In an online bio Sandy wrote: “ I began creating plays in second grade…. That was my idea of let’s pretend—making up stories to be acted out, telling my friends where to stand, what to say and when to say it. I guess they enjoyed it as much as I did because we rehearsed a lot and performed by our class and, eventually, the entire school.”
I sent Sandy some questions by email, and she graciously answered them with informative and interesting comments.
Q. What drew you to playwriting rather than some other literary form?
No doubt it was an extension of playing "Make Believe" as a child. And I had a stage-struck 2nd grade teacher who used to act out scenes from "Arsenic and Old Lace" for our class. We loved it! I began making up stories based on the Hit Parade songs of the day and bossing my friends around to act them out with me. Mrs. Lomozoff, our teacher, let us perform for the class and sent us on tour around the school. Later, teachers would hand me a folktale and say, "Write a play for us to perform." So I did. On Saturdays, after the matinee at the movie theater on the corner, my friends and I would act out our favorite scenes on the sidewalk in front of our houses. Still later, I satirized my high school in what became our class's senior play. Though there were no formal drama classes in my schools, there were always plays and performances. It was a part of my life from the get-go.
Q. How has your play writing changed from that first work to the present time?
By attending conferences where plays from all over the country and all over the world were performed and discussed, I have learned -- and continue to learn -- what is theatrically possible. Though I still love folk tales, I've moved beyond them to all sorts of subject matter for both young and adult audiences and continue to experiment with presentational styles. The development of "Death Valley: A Love Story" reflects that.
Q. What was the source of and/or the inspiration for DEATH VALLEY: A LOVE STORY?
"Death Valley: A Love Story" began with a small gallery exhibit that included David Nutter's photography, Carol Emerson's related artwork, and excerpts from both of their journals. I was so moved by what I saw and read -- love, loss, grief, and recovery as expressed by two therapists who were also artists -- that I asked Carol if she would consider allowing me to share her story in a play. After some thought, she decided that sharing the story might offer healing to others. She gave me the journals to read, and the developmental journey began.
Q. What are you currently working on?
At this moment, I'm juggling four very different projects. I'm working with director Alan Souza to put the finishing touches on "Death Valley: A Love Story," which I hope will be published after this production. I've also got "It Happened at the Library" just starting rehearsals in Lancaster. That's based on stories written by K-12 students in area schools that will appear, along with their poetry and artwork, in an anthology of the same name, which I'm editing. That all debuts at a "Library Happening" at the Lancaster Public Library in December. At the same time, I'm working on a dance/theatre adaptation of my picture book, STELLA'S DANCING DAYS, which will premiere at the library in April, and I'm co-writing a bilingual play for the very young with my colleague Jose Casas.
Q. What other comments about Death Valley might you make that would interest the audience at SCT?
Perhaps they'd be interested in the agreement I initiated with Carol before I began work on the script: Needless to say, it's a very personal story, and, as a therapist, Carol is not accustomed to making her private life public. There was hesitation on her part about proceeding, mostly out of concern for her patients and her family. I promised her that if at any time she felt uncomfortable -- all the way from reading drafts of the script to curtain going up on opening night of the premiere performance -- I would shut the project down immediately, no questions asked and no regrets. That we've moved steadily forward through multiple staged readings at Tellus360 in Lancaster, PA, at The Open Eye Theater in Margaretville, NY, and at Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick, MD, and even to a full-length screen version produced by Samaritan Counseling Center, is evidence of her remarkable courage and her determination to honor David and to offer support to others. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to work with her and to "make something good" of this story, as David wished.
It has been fascinating to see Sandy mature as an artist and writer in handling more complex material and experimenting with new play writing forms and presentations. Sandy’s first play as an adult writer was Come Join the Circus presented by Springfield Little Theatre in the 1973-74 season. Her first production with Springfield Contemporary Theatre, then housed in the Vandivort Center, was Emma (an adaptation of the novel by Jane Austin), 1997, followed by Little Old Ladies in Tennis Shoes (1998), I Will Sing Life (1999) The CASA Project: Stand Up for a Child (2001), Somebody Catch My Homework (2002), Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy (2002), and most recently Walking Toward America (2018) presented at SCT's Center Stage.