Philadelphia born and raised, Sandra Fenichel Asher shares a birthday with Oscar Wilde and Eugene O’Neill. You might think this coincidence alone is what set her on the road to being awarded the Sara Spencer Artistic Achievement Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education for her lifetime contribution to theater for young audiences.
Or you might think it was her early work as playwright. She began writing plays in the second grade. “I’d write these little plays, usually based on a pop song, and coerce my friends into being in them. My teacher, Mrs. Lomozoff, let us rehearse in the cloak room, and then perform for the class. She also sent us on tour around the school.” Later, Sandy’s other teachers came to her and said, “Write a play about this.” Sandy would. “No one told me I couldn’t write a play, so I just did it.”
But that early experience wasn’t the reason Sandy began writing for children. She was determined to write for adults, but a fellow student at Indiana University noted that, “There is a child in everything you write.” That insight really struck her, “I suddenly realized how much children meant to me.”
After graduation, Sandy was married with two children and living in Springfield, MO. There was no outlet for children’s plays, so she sent them out across the country. “Some got published without my ever seeing them on stage,” she remembers. Then the Springfield Contemporary Theatre was founded (originally as the Vandivort Center Theatre), and Sandy produced her own plays and those by other TYA playwrights in their facility for six years before returning to Pennsylvania. Now, SCT is featuring Sandy’s work again. They are producing her play, Death Valley: A Love Story, and bringing in a director from New York to helm the production. It opens October 25, 2019.
Sandy could have won the Sara Spencer Achievement Award simply for penning plays for young audiences such as A Woman Called Truth and In the Garden of the Selfish Giant, or for her work in creating community-specific plays. But I think that her unceasing promotion of other playwrights is what made her the sure-fire winner. She’s the founder and co-chair of American Theatre for the Very Young: A Digital Festival, which hosts full-length video recordings of performances for audiences aged six and under all over the country. She’s also created directories of award-winning plays and new plays for children by members of the AATE, as well as similar directories for several other organizations. And she hasn’t forgotten the Dramatists Guild when sharing her gifts. She taught Writing Plays for Young Audiences for the Dramatists Guild Institute in the spring of 2019.
Sandy may be thrilled to have won a prestigious award, but she’s not about to rest on her laurels. Instead she’s continuing her partnership with the Lancaster Public Library to create another new work, It Happened at the Library. To create this play, the Library sent out an invitation to area K-12 students asking them for creative writing and art on the theme “It Happened at the Library.” Their responses will be published in a book and several are being woven into a play that will debut – where else – at the Lancaster Public Library on December 7, 2019. There will a gala “Library Happening” surrounding the debut where the young contributors will sign autographs.
Sandy has a lot more plans in the works and sees no reason to slow down anytime soon. I can’t wait to see what wonderful generous things she’ll do. We’re proud to have her in the Philadelphia region.