All the stage is their world—and all the players, local men and women.
Forgive us, Your Bard-ship, for inverting your words (for the original, see As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII). Yet the Shakespearean homage seems fitting for Las Vegas Little Theatre, which this season (opening September 8), celebrates 40 years of money wrangles, venue hopscotch, square-offs with politicos (cue onstage nudity), artistic maturation and—most importantly—stubborn endurance.
“Usually around December every year, I was asking Santa: Please bring us rent money for January,” says LVLT President Walter Niejadlik, who has embraced the greasepaint of Southern Nevada’s longest continually-operating nonprofit theater—tucked in a semi-concealed strip mall off Spring Mountain Road and Valley View Boulevard—since he was cast in a bit role in 2000 in the satire, Run for Your Wife. “But somehow we always managed to get through with the kindness of our patrons and donors.”
Longtime LVLT-goers point proudly to numerous triumphant productions over the decades that sent full-house audiences home artistically buzzed: Avenue Q, A Streetcar Named Desire, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, A Few Good Men and Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile among them.
“LVLT’s focus is on community in the very truest sense of the word,” says actor/director/choreographer Lysander Abadia, artistic director of the theater’s Black Box, who has worked on Strip productions like Mamma Mia! and EFX. “Anybody is welcome there: Someone like me, a theater professional, can come and direct shows that are risky and hone my craft, take gigantic risks, and even if I fail, I’ll still be supported—all the way through the complete novice, and it’s hands-on training. They have the exact same opportunity I do.”
Cofounded in 1977 by Jack Bell and Jack Nickolson in a storefront beside a 7-Eleven on Spring Mountain Road—a paltry 48 seats disrupted by a structural support pole in front of the stage—LVLT has created a sometimes colorful history.
Case in point: a 2006 staging of Take Me Out, about a gay baseball player, with unapologetic penile exposure—plus the theater rental to a tour of the play Making Porn, another penis-power production—which had Clark Country threatening to pull LVLT’s business license. After the theater contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, then-Commission Chair Rory Reid intervened.
“They suggested we do it with G-strings,” Niejadlik recalls, “and I said (sarcastically), ‘Yes, most professional baseball players wear G-strings.’” Upshot: sold-out crowds.
All this and many more milestones in a city where community theater—rife with upstart troupes over the years that arrived with promotional bravado and fled in silence—sometimes seemed like an underground art form. Working to overcome that betrayal of trust after other companies sold subscriber tickets and then split, LVLT established reliable seasons decade after decade. Shows were announced. Shows were produced. Curtain up.
Bolting off the starting block on the mainstage with the screwball comedy One Man, Two Guvnors (opening September 8), this landmark season gathers speed with: The Birds (October 20), based on a story that also inspired the classic Hitchcock flick; the frenetic farce What the Butler Saw (December 1); iconic Sondheim-ian musical Company (January 19); Arthur Miller’s trenchant A View From the Bridge (March 9); and religious satire An Act of God (May 4).
“Our audience has gotten more open-minded about content over the years,” Niejadlik says. “Shows we’ve done in recent years, had I proposed them to the board years ago, I would have been chased out of the building. I think we underestimated some of our patrons. God bless our senior audience, but we’re also cultivating that millennial audience.”
On the often friskier, riskier Black Box schedule that frequently attracts that demographic, Abadia says he slated plays with content that addresses questions triggered by the unusual times we’re living through: searing drama Detroit (September 15; not to be confused with the current film); provocatively titled black comedy The Motherf*cker With the Hat (November 3); thoughtful character study Time Stands Still (February 2); Civil War-era drama The Whipping Man (March 16); and staging of the annual New Works contest winner (April 27).
“I wanted to have this discussion with the audience about our socio-political climate,” Abadia says. “If you go through all four stories you’ll see how the political has become personal, so it’s how people’s entire lives have changed because of policy shifts. There’s a part of me that’s like, wow, I’m exhausted from living in this time period and I want to find out if other people are exhausted, too.”
Drama and comedy, musicality and topicality (clothed and unclothed)—40 years on, the cozy, homey venue at 3920 Schiff Drive remains the Little Theatre That Could.
Las Vegas Little Theatre 3920 Schiff Drive, 702-362-7996, lvlt.org.