Septuagenarian community theater buffs Dave and Liz Dameron are getting the word out: Las Vegas community theater is the best show in town. They should know, they saw every show that opened on the local stage this past fall, 33 in all.
“They see damn near every play in town — and I know they’ve seen some productions more than once,” Las Vegas Review-Journal theater critic Paul Atreides says. Fellow theater buff Walter Veasy notes the “two fabulous Las Vegans” show up “everywhere I want to be!”
To multiply their numbers within Las Vegas’ ever-growing retirement community, the Damerons coordinate a weekly brown-bag lunch discussion on community theater at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNLV.
OLLI is a member-led 55-and-older learning community with about 1,300 retired and semiretired members that offers more than 75 classes at locations throughout the valley. Rich Easter, assistant director for OLLI at UNLV, says it’s the place “where mature minds bloom.” Dave is a recipient of the OLLI Lifetime Member Award and Liz is a former OLLI board president.
“We focus on local theater with affordable ticket prices,” Liz says of the brown-bag gatherings. As retired seniors living on a budget, Liz points out, “a play at the Las Vegas Little Theatre costs the same as seeing a movie in 3-D, and live theater is always 3-D.”
The Damerons recognize that seniors face challenges besides price for attending local theater. Parking can be a problem for seniors attending a play at the Art Square Theatre in the Arts District. Patrons used to have to pass through a leather fetish shop to attend plays at the Onyx. Matinee performances are important for those who don’t drive at night.
Easter says the Damerons are “OLLI’s own local arts scene ambassadors.” Through the brown-bag gatherings, the Damerons share more than basic information about local theater scene doings, he says, they share their passion for theater.
John and Dolores Kelly are OLLI members and brown-bag event participants who have also become theater companions of the Damerons. John Kelly, a retired operational officer with the CIA, says the Damerons’ discussions of local theater “widened our perspective.”
John and Dolores met in an OLLI class 16 years ago and started to attend community theater because of OLLI, but they have long since become season regulars.
“Community theater is one of the neat parts of living in Las Vegas,” John says.
Dave and Liz Dameron met at a night class in French at Rutgers University and on their first date saw “The Taming of the Shrew” in Central Park.
“We’ve seen it 20 to 23 times since, but it still hasn’t taken,” Liz says. Dave adds, “My version is, she’s untrainable.”
The couple, who married when both were 25, celebrated their 53rd anniversary Dec. 26.
After serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, Dave graduated in labor relations from Cornell University and worked for 35 years in corporate human resources. Liz was a chemist with Johnson &Johnson for 22 years and was promoted to department head in 1967.
“We’ve now been retired 20 years and one month,” she says.
Dave says that though the couple lived in northern New Jersey just across from Manhattan, Broadway plays “were a $300 proposition even in those days.” Instead, they explored New Jersey’s award-winning regional theaters.
The couple moved to Las Vegas in 1997 to be near their son who retired to Las Vegas from the Air Force.
“You know you’re old when your kids retire,” Liz says.
When he and his wife arrived in Las Vegas, Dave said they couldn’t afford the shows on the Strip. Soon they discovered Las Vegas’ thriving community theater scene. They appreciate the hard work and talent of the people who make local theater succeed, such as Las Vegas Little Theatre’s Walter Niejadlik.
“Walter is so busy keeping that place alive, directing, producing, he seldom takes a part,” Liz says. “When you do see him, you’ve forgotten what a good actor he is.”
Dave adds, “Las Vegas community theater has wonderful local actors who would get ground up in bigger venues but can be showcased here.”
Names mentioned include Ernie Curcio, Troy Heard and Susan Lowe.
“Theater snobs,” Dave says, who will only see Broadway touring shows, cheat themselves of great local productions such as the Onyx Theatre’s recent staging of “Sweeney Todd.”
“It was brilliant and frightening,” Liz says.
The Damerons say that one of the most exciting events in the current 2013-14 theater season is the unofficial Beckett Festival that will conclude with David Mamet’s “Edmond” opening in March at Cockroach Theatre. They also look forward to the world premiere of playwright-in-residence Ernie Curcio’s new play, “Corner of Hacienda,” at Cockroach Theatre in February and comedian Steve Martin’s play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” opening Jan. 31 at the Onyx.
“Las Vegas theater could use another 500 couples just like them,” Atreides says of the Damerons.