As a young girl, Sandra Roth Schoenbart constantly asked herself one burning question: “Could the daughter of a Jewish accountant from Queens, New York, ever become an actress?”
In her mind, the short answer was no. So she did the next best thing — and landed a gig on QVC, she said with a lighthearted laugh.
Schoenbart had already established herself as Sandra K in the garment district, where the independent contractor sold her wares before her “wonderful experience” on the home shopping network. It was a career that incorporated her first love — the performing arts — but never fully satisfied it.
So this past January, the Water Mill resident signed up for Allen O’Reilly’s theater class, “Everybody Can Act!” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. In the throes of her personal rediscovery, he took the budding actor under his wing and helped her develop a one-woman show, “Exit Strategy,” which will make its debut on Saturday, June 29, at the Southampton Cultural Center.
“It’s not supposed to happen like this!” said O’Reilly, the director of education and community outreach at Bay Street Theater. “Sandy trained at the American Academy of Arts in her 20s, then took one acting class many years later, and here she is! Sort of a ‘Mrs. Maisel’ story, if you will.”
In reference to the Amazon Prime smash hit, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — starring Rachel Brosnahan as a Jewish housewife who thinks she has everything she has ever wanted, until she discovers her hidden penchant for stand-up comedy — Schoenbart said the comparison is flattering, considering her lifelong dream has always involved the stage.
“I always wanted to be an actress,” she said. “I was always the lead in my school plays. I did attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but I was the daughter of an accountant, and was the daughter of an accountant growing up in Queens, New York, gonna be an actress? It was just not a typical thing to do.”
In her free time, she dabbled in acting here and there, even though her work in sales is a nonstop performance itself, she said.
“You have to be up,” she said. “I’ve always been a performer. I’m definitely an outgoing, gregarious type of personality. I definitely have a flair for drama, there’s no question about that. I’m colorful, and having lived a relatively full life at this point, you have so many experiences inside of you that you can certainly let out in different facets — and that’s what we’re trying to showcase in this show.”
Written and rehearsed in just six short months, “Exit Strategy” is a compilation of monologues from four different plays, starting with Schoenbart’s reprisal of Dr. Gorgeous, a Jewish suburban housewife meets talk show host, from “The Sisters Rosensweig” by Wendy Wasserstein — her segment from O’Reilly’s acting class, which marked her return to the stage after nearly a decade away from it.
“Definitely, even now, I’m nervous,” she said. “There’s no question I’m anxious. It’s a huge undertaking. It’s a huge platform that went from doing a small segment at Bay Street to putting on a one-woman show.”
The play continues with a heartfelt and particularly poignant monologue from “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” by Donald Margulies — “She is forbidden to continue a relationship with her high school sweetheart, and that was something that happened to me as a child, as well,” Schoenbart said — followed by a piece of “All the Ways to Say I Love You” by Neil LaBute.
“It showcases me as a cougar, as an older woman now, which frankly, my entire life, everybody has always said that I’m naturally sexual. There’s an essence that stems from me,” she said. “So that was something that anybody — family, friends that know me — would definitely say that is akin to who I am, on some level.”
The closing monologue from “In a Word,” by Craig Pospisil, explores her darker side, she said, and with 30-second transitions from character to character, it proves to be a challenge.
“It’s been quite a journey, and this has been quite an undertaking. Allen and I worked together on this –—I love working with him, it’s wonderful — but certainly this is a big undertaking, and I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s been quite a process it’s been quite a learning curve for me.”
Following the Cultural Center performance, Schoenbart said she plans to shop “Exit Strategy” around, using the one-woman play as leverage to break into television and theater.
“Performing is a wonderful way to allow an individual to express their emotions, and for me, that’s what I enjoy most,” she said. “I do feel I am very deep and a highly sensitive individual, so the theater is now allowing me to share and to release the emotions that I feel, from happiness to sadness, covering the gamut.
“I think the performing arts is a wonderful world, because it is a creative world,” she added, “and I am so happy to finally be a part of it.”
Sandra Roth Schoenbart, also known as Sandra K, will perform her one-woman show, “Exit Strategy,” on Saturday, June 29, at 7 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center, located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton. Tickets are $20 and $10 for students under age 21. For more information, call (631) 287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.