John Lennon is purported to have famously said, “Life is
what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” and that would certainly seem to hold true for theater director Sandra Rockman.
Rockman came to Nevada County more than three decades ago, initially believing her time here would be a short stay between stops. This area has not only become her permanent home, but also been a place where she can flourish creatively, honing her craft as actress, playwright and director.
Currently, Rockman is directing the Paul Emery Production of “Our Town” at the historic Nevada City Theatre. Rockman was kind enough to sit down with me between rehearsals for an interview discussing her life, love of theater and the play she is currently helming.
Rockman grew up in New York City and remembers frequently taking the subway with her mother to Broadway. As a young person, she always had a burning desire to perform, spending countless hours in her bedroom learning and singing along to musicals. Summers, she would attend a camp that encouraged participation in theater and after reaching high school, she would travel into Manhattan on Saturdays to study acting at an academy.
Rockman said she found theater and acting to be an ideal way of freeing herself from the emotional turmoil of a highly dysfunctional family. Without going into great detail, she revealed that both her father and brother committed suicide.
“I was from a new immigrant family, my father was from Russia and we were crawling our way up into the middle class,” she said. “There were a lot of emotional problems and theater was my escape. Theater was how I received permission to be somebody else and not have to be in the midst of the mess of family life.”
In the late 70s, Rockman moved to this area from San Francisco, after a long period of time in which theater was no longer a part of her life.
Almost immediately, she found herself integrated into a burgeoning performance group called the Foothill Theatre Company.
“We were a force for theater,” Rockman said. “We did edgy, wonderful, hugely creative original pieces and classical pieces and weird pieces. It was a seminal period for growing a regional theater company and we wound up with a national reputation.”
Rockman has also directed productions for the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra and Sierra Stages. Her list of accomplishments includes being nominated for an ELLY for Best Director in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” As a playwright, she has had her work produced in Dallas, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco and guesstimates having directed over 30 productions and acted in another 50 more.
A self-described “big city girl,” Rockman has now lived in Nevada County for 35 years, due largely to the presence of a “vital theater community” and a “wonderful man” whom she met here and married.
“I never expected to stay here, I thought I would be here for a year or so and then go somewhere else,” Rockman said. “But this has been a great place to have an adult life. I’ve been able to lead a very creative existence and reinvent myself as somebody beyond the survivor-victim, sad story of my family background. Because of that, I’ve been able to take the emotional spectrum and bring it to the stage.”
As director, Rockman seemingly sweats every detail.
“I’m very nervous at home all day, but then when I come to the theater, I’m working and I’m OK,” she said. “Otherwise, I’m fretting about, ‘did I remember this and what about that and what am I not seeing.’”
Rockman marvels at how “Our Town,” a play written in the 1930s, could still resonate so well in modern life.
“‘Our Town’ is a very beautiful play because it’s simple, but is very difficult to do,” she said. “It’s a classic play about what humans are like. You can look at it as an historical piece, but on the other hand it’s also about what is happening now between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.
“It deals with the depths of humanity and reminds us that life passes so quickly.”
Now in her 60s, Rockman sees her love affair with local theater continuing well into the foreseeable future.
“Theater keeps my heart pounding,” she said.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer living in Grass Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.