The Springers helped theater shine for “town and gown”
Above the Palace stage, bold letters proclaim their names: Frances and Angus Springer. Georgetown newcomers can only guess at the Springers’ impact on local theater, but many students of Georgetown High School or Southwestern University remember with fond certainty. From 1950 to 1965, few students graduated from GHS without taking speech, drama, or senior English from Mrs. Springer. And from 1943 until retirement in 1978, Dr. Springer directed a cornucopia of stage productions through Mask and Wig Players. Robert Bruce Sterk (SU ’71) recalls Dr. Springer demanding and getting “the best out of us . . . forcing us to think about the words spilling out of our mouths . . . he and Frances taught us where to find our own soul’s home.”
The Springers opened their adventure by eloping on April Fool’s Day, April 1, 1933; Angus often commented on the date with a wink and smile, “It’s been a joke ever since.” Angus taught in Kansas after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University. World War II was in full swing when they moved to Georgetown with eight-year-old Mary Ann, four-year-old Bill, and a Southwestern contract for only one year. When a neighbor asked what his father did, young Bill replied, “He cleans the stage at Southwestern.” This stage, centerpiece of the Cullen Building’s old auditorium, offered special challenges. Only nine feet deep with no backstage, it was Southwestern’s only theater until 1956. Mary Ann Whitfield recalls her father creatively extending the stage, utilizing his third-floor classroom for some productions, and doing “amazing things” with lighting. She says, “Daddy would’ve had a ball with today’s digital capabilities.”
Both Springer siblings remember their childhood being “out of the ordinary,” filled with students coming and going from the Olive Street bungalow. The youngsters appeared in campus productions, Mary Ann in Watch on the Rhine and I Remember Mama, and Bill in Our Town. Angus, whose students sometimes called him Papa, directed Our Town multiple times. During several summers, Angus pursued his doctorate at New York University, and in 1948, Angus and Frances performed in summer stock at Cooperstown, New York. The kids watched rehearsals, nine-year-old Bill serving as unofficial (and unappreciated) prompter. Throughout high school, Mary Ann and Bill participated in UIL competition under Frances’s tutelage. Bill represented Georgetown at state debate finals, and Mary Ann appeared in the first of Frances’s many one-act plays that advanced to state. Later, Angus served as Bill’s major professor, preparing his son for a television career.
Later, when Linda Scarbrough and Laura Weir Clarke were finalizing work on the restoration of the Palace Theatre, Laura suggested honoring the Springers’ contributions to theater in Georgetown. They created a brochure about the campaign, which garnered generous donations large and small, along with many heartfelt testimonials. When the stage bearing the Springers’ names was dedicated, one former student came all the way from Detroit for the occasion.
These and other memories linger, and the show goes on.
Stories from the Palace
Linda Scarbrough, executive editor of The Williamson County Sun and author of Road, River, and Ol’ Boy Politics: A Texas County’s Path from Farm to Supersuburb, recalls Frances Springer teaching her to “walk like a guy” for her role in A Little Prince and serving as a “task mistress” who inspired her to master critical writing skills.