Transforming Theater One Act at a Time with Sally Boyett of ASC
Mar 30, 2017 04:00PM ● Published by Nicole Gould
With hard work and perseverance, Boyett joined the NYC Ballet at the age of 16, but not soon after, realized she wanted to specialize in everything that is theater. She successfully fulfilled her career within theater performing mostly in musicals through Broadway National Tours, European tours, and even worked at Disney in Orlando at MGM Studios.
After a long 25 years as a theater professional, Boyett steps off stage, but continues to provide her extensive knowledge and experience from behind the scenes, living her dream as the Founding Artistic Director of Annapolis Shakespeare Company (ASC) and a freelance director/choreographer in the D.C. area.
While at ASC, Boyett has directed a plethora of performances including Our Town, Twelfth Night, My Fair Lady, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and Romeo and Juliet, just to name a few.
“Audiences can trust us because we have such a diverse season (Shakespeare, musicals, modern plays, classics, new works). We have a smorgasbord of offerings for our audience. We’re doing it differently and were doing it for the audiences, not for ourselves.” – Sally Boyett
Catch Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard III, a fast paced, dynamic, beautifully written, suspense thriller. The show will run from Friday, May 19th until Sunday, June 11th. Tickets range from $25–45. For performance times and to purchase tickets, call 410-415-3513 or visit Annapolisshakespeare.org.
You’ve been involved with theater for quite some time. How were you first introduced to theater and what made you want to continue it throughout the years?When I was seven I started studying dance and theater at the same time. My first theater teacher was Zula Pearson, who also taught Tommy Tune and Sammy Duncan. I was taking acting classes from Pearson and she was directing this small theater in Texas where I grew up. I was captivated. I also trained as a ballet dancer and worked with a woman in Dallas who was a former Russian ballerina. I was a boarding student of hers. I was doing a parallel track towards professional ballet and theater.
I spent two summers in New York training at the Joffrey Ballet School and the School of American Ballet. When I was 16, I was asked to join the NYC Ballet. Then I made the decision that I wanted to go into the theater instead. I’ve always done it and always loved it.
It sounds a little cliché, but I really like everything about the theater. I like all of the jobs, which is what I do now. I had a long career in New York, I was in Broadway National tours, and a Regional theater professional for 25 years all together. I don’t go on stage much anymore, but instead focus on running a company and the shows, although we have wonderful and talented directors working with us.
Can you elaborate on your career in the theater and some pieces you’ve been a part of?I played the role of “Patsy” in the original cast of Crazy For You with Susan Stroman. I was a part of the first National, International, and European tours. I did the show all together for about six years. I was involved in the original cast of 42nd Street. I did a European tour for 42nd Street, which was a lot of fun touring Europe for about a year and half to two years.
I worked mostly in musicals because I was also a dancer and singer. It was also where all the big and long running jobs where. I started at the University of Houston headed by Dr. Sydney Burger, founder of the Houston Shakespeare Festival. There, I was able to get some classical training and develop my love for Shakespeare.
I performed with a lot of regional theaters. I worked at Disney in Orlando at MGM studios in a stage show when they first opened. I did a lot of television for Disney and a lot of commercial work. I’ve also worked for Nickelodeon on a TV pilot.
I had some wonderful mentors, worked with some wonderful actors, and had a really good time as a performer, but then I decided to transition into directing and running a company.
Where do you pull inspiration from when creating a performance?I try to look at every show through the eyes of the audience and give what experience I want them to take away from the show. If it’s a Shakespearean comedy, then I want to find a way to relate it to a modern audience.
Here’s an example: We were doing Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and it’s fun comedy. I decided to set it in 1929 at the end of the silent movie era. And all the characters were silent screen movie types. Olivia, who is the leading lady, was a silent film actress, Orsino, who was in love was the studio mogul, and Feste the clown played a jester, Charlie Chaplin sort of role. I used these ideas to help the actors style the characters. We do that in order to really make Shakespeare stories accessible to modern audiences.
