do, Linganore strives to find local theaters and high schools to meet his costume needs.

“It is so unfortunate that this group agrees to use the high school art programs,” Smithhisler said. “We pay for our costume and show licenses directly from previous ticket sales and donations. We receive neither money nor subsidies from the district or school. So that was a big hit to our finances.

“Fortunately, we have a very supportive community that supports us and wants to offset the financial loss we have suffered.”

Valley's production of “The Addams Family” opens to the public on Thursday. Linganore will direct “Shrek” starting next week.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a TribLive reporter covering news in New Kensington, Arnold and Plum. Brian is a native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Penn State University's Schreyer Honors College. He has been with the Trib since December 2000. He can be reached at [email protected].