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Backwards & Forwards: a series on Las Vegas theatre history, Part 1

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

You don’t know where you’re going, until you know where you’ve been. - Old English Proverb

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” - James Baldwin

About four years ago, in a conversation with the critic everybody loved to hate, Anthony Del Valle, and Bill Schafer, Night Beat Magazine publisher, the titular subject came up this way: I recalled that, in separate theatre parking lot conversations—where many interesting topics get covered—I mentioned two people. The reply was “Who is that?” The people I mentioned had made significant contributions to the theatre community, and I thought, “One has a venue named for him! How could you not know who he is?!?” Then Tony said that someone stated during a curtain speech it was the first time Shakespeare was being presented in Las Vegas. I laughed heartily! The companies that have produced his works over the decades would’ve been surprised to learn that.

Because I’ve been hanging around the local theater scene “thisclose” to 40 years, perhaps I can provide some history. Perhaps shine a light on how far we’ve actually come. This represents the very base, and layer in others as we progress through the years.

As usual, “the good old days” are never so golden, but time makes them so. The struggle becomes something remembered fondly by those who lived through it. The early days of theater in Las Vegas are no different. Every company struggled to stay afloat. Many companies opened, ran a few productions, and closed.

When I blew into town in 1980, the Boulder First Nighters had been in operation for over 40 years and were on their last legs. Closer in, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Department of Theatre Arts (UNLV-DTA) had been producing plays since the early 1960s. And, before they dropped “Community” from College of Southern Nevada a program had successfully launched in the mid-’70s in the one and only campus on Cheyenne Avenue.