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God On Our Side

Roadrunner Theatre Company gets a boost

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So, your career as a kid-raiser has been rendered obsolete. You find yourself something of an empty-nester. What do you do? Should you return to your first career, engineering? Nah, been there, done that. But what?

If you're Renata Rauschen, you open a theater company. After all, your family has always called you a drama queen. Might as well cash in on that personality trait, no? And that's how Roadrunner Theatre Company came to be.

This week the group opens its production of Neil Simon's God's Favorite, which will play weekends through July 2.

In 2015, Rauschen produced On Golden Pond, which she mounted at Tanque Verde Lutheran Church. To her pleasant surprise, the show was well attended. But the space was not ideal and was infrequently available.

So, like a number of theaters in Tucson, Roadrunner needed a space they could call home. Rauschen heard about Sheldon Metz, who had been trying to find a space he and cohort John Vornholt could remodel and make available for companies like Raushen's to rent. They had been searching for such a space for years, really, but none of their potential finds fit the bill.

Finally, after a number of near misses, they found a space on Tanque Verde at Bear Canyon Road in a strip mall, and there they dug in, trying to turn it into a theater. The space was significantly different from their dream that their layout would feature at least a couple of performing spaces, one for smaller shows and one that could accommodate more elaborate ones. Their enterprise, called APCOT—Alliance Performing Center of Tucson—opened in September of 2016 with a production of a play that had won the new play contest sponsored by the Tucson Alliance of Dramatic Artists, another group associated with Metz. For Metz and Vornholt, it was a start.

Rauschen saw an opportunity here for her group and RTC was initially designated as the space's resident theater. APCOT was also to be offered as a performing space for other events. But things didn't work out with the space as Metz and Vornholt hoped. There were financial issues, according to Metz, as well as those of brand recognition, according to Rauschen. Particularly in theater-starved east Tucson, there seemed to be a ready audience, but one that had already identified the space with Roadrunner, and that meant light-hearted entertainment.

Winding Road Theater Ensemble, a group with more serious intentions, was scheduled to do two of their shows of the 2016-2017 season at the APCOT space as well as at the Temple of Music and Art downtown, but cancelled their second show after the first didn't pull enough of an audience.  

So now the space is Roadrunner's. Rauschen is the executive director and Michael F. Woodson is artistic director. Woodson is a familiar name to patrons of Live Theatre Workshop, having played numerous roles there. Raushen is hopeful of her new enterprise, and she sees a loyal audience developing.

"It's an older audience. These folks are from this side of town, and they don't want to drive downtown to see live theater. This is great for them." And, Rauschen says, the type of theater Roadrunner is committed to doing is the type they want to see.

So, what type of theater is that? Mostly comedies and newer, more contemporary ones at that, Rauschen says. Sounds like they will be steering clear of Moliere and Aristophanes. "And musicals," she adds.

Musicals? That sounds pretty ambitious. However, Rauschen has found some folks who are willing and more than able to tackle those daunting endeavors. Jose "Chach" Snook, a well-travelled professional singer and actor is going to lead the charge in that department. Last fall he brought his skill and talents to produce a very good I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.

Rauschen has also embraced an opportunity to support Tucson's service groups. For the shows' preview nights, she offers to give all proceeds to organizations like the Kiwanis Club and the Alliance Club.

If it's a guaranteed comically rich couple of hours you're looking for, Neil Simon is a pretty good go-to. God's Favorite, oddly enough, is based on the Biblical book of Job. Now, there's a laugher. Simon's version first opened in 1975 and featured comic geniuses Vincent Gardenia and Charles Nelson Reilly. They, ah-hem, were not available for this run, but director Larry Fuller feels confident that his cast can bring the laughs.

The play also has some personal significance for Fuller. His dad, Ed, had played several roles in multiple productions of the play over many years. Ed passed away this past February. This production, Fuller says, is to honor him and his late mother. "I was blessed to have them as parents," Fuller declares. "I'm sorry that my dad can't see this, but I'm honored to be directing this because of his lifetime of theater work here and in theaters in Philadelphia," from which the Fullers migrated to Tucson.

It seems that this new theater-kid on the block is indeed finding its footing, while installing its footlights, in the northeast-side neighborhood. It aims to be a true community theater, featuring local folks who love taking a turn on the stage for the love of it. As their promotional info states, Roadrunner's mission is "to bring excellent entertainment and theater to the eastside of Tucson. RTC is made up of hard-working individuals from all walks of life who bring their wonderful talents to the stage and behind the scenes."

And it's all happening because drama queen Renata Rauschen decided to claim her crown.

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