Priscilla Mangnall
Grand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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March 14, 2013
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THE WAY WE WERE: GJ Senior Theatre's time in the spotlight

They say everybody's got to have a "Bucket List." Seems the older I get and the poorer I get, when I look in the bottom of my bucket, it has a hole in it.

Not this time, in the bottom of my bucket I found a treasure, two treasures this time. One in the form of Senior Theatre and the other in Evelyn Kyle.

I'm dang near 60 and I thought it high time I became an actress. I've stood in the wings for too many years. I've been a roadie, a piano mover, a set decorator, a prop girl, a costumer and a stagehand. Always behind the spotlight but never in it. I'm no stranger to the stage, I've spoken in front of thousands during Rock and Country Jams. I'm over stage fright, but to get up there and sing and dance and remember all those lines at once? Oy vey! Thank goodness for all the rehearsal and experienced actors I work with in Senior Theatre.

Nearly two decades ago I ran the spotlight for Senior Theatre's first productions at the Avalon Theatre. The show was a "Follies" and it was immensely entertaining. Lots of tap dancing and vaudeville and ballyhoo. Evelyn Kyle and Ginger Burns were the directors along with the late Bonnie Henson as artistic director, JoAnn Schow as music director and LeRoy Donegan as choreographer.

The cast was made up of 35 talented locals, some of whom are in the 2013 performance as well like Ken Morrell and Barbara Wheeler. The live accompanists included Walt Smith, Paul Schneider, Dennis Woodrich and Jim Smith, all fellows that my father had played with over the years. The production staff included talent of all kinds. Senior Theatre's beginnings had its many "angels," those who gave cash and those who gave in-kind donations. Ninety guests came from Denver, but when their bus broke down, the show got off to a late start making it an extra-long evening.

I met with Evelyn Kyle and her thespian sidekick Beverly Windscheffel. I've been an acquaintance of both of them for many years. This was a chance to get to know more about them and their passion for Senior Theatre. Beverly wanted to make sure I understood the wealth of Evelyn's artistic treasury and handed me a notecard. In part, it read: "Without Evelyn's vision and tenacity, Senior Theatre might not have happened. It was her ideas and dream. I know because I was there when she presented it to Jeanne and Quentin Jones, Ginger and Bob Burns, her hubby (Jim) and mine (Wally). She didn't stop until the mission was accomplished. She had Ginger as her co-pilot and the rest of us as actors. Auditions produced a large number of talented people."

We went on to chat about all the promotion that went into launching this dream. "We trotted 'teasers,' aka short skits, around to all the service clubs and even visited the Montrose Pavilion to lure ticket buyers. Our motto was enjoy's later than you think!"

The treasure I found in Evelyn was the admirable contributions she has made to opening up opportunities for seniors to participate in the theater experience and her like-minded passion for local history. As a charter member of the Mesa County Historical Society and her fervent desire, along with Pat Gormley and Diann Admire, to restore the Avalon Theatre, Evelyn has been a hard-working force behind what we enjoy today. She produced and directed a remake of "The Bat," the first show to play the Avalon in 1923 and performed it in the old Cooper Theatre in 1994, one of the first fundraisers for the Avalon's ambitious restoration.

Evelyn received her degree in drama from Mesa College when she was in her late 50s. Trips to the University of Nevada's Senior Theatre festivals and producing "The Bat" planted the seeds for today's Grand Junction Senior Theatre. Evelyn applauds the work of current Senior Theatre director Rachel Nelson who taught her and other over 50-year-olds how to improve their theatrical skills. As for her current troupe, Rachel quips with a grin: "At times I forget they are seniors and look at them as real actors!"

I am a real actor now and if you come and see me perform, I'll prove it to you! After all the thunderous applause, I can mark this off my bucket list!

Thank you, thank you, too kind, too kind.

Reach Priscilla at 970-260-5226, or email

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 14, 2013 02:59PM Published Mar 14, 2013 02:54PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.