By Crystale Lopez
From the company-created “Memories on Review: Tales from World War II,” to classics such as “Tenn to One: Letters of Tennessee Williams,” the University of Incarnate Word’s Extended Run Players (ERP) have etched their mark in the local and national senior theatre scene.
Comprised of seasoned theatre lovers who want to perform, the Extended Run Players have expanded from its original group of six members to its current 45 participants ranging in age from 55 to 92.
“Older people have wonderful stories to tell,” said Sr. Germaine Corbin CCVI, artistic director of ERP and professor of theatre arts at UIW. “So, in the late ’90s when there was a conference on senior theatre in New York I thought, ‘now I can get this going.’”
When Corbin returned to San Antonio in 1992, she found that many of her former theatre friends were either still in the city or had come back themselves. In the fall of 1996, Corbin brought a group together for a brainstorming session, where it was decided they would do a volunteer readers theatre production, and recruit other interested retirees to join.
Reader’s theatre is a dramatic presentation of a written work in a script form. There is no memorization and typically no costumes either. The readers read from a script and the parts are divided among the readers. The focus is on reading the text with an expressive voice and gestures.
“I enjoy the performance aspect of reader’s theatre,” said C. Don Peterson, ERP member since 2005. “We have to take the literature we are reading and bring it to life, purely with our voices.” The actors commonly dress in black and white only, and will use props on occasion, just to give a sense of who they are in the performance.
“The Cadenza Singers are also a very important part of the Extended Run Players,” Corbin said. Under the direction of Bettye Jo Shryock, The Cadenza Singers are the ERP’s musical division, and are designed around the show themes to perform songs of the era.
“We collected 35 stories from World War II veterans and civilians in San Antonio to create ‘Memories on Review: Tales from World II’ and the Cadenza Singers sang service songs from that time period. It really brought the show together,” Corbin said.
In addition to the pure enjoyment of having an outlet to stay in theatre, the Extended Run Players also benefit from working for and with UIW students. While all the actors volunteer their time to perform, the company charges a performance fee to raise money for UIW theatre scholarships.
“Since 1997, we have raised $100,000 toward scholarships for UIW theatre arts majors,” Corbin said. “Theatre students also get the opportunity to see experienced actors perform, and to assist in the productions of the readers theatre in roles such as lighting directors, or as stage managers.”
Mary Nell Costello has been a member of the ERP for 10 years. She was a theatre major and graduated from UIW, then Incarnate Word College, in 1974. Her history in theatre includes experience acting and directing.
“There are no people like show people, and it is always nice to be around other actors,” Costello said. “Regardless of our age, I feel that the students can learn a lot from us and our experience.”
Corbin said the students find it enriching to meet and work with the members of the Extended Run Players.
“Not only is it a good learning experience for the students, but it also gives them the opportunity to put together a different kind of show and gain a unique and diverse skill-set,” she said.
The Extended Run Players have a semi-annual production in the fall and spring on the UIW campus, and they also regularly perform at retirement centers or local churches.
“Just like a show has its ‘run’ in the theatre we are extending our run, too,” Corbin said. “One of my favorite parts of working with the ERP is working with the people themselves, they are challenging and charming.”
John O’ Neill, ERP member, will direct two one act plays written by ERP playwright and director John Igo March 23-25, 2012. For more information on the show, to become a member, for a performance schedule, or to book a show, contact Sr. Germaine Corbin at Corbin@uiwtx.edu.