How would you say the theater industry has changed/developed since you began performing up until today?I would say theater has become more diversified in the way it’s presented. When I started, I was performing on a 46-foot proscenium stage, the opera house, or the Kennedy Center. Of course, those places are still there and they still have the big, big shows. But, small theater companies and the scrappy and more experimental theater companies have become more mainstream.
One thing we do at ASC is try to break that fourth wall as much as possible. We’re not talking at an audience, we’re talking to an audience. The way we stage our productions is our space is set in a three-quarter thrust indoors or set up in the rounds in the courtyard. The audience is really experiencing a 360-degree presentation and the actors are in communication with the audience the entire play.
The audience reactions are an acknowledgment that they hear and understand. I think theater has successfully changed to keep up with the times. There are so many electronics, such a demand for movies, and everybody’s glued to their screens. We’re in an electronic age, which means the theater has to be more powerful, more compelling, and more real because there was a time, when certain performances didn’t make you believe the characters were those people, but you were entertained.
Now, we have to continue to raise the bar on the entertainment value, but also make the characters completely real and believable. We like to do that by bringing the audience closer to the action rather than further away. We take classical theater and look at it through a modern era. It’s really what we do and what we do well. The inspiration is making theater matter.
What has been your most satisfying theatrical experience to date?I have a couple of favorite shows that stand out. Why? Because of the collaboration between a group of artists and the designers. For example, Twelfth Night, I thought it was very, very wildly successful because each designer was riffing off of everyone else’s ideas, it was amazing. It’s really how great theater is made. Working with the designers, encouraging everyone, and pushing everybody to get their absolute best work on the stage is really satisfying when we have those shows.
I feel our shows always please our audiences, but I’m probably the last one to be happy and satisfied with the work I’m spearheading because I’m hypercritical of myself and figuring out what I could do better. The singers, actors, and complete collaboration hit it out of the park. I can’t imagine us doing a better job out of that play and of course we’ll try it again. In that moment, it feels like we nailed it and accomplished what we set out to do.
Everything behind the scenes came together seamlessly to create that moment. It’s a mini army over at ASC and we make the performance look like the work of one person. It’s all that energy put together that makes ASC successful and will continue to make us successful.
Outside of the ASC, what other interests or hobbies do you have?Oh, do I have time for any? I think they’re all arts related. I play the piano, so when I want to relax, I sit down in front of my grand piano and play for two to three hours. I enjoy sailing; we have a volunteer, Mark Walters, who has a beautiful sailboat at the sailing hall of fame and we like going out on his boat. I have four children, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention doing things with my kids.
I would say I don’t have time for too many other hobbies. As crazy as it sounds, I like going to see other people’s theater. I’m on the Board of Governors for theater Washington. I go and see a lot of theater as a board member there. I just love the theater. I love to be the first one there and breathe the theater air.
I’m usually the first one here and the last one to leave. It’s really amazing to see what our actors can do on stage. I’m a task master and I’m really tough, but that probably comes from my days of triaging with a Russian ballerina, but I won’t stop pushing until its right. The actors always rise to the occasion and they meet and exceed expectations with every project. It’s really great to have that. We’ve created an artistic home for artists at ASC.
If someone asked you why they should come to an Annapolis Shakespeare Company performance, what would you tell them?I would say it’s a unique experience. We have a Broadway aesthetic, we’re doing really strong work, and we’re only in our infancy. We’re such a baby company right now with where we want to go.
Audiences can trust us because we have such a diverse season (Shakespeare, musicals, modern plays, classics, new works). We have a smorgasbord of offerings for our audience. We’re doing it it differently and were doing it for the audiences, not for ourselves.
We’re all working toward giving a gift to the audience with each performance and I think the work speaks for itself. No one should actually believe me, they should just come see it. It’s really about the experience. Come and experience ASC, we’re transforming theater