Sandoes have the Bard in their Boulder blood

Anne and Sam Sandoe Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter

Anne and Sam Sandoe Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter

First Family of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has a lineage in Boulder that goes back to 1944

Anne Sandoe may be the only actor in the world who has been cast to play age-appropriate Shakespearean roles from the time she was 6 and into her 60s.

She is the daughter of James Sandoe, who directed the first-ever play on Boulder’s famed Mary Rippon Amphitheatre in 1944. James Sandoe became a legendary figure at both the Colorado and Oregon Shakespeare festivals – and he took his wife and four children along for the whole theatrical ride.

Sam and Anne Sandoe, both familiar and familial members of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 acting company, now have 41 seasons between them. There are part of Boulder’s first family of theatre – a royal lineage that goes back 71 years.

Anne Sandoe.

Anne Sandoe.

For Anne, it all began when her father, who was a regular director in Oregon from 1948-68, cast her to appear in Henry VI, Part Two. She was 6.

“We used to get carted up to Ashland every summer starting in 1954,” she said. “And if they ever needed children in the shows, they would use us.”

The first roles Anne really remembers playing were in Henry VI, Part Three, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when she was 8. “I got murdered on stage as Rutland (York’s son), and then I played Mustard-seed (the littlest fairy) in Midsummer,” she said. “It was very exciting.” Her castmates included older sister Jill, who was 12, and brother John, who played a 14-year-old Puck. Sam was still swaddling.

James Sandoe was a University of Colorado professor, librarian, bibliographer and Shakespearean scholar who founded the CU International Film Series in 1941. He also had an interesting side passion: He was a renowned reviewer of mystery novels for the Chicago Sun-Times and New York Herald Tribune.

The Sandoe patriarch was asked to direct a play at CU in the summer of 1944, but because the Navy had taken over the University Theatre for the war effort back in 1939, Sandoe decided to try staging Romeo and Juliet in the newly built Mary Rippon. That began an annual tradition that became formalized when his friend, English professor Jack Crouch, officially founded the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1958.

James Sandoe directed nine seasons for Colorado Shakes between 1961 and 1973. There were seasons when he would direct two shows in the same summer, while acting in others alongside his children.

James Sandoe.

James Sandoe.

“And while Jim Symons has directed the most Colorado Shakespeare Festival productions,” said Sam Sandoe, “no one has directed more productions of Shakespeare’s plays on the Mary Rippon stage than Dad. After 70 years, nobody has broken that record.”

The Sandoes clearly have the Bard in their Boulder blood.

“It’s just the way we grew up,” Anne Sandoe said. “Instead of going to camp in the summer, we went to Shakespeare. There are lots of people who are more well-read about Shakespeare than I am. I have just been around it a lot more than most.”

Those Sandoe veins share pumping space with the University of Colorado. Like their father, Sam and Anne are longtime employees of the school. Anne has headed the Leeds School of Business’ MBA program for the past 13 years. Sam has logged nearly 20 years in the Office of Strategic Media Relations.

This summer, Anne is playing the Duchess of Venice, who dispatches Othello to war in Othello; and the Bishop of Winchester in Henry VI, Part One. Sam is playing Verges in Much Ado About Nothing; Gratiano in Othello; Bardolph in Henry V; and Edmund Mortimer (among others) in Henry VI, Part One.

Anne said everything she knows about theatre, she learned from her father. For example:

Sam Sandoe.

Sam Sandoe.

“As an actor: Pick up your cues. Don’t take a pause until you earn one,” she said. “As a director: The end of one scene is the beginning of the next scene. One of the things that would appall Dad about any play he might see today would be the amount of time put into scene shifts. That, and playing music that has nothing to do with the show.”

Uncut on Broadway, Hamlet ran 4½ hours. Uncut in Boulder, James Sandoe’s Hamlet ran three hours flat.

“It moved like a son of a bitch,” Anne said.

Go to our full gallery of Sandoe family photos

While Sam Sandoe has performed with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival fairly regularly since 1970, Anne became a mom and teacher and took a break from 1973 to 2007. Their father died in 1980 at age 68.

With so much Boulder history intertwined with the Sandoe family tree, we sat down for a chat with Anne and Sam Sandoe. Here are more excerpts from our wide-ranging conversation:

The Sandoe family appearing in 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1955. Says Anne Sandoe: 'I’m the littlest fairly, kneeling on the ground. My sister, Jill, is second from the left. I was 8, she was 12.'

