Can you imagine producing dozens of plays each year—and creating original content for each one of them? That is what Sister Donatus MacNickle, IHM, did for 55 years. It all started in November of 1914 with the production of The Tribute of the Years, with the Villa Maria Players under the direction of Sister Donatus.
During those early years of Villa Maria Academy, most of the productions were written by Sister Donatus, including The Unknown God (1916), The Light Beyond (1916), and Fleur-de-lys (1918), with music by Sister M. Immaculée, IHM, as well as The Courtship of Miles Standish (1926), and many others. She continued to write original content for the Christmas plays, the senior play, and the Passion plays. Her favorite play was The King’s Jongleur (1927), which she wrote as an original Christmas play. Students in her class would brainstorm plot ideas and also write some of the plays, which would then be produced.
All productions were held in the Little Theater (east of the Terrace Rotunda where the Registrar’s Office is currently located) and were performed by an all-female cast until the 1940s when male students from Villanova and Saint Joseph’s universities would audition for the male leads. Immaculata students would also be cast in their plays as well. It was a great way to mingle.
“Sister Donatus was very forward thinking,” commented Sister Marie Hubert Kealy, IHM, Ph.D., professor emerita of English. “She understood theater to be not only a learning experience but also a social event.” She also noted that Sister Donatus always made enough money to provide for the next production. Sister Marie Hubert would know, because she was a student of Sister Donatus and later served as director of Cue & Curtain from 1977 to 2005. The theater group was renamed The Cue and Curtain Players in 1942.
Back in the day, the theater productions were a real campus-wide event. Sister Anne Marie Logue, IHM, professor of Economics, would design and sew some of the costumes with help from the Home Economics students. The students also helped build and create the stage sets; very little was purchased. In addition, when Sister Marie Hubert was a student, her playwriting class wrote the 1955 Passion Play, and she also directed a play that she wrote while Sister Donatus conducted the stage work for that production. The Immaculata plays often “took the show on the road,” performing at other colleges in the area. Sister Donatus also brought in lecturers and provided other activities that kept the theater troupe engaged throughout the year.
The lessons learned from Sister Donatus came in extremely handy when Sister Marie Hubert came back to Immaculata to succeed Sister Constance Mary as director of Cue and Curtain. “My first day back at Immaculata, Sister Constance Mary told me, ‘I’m not going to throw everything at you all at once,’ and then she died the first day of class, having told me nothing.” Sister Marie Hubert adds, “I can laugh about it now.”
Sister Constance Mary also had a long history with campus theater productions. As a student from the Class of 1929, she portrayed the Jongleur in the very first performance of The King’s Jongleur. Sister Constance Mary continued to make her mark on the history of theater at Immaculata, serving as director from 1971 to 1976. In 1972, she started the Children’s Theatre as an interim project, opening with a fan-favorite, Cinderella. To this day, the Children’s Theatre is an extremely popular production every year.
During her 28 years as director of Cue and Curtain, Sister Marie Hubert produced dozens of plays. She counts among her favorites Antigone, Murder Must Advertise, and a version of Sherlock Holmes where both leads were performed by females. However, the play that she found most artistically creative was Twelve Angry Women. The original production, Twelve Angry Men, was written for an all-male cast, but the play exists in different gender formats so Sister was able to buy the rights to that play and use the available Immaculata female students.
“That was an easy one. All you need is a table. I loved it.” Sister also noted that the two lead characters in that play, who had lengthy dialogue, would tape their script to the table to use as reference. The characters never switched seats so this technique was helpful.
The Children’s Theatre has a special place in Sister Marie Hubert’s heart. Although the productions are typically traditional fairy tales, one year the students put on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Performances for the Children’s Theatre are always very well attended. She also noted that the student-performers were given extra attention by the children in the audience. They would ask for their autographs and have photos taken with their favorite characters.
“How many of us are going to have that applause for the rest of our lifetime?” asked Sister Marie Hubert. Just as her mentor Sister Donatus recognized, the theater is, of course, entertainment, but it goes beyond those moments. She explained that usually students cast in a play developed more confidence, even if they were shy or didn’t feel like they fit in.
“And we had a lot of fun,” said Sister Marie Hubert.
The fall 2014 Cue and Curtain production was Godspell. Sister Marcille McEntee, IHM, who has been the director of Cue and Curtain since 2006, commented that it “was spectacular. The students were so talented and poured their hearts and souls into the production.” Starting at the beginning of the fall term, the cast and crew spent nine hours rehearsing every week until the performances in November. That’s a great deal of hard work and dedication.
Sister Marcille would love to have a theater minor at Immaculata, noting that many of the students who participate in Cue and Curtain come in as freshmen and stay all four years because they really enjoy it. The students especially enjoy participating in the Children’s Theatre because the entire production is made for children. And the children come—averaging about 1,500 children each year.
“My hope is that we can continue offering theater performances at Immaculata for another 100 years—or more,” stated Sister Marcille.
One hundred years of participating in theater is summed up by Immaculata sophomore Megan Aslanian, who played Socrates in this year’s production of Godspell. “I love doing shows because of the great memories and friendships that form.”