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Speeding Theatre gives thespian seniors path to the stage

Sometimes Vegas can surprise you.

In January, I wrote a column about a group of senior citizens bemoaning the loss of University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ senior theater program. Some felt the community at large did not welcome older actors, and so, they needed their own venue – not just for hobby’s sake, but as a lifeline.

Spokeswoman Sandy Runkle said at the time, “In 1995, my husband had died, my kids were all over the world, and I was devastated. I read a little article in the paper about the senior program. I was curious, and I wound up never so happy in my life. Seniors need this. Too many old people watch TV alone, sleep and then die. They need to socially connect.”

The 71-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native helped organize a February meeting at the Clark County Library for anyone who might be interested in getting a new troupe off the ground. She figured she’d be lucky if a half-dozen people attended.

“We had about 100,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. And not just seniors. We had young playwrights, directors, actors, (technicians). I had no idea so many people would be interested. I can’t tell you all the young names in the theater community who showed up. I was so touched.”

One of the people who became interested was Phil Randall, the production manager of the Luxor’s “Menopause.” He’s now conducting workshops with experiments in dramatic poetry, improvisation, focus and scene study.

“He’s very, very experienced, that person,” Runkle says. “He’s taught us a lot. He just came up to me one day and said let’s have coffee, and he started telling me all the things he wanted to do. For free!”

The group calls itself Speeding Theatre (meaning “fast,” not hallucinogenic), and already has a thriving website (speedingtheatre.org). With Runkle’s known organizational skills, it should go without saying that the folks have already earned nonprofit status.

But Runkle knows the main battles lie ahead.

“We’ve got to keep up our enthusiasm, and we have plenty of enthusiasm; but now it’s time that we move on to the next step. We’ve got to figure out (financing). We hope to do a full-scaled show by October, and a few small-scaled ones, and a number of community outreaches. But we’re still looking for a theater and still looking for a (financial) way to do it.”

One of the guiding influences will be former UNLV senior theater chief Doug Hill, who’s also a playwright, and has, in the past, guided seniors into surprisingly creative projects. And the theater has gotten some unexpected donations, which at least suggests hope.

“We have a long way to go,” Runkle admits. “But I never dreamed we’d be as far as we are now.”

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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