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Extended Run Players still extending their run

Written by Carol Baass Sowa, for Today’s Catholic

The Extended Run Players of the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), a reader’s theatre company of senior citizens, owe the start of their own “extended run” to the savvy choice of Mother Columkille Colbert, CCVI, during her presidency at then Incarnate Word College (IWC). There was an urgent need in the early ’60s for a sister with academic credentials to head the drama department and Sister Germaine Corbin, CCVI, with a B.F.A. in English and speech from IWC, was Mother’s Columkille’s choice. It was not something to which the young nun had ever aspired.

“My interest in theatre started when I got an assignment to go to study theatre,” Sister Germaine confides. This was not unusual in those days. When a need arose, a superior informed a member of the congregation where she was needed and she went unquestioningly. “I was not an actress,” Sister Germaine adds. “I had done some work in high school, but I really wasn’t into theatre.” Never-the-less, off she went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1962 to begin work on her master’s in drama/English. Later, she would earn a doctoral degree in American Theatre History at the University of Illinois.

The need for a properly credentialed drama department head arose when the college had the good fortune to acquire the acclaimed theatrical duo of Maureen Halligan and Ronald Ibbs as art ists in residence. Founders of the Dublin Players in Ireland, the couple’s company toured internationally in the ’50s and early ’60s, and when Mother Columkille, herself from Ireland, heard they were performing at Notre Dame she booked them here. “Maureen fell in love with San Antonio,” relates
Sister Germaine. After the Dublin Players’ touring ended, an invitation by Mother Columkille for an extended visit led to Halligan deciding to make San Antonio her home. Ibbs, dealing with problems from tuberculosis, joined her later. “They had all the wonderful experience and were great teachers and directors,” notes Sister Germaine, but the sister who had taught drama had retired and there was no one with the academic credentials needed to establish a degree in drama, leading to her own
unplanned career.

The drama department blossomed, attracting and graduating top students in their field. A traveling repertory company was one of the new innovations, logging many miles. “I’d put them all into an old green Volkswagen bus,” she recalls, “and Ronnie had a car, and we’d go off to Laredo.” They traveled extensively, even out of state.

In 1980, Sister Germaine had to readjust her life to serve for 12 years as caretaker for her elderly parents in New Orleans, along with doing college teaching there, and was greatly influenced by the presence of her parents’ friends. “Being with older people taught me the wonderful resource of stories that the elderly have,” she says. Following her parents’ deaths and her return to Incarnate Word, she found herself gravitating toward the new movement of senior theatre in the early ’90s, attending a conference to learn more. Then, in 1996 (the year IWC became UIW), a brainstorming session took place in a drama department office involving Sister Germaine, Maureen Halligan and local theatre notables John Igo, Alice Finney, Al Keller and Ernie Baumann. (Ibbs had passed in 1990.) A reader’s theatre, they decided, would allow older actors who might no
longer be able to do the necessary memorization, a chance to continue to use and share their theatrical talents. John Igo suggested the group’s name — the Extended Run Players. “We all thought that was very appropriate,” says Sister Germaine. “They had ‘extended’ their run.” One of their early productions was built around personal stories from World War II, and they interviewed other veterans for memories as well.

The vignettes were presented, interspersed with songs from that era being sung, foreshadowing what would become The Cadenza Singers. First presented on campus with students enacting the little scenes, Memories on Review: Tales from World War II was also performed at the Steven Stoli Playhouse locally, where New York theatre producer Jean Cheever, a friend of Sister Germaine’s, attended one night. “This is really good,” Cheever told her, “but you need some big names.” When
Sister Germaine replied she was just a teaching nun and didn’t know “the big people of this city,” Cheever got her father, Charlie Cheever of Broadway Bank, to send out letters to veterans on bank letterhead, informing them a nun would be calling to hear their war stories. “That show is still going on,” notes Sister Germaine, “every year, at least once or twice a year or more.”

Besides giving seniors (all volunteers) an outlet doing some thing they enjoy, any money made from performances or touring goes into an endowment for theatre scholarships. “So, the seniors are acting and the students are benefitting,” says Sister Germaine.
Plus, the students enjoy working with the actors and learn from them. Members meet once a month on the campus of the Village at the Incarnate Word to plan the next show and had been doing two shows a year until COVID-19 struck. Now,
like everyone else, they are waiting to see when activities can resume.

Sister Germaine, now “professor emerita,” retired in 2017 and has bowed out of directing the players as well. Extending her own run in a different area, she was volunteering three days a week at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, cleaning toys in the
Child Life Office, but that too is now on hold. “We just have to be patient and learn to accept,” she notes of the times.

Steering the Extended Run Players (ERP) is now in the capable hands of director Barbara Simpson, whom Sister Germaine lauds as doing “a marvelous job” and recruiting new members. Some fine actors from the group’s past have gone on to the “eternal stage,” she muses, “but other new people join. They are still going strong.” For information on the Extended
Run Players, visit them on Facebook at “Extended Run Players of UIW.”