A self-described Jewish girl from Queens, Sandy Roth Schoenbart (stage name Sandra K.) has spent the better part of three decades raising two children and selling her wares on QVC, in Manhattan’s Garment Center and around the world. Though she always envisioned herself performing on a grand stage, and even attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Schoenbart put that dream on hold to focus on providing for her family until they were old enough to fly on their own. When that day came, she was faced with a major life decision. “I said to myself, ‘What do I want to do for the next 30 years?’” she remembers. “I really want to act! I want to perform! I want to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”
With that realization, Schoenbart turned the page to the next chapter of her life and began seeking East End theaters at which to hone her acting ability. She stumbled upon a brochure for Bay Street Theater’s first-ever adult acting class, Everybody Can Act!, taught by the theater’s new Director of Education and Community Outreach Allen O’Reilly.
Before the class even began, O’Reilly knew Schoenbart was something special. “It started with her registration—even through email this personality emerged, and I thought Sandy was going to be a lot of fun to deal with,” O’Reilly says. “Her enthusiasm was palpable.” Throughout the eight-week course, Schoenbart proved to be an exemplary acting student, one O’Reilly took special note of. “We clicked immediately, and in those first couple of classes I sensed her dedication.” he says.
For Schoenbart’s final monologue, O’Reilly cast her as Dr. Gorgeous—a suburban, Jewish housewife/talk show host—from Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig. “It was a bold choice, but it clicked for her,” he says. Her daughter wisely recorded the performance, and if she hadn’t, the story might’ve ended there. “I don’t know if she did it for [a demo reel] or she just did it to share it with other people that might not have been able to come and attend the evening,” Schoenbart says of her daughter.
Schoenbart submitted the video to Southampton Cultural Center (SCC), and the very next day, she got a call from Executive Director Kirsten Lonnie, asking her to select a date for her first show. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen!” O’Reilly exclaims. “But to Sandy’s great credit, yes, this opportunity occurred with Southampton Cultural Center, but what’s been extremely impressive to me through the rehearsal process is Sandy’s aptitude for this.”
Schoenbart quickly recruited O’Reilly to direct the show, and production began. The transition from a student-teacher to an actor-director relationship was smooth, though O’Reilly’s expectations of her increased greatly with their newfound roles. “Teaching is nurturing, empowering and trying to help the student reach their expectations, whatever they may be…but directing is another thing,” he explains. “There is a professional expectation and payoff to our work…I think it’s fair to say that I’m tough on Sandy, because I know what she can do.”
The one-woman show, titled Exit Strategy: An Evening with Sandra K., features Schoenbart performing five monologues covering a wide range of themes and emotions, a comedic opening about her journey to the stage and bit of dancing. “We have a very heavy piece, In a Word by Craig Pospisil, that I love,” she explains. “I get to dig deep and let out a lot of serious emotions. It’s a total distance from Dr. Gorgeous; it’s two extremes.” She’ll be reprising her role of Dr. Gorgeous in two scenes from The Sisters Rosensweig, and she’ll round out the show with monologues from Neil LaBute’s All the Ways to Say I Love You and Donald Margulies’s I Don’t Know What I’m Doing. “I think this show definitely portrays a lot of my different personas and a lot of the emotion that I carry.” she says.
Working on the show together has been a whirlwind for Schoenbart and O’Reilly, but it’s allowed them to forge a special bond that most students don’t have with their former teachers. “It could’ve just been professional, but we’ve developed a great friendship,” O’Reilly beams.
See Exit Strategy at SCC on Saturday, June 29, at 7 p.m. Visit scc-arts.org for tickets.