Put in a position agonizingly familiar to other older actors, Denman had to weigh her increasing discomfort, and her concern for the well-being of the play and the other actors, against her life-long love of performing. She chose to retire from the stage, a choice made easier by the Extended Run Players, a seniors' performance group. As Henry Holloway, a long-time member and co-founder of the group's musical troupe, Cadenza, explains, "We offer performances with book-in-hand. Most of us have had lots of experience but are no longer reliable in keeping everything in memory." One of the founders, John Igo, adds, "One of our requirements is 'no memorization.' All the energy goes into the interpretation."
In 1996, the University of the Incarnate Word's Sr. Germaine Corbin called a number of prominent local actors of "a certain age" to a planning meeting. She wanted to gather older performers and give them a chance to get busy again. A word-of-mouth campaign resulted in a troupe of 40-50 people who were either actively seeking onstage roles but were under-utilized, and those who were either physically unable to commit to a fully-staged production or uncertain about their fading memorization skills. Since then, the company has continued to grow, largely because of its open-door policy and the immense need it serves. Averaging eight to 10 productions a year, the Extended Run's slogan boasts that it now represents "Over 1,000 Years of Experience."
But membership isn't restricted to those with experience. Extended Run also attracts retirees with extra time on their hands who want to realize a life-long dream (or a sudden impulse!) to act. Inclusion is given high priority - the directors of small-cast shows often utilize multiple casting to expand the cast list, and a new program presents readings at the end of each monthly meeting, functioning as an ongoing audition and performance gymnasium for group members. There is even a place for
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University of the Incarnate Word
Igo, who has had several of his short pieces performed by the group, notes that the performances are "a fabulous place to try out texts. These people are so skilled that they can bring out the value for the author." Holloway mentions that because of the reader's theater format, actors are cast for voice, not body type. For some Extended Run members, work with the group has been some of the most creatively satisfying of their lives; they are not restricted to roles by age, physical type, or even, in many cases, gender. "I have read roles that I would never have played," Holloway says.
The group meets on the third Thursday of each month in the assembly room of the Incarnate Word Retirement Center, on the North Campus of UIW. The University's Theater Arts Department is the beneficiary of close to 100 percent of the group's earnings. Anyone "old enough not to get cast anymore" is invited to attend and get involved. "For older people, it's important to have this sort of an outlet," says Holloway, "an artistic possibility that had been important through their lives and might no longer be there." Igo agrees. "When you get old and you've been performing, it becomes necessary. You really want to keep performing."
Audiences benefit, too. Because the cost to produce semi-staged reader's theater is minimal, Extended Run can present material that would not be economically feasible for most local theaters to stage. The group has presented versions of Animal Farm, The Little Prince, and Pygmalion. But most importantly, Extended Run Players is a showcase for talent that would otherwise be lost to the community. San Antonio audiences can continue to enjoy the talent and experience of our older actors for many years to come. •
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