Professor Sandy Boynton, right front, runs lines with members of the SCCC Players during rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The performers are Michael Bancroft, left, Phillip Beattie and Vicky Cernik.
In 23 years of teaching drama at Schenectady County Community College, Sandy Boynton wasn’t necessarily waiting for the next Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep to walk into her classroom.
“I’m most interested in helping the students find the artists in themselves,” said Boynton, who is directing her final theater production at SCCC this week and will officially retire in August. “I want to help them find the way to develop their creative sensibilities. If that continues on stage either academically, at the community level or at the professional level, that’s wonderful. And, if it gets translated into something that enriches their lives as professionals that’s fine. If they simply learn that the only way to learn is to fail and then fix it, that’s wonderful, too.”
The SCCC Players’ production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will play tonight through Saturday at Taylor Auditorium on the campus of SCCC. It’s the 45th show directed by Boynton at the school, and the perfect play for her purposes. As she told the SCCC school newspaper, The Binnekill, last week, Boynton’s goal was always to “choose something of a size that makes sense with a cast of about 12 to 16. I want the cast to be big enough for drama majors and casual students to take part. I look for evenly sized roles. We wouldn’t do ‘Hamlet’ where one person carries the show.”
However, if her goal was to create a star, Boynton wouldn’t hesitate to work with the students she works with at SCCC and maybe do exactly that.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
WHAT: A production of Shakespeare’s classic by the SCCC Players
WHERE: Taylor Auditorium, Schenectady County Community College
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $5; $3 for seniors and non-SCCC students; free for SCCC faculty and students
MORE INFO: 381-1250
“I don’t like the star system, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here,” she said. “But the students in this show are amazing. They are so funny and talented, and they’re all good players. It’s just that I’m not looking for an MVP. It’s about creating a piece of theater through collaboration.”
Boynton’s life in the theater began at the age of 5 in Watertown, where she grew up.
“I went on stage for the first time in the kindergarten Christmas show, and I was the narrator,” she said. “Then they applauded and then it was over. I knew what I wanted to do.”
Performing, however, eventually took a back seat to directing.
“I was probably like the typical person who gets interested in the theater,” remembered Boynton. “I thought I was an actress, and I still think of myself as an actress. But in college, I had the opportunity to direct a show, a one-act play, and then somebody let me do a main stage production.”
After getting her undergraduate degree in English at St. Lawrence, Boynton went on to the University at Albany, where she earned her master’s. There, she studied under drama professor Jarka Burian, whose wife, Grace, was in charge of the theater program at SCCC.
“I studied under Jarka at UAlbany and I was hired at SCCC as a drama/English teacher to replace Grace,” said Boynton. “They both became colleagues and lifelong friends.”
In Boynton’s first year at SCCC, she began teaching English composition and Introduction to Literature courses, and the following year she had moved on to Drama Classics, Theatre Workshop and Theatre and Rehearsal Production.
“I was living three blocks from the college, . . . and when a friend of mine heard about the opening she said, ‘that sounds like you,’ ” remembered Boynton. “I got the job, I enjoyed it, and I just kept on and kept on doing it. The students got more and more interesting to work with. The other great thing about SCCC was that there was never a word of artistic censorship. We had absolute artistic freedom and you don’t get that very often. That was astonishing.”
Along with directing 45 productions, Boynton led student trips to the West End in London between 2002 and 2006. In 2007, she began taking students to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va. She was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2009, and in 2012 the American Shakespeare Company presented her with its Words in Action Award.
Making the world bright
While her long career at SCCC may be coming to a conclusion, Boynton doesn’t see herself slowing down at all.
“This is about being reborn, it’s about a beginning and not an ending,” she said. “It’s about me finding a way to make the world bright again, and that’s what I’m going to leave people with. I have to be honest, I don’t really have a plan yet, but I’m going to enjoy myself and see what kind of opportunities present themselves to me. I may volunteer my expertise with community theater, and I could also see if I can be of use at the American Shakespeare Company in Staunton.”
One thing is certain. She will continue to be an advocate for the theater and how it plays a role in everyone’s education, not just someone destined for Broadway or Hollywood.
“I think the artistic vision is incredibly important for human life,” said Boynton. “That’s what it’s all been about for me for 23 years, and that isn’t going to stop.”