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Desert Companion

Ones 2 watch: Sandy Runkle

She believes in acting out — at any age. Her new nonprofit encourages seniors to do just that

If Sandy Runkle’s life were a Shakespeare play, the curtain would be rising on Act V. The former Long Beach Civic Light Opera dancer, now 71, had been married twice, raised five sons and enjoyed a full career as a court reporter even before moving to Vegas in 1993. But she was no stranger to Sin City. After Runkle “started a normal, conservative life in ’59,” she would come here six times a year. Since 1989, she’d been buying and leasing real estate in the valley and decided to relocate after getting a golden handshake from the Los Angeles Superior Court.

When the now-widowed Runkle found herself at loose ends, UNLV was her salvation. But the ex-trouper discovered something. “You had to be a student (to perform in college productions). They had to go to (find) my 1958 high school transcript in the basement in Long Beach.” As a member of UNLV Senior Jazz Dance, she could have pursued a B.A. in Dance Theatre. “But I didn’t want to go back to study algebra,” she says. So she opted to become certified in gerontology, which she calls “the study of successful aging.”

Runkle’s been aging successfully ever since. From 2005 through the program’s demise by budget cuts in 2011, she participated in UNLV’s Senior Theatre Program. Led by Douglas Hill, its activities included weekly outreach performances and autobiographical monodramas termed “The Monologue Project.”

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“This was a reason to live,” says Runkle of the now-defunct company, “to study, to have social camaraderie. (Without it), those of us who don’t drive or are just lonely, we lose contact.”

However, Runkle and the pink-slipped Hill didn’t mope around. In December 2011, The Speeding Theatre 55+ received its seal as a nonprofit corporation. Designed to provide performing and production opportunities for people age 55 and up, The Speeding Theatre 55+ was unveiled last February, and support quickly catalyzed, whether from young Turks such as producer/directors Lysander Abadia and Troy Heard, or from Senior Connections. Runkle found costumers, an accountant, a graphic designer and pro bono legal help. (“The 1023 tax form is a bear!”) She still scouts talent shows at Sun City Anthem and McDonald Ranch for prospects.

“It’s going to be entertainment,” she promises of upcoming The Speeding Theatre 55+ presentations. “(But) there has to be some issue that connects with seniors.” Lest you peg her as retrograde, be it known that Runkle’s other local enthusiasms include Vegas Fringe, Las Vegas Little Theatre’s Black Box series and “Evil Dead The Musical.”

The Speeding Theatre 55+ flexes its serious-drama muscles in February, when Runkle admirer Heard stages “Bread Crumbs.” It’s a conflict between an Alzheimer’s-afflicted author and her young caregiver. Heard describes the play’s take on dementia as “touching without being mawkish.” That jibes with The Speeding Theatre 55+’s guiding spirit. As Runkle puts it, “We have a lot to share, and I hope it’s optimism.”

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