The Sandoe family appearing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1955. Says Anne Sandoe: “I’m the littlest fairly, kneeling on the ground. My sister, Jill, is second from the left. I was 8, she was 12.” 

John Moore: Anne, what was your first role for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival?

Anne: The minute Dad came back here to direct in 1961, I started being in all the shows. They always needed young people. My first speaking role was playing the ghost of Prince Edward in Richard III in 1963. I was 16.

John Moore: What was the first show you did together?

Anne: That was Dad’s production of All’s Well that Ends Well in 1970. I played Diana, and Sam was one of the soldiers.

Sam: We were also together in Richard III that year.

John Moore: So have you two felt tied to Shakespeare your entire lives?

Sam: Oh, definitely.

(Photo at right: Anne and Sam Sandoe in Boulder. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

John Moore: The program says this is Sam’s 26th season, and Anne’s 15th.

Sam: Correct.

John Moore: Anne, you started all the way back in 1961. But you had a gap between 1973 and 2008.

Anne: Yep. Only 35 years. I left Boulder in 1973 to become a teacher, and I was gone until 2002. When I moved back, Sam said to me, ‘You know, you really ought to get back into theatre again.’ And so in 2008 I auditioned for CSF, and I got cast. And I have been in it almost every year since.

John Moore: Well, clearly you can always go home again. Sam, what’s your story?

Sam: I haven’t performed every year, but I’ve been on a roll. Geoff Kent (Iago in Othello) and I are tied currently for most consecutive seasons, with 13. I think we’re both eyeing each other a little bit.

John Moore: You never took a significant break?

Sam: No. But some years they just wouldn’t hire me.

John Moore: So you two are on a good long parallel stretch here at the Festival for the first time.

Anne: Yes, we are.

John Moore: What’s that like for siblings of a certain age being able to spend that kind of extended quality time together?

Sam: It’s lovely.

Anne: We still haven’t been on stage together all that much. We are not often in the same shows, or on the stage at the same time.

John Moore: Have you ever been cast together in really awkward roles, like, say, as lovers?

Sam: No. I was one of her sons in Richard III, though.

Anne: Yes, he was Edward, and I was the mum.

John Moore: So what do you get out of it now at this stage of your lives?

Sam: We like the people.

Peter Macon and Anne Sandoe in 'Othello' in 2015. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

Peter Macon and Anne Sandoe in ‘Othello’ in 2015. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

Anne: The people are fantastic.

Sam: And we like the magic of putting a show together – starting from those words on the page and then watching it grow into the full production. And they grow so fast now. Sometimes we cram these shows together in two weeks.

Anne: It’s just murder. Especially for the people who are doing multiple shows. I am only doing two shows this summer, so it’s no big deal for me. But some people are doing four or five.

John Moore: So why do you keep at it?

Anne: For me, it is about being involved with something that is a part of my heritage. Teaching is part of my training, and part of what I love to do. When I taught acting, Shakespeare was my specialty. I now teach a class for CSF Education on acting Shakespeare for Adults.

John Moore: So I followed in my father’s footsteps at The Denver Post, and I was always asked whether my Dad got me the job. Did you guys ever get that?

Anne: Oh golly, yes. All the time.

John Moore: What do you say to those people?

Sam: Well, we used to get it more when he was alive. But in the early years, there were certainly some snide comments … usually jokingly. I remember one newspaper article on the festival. Someone wrote an anonymous comment online saying, “Sam Sandoe has only ever been hired because of his Dad.” And I know who it was.

John Moore: Anonymous is my least favorite writer.

Anne: It’s so cowardly. My answer to that always used to be, “If Dad cast me, it’s because he knows I can do the role. And I have to be twice as good as anybody else who auditions, because I am his kid.”

John Moore: Was he tough on you?

Anne: Very tough. Very.

Sam: And he never gave us leads. The year I volunteered for the first time, I was carrying a banner and playing a peasant. I was offered some lines and I turned them down because I didn’t want the responsibility.

Anne: Dad gave me a couple of really good ingénue roles. But he wouldn’t have done it if he thought I would embarrass him.

John Moore: There has always seemed to be a steady stream of actors here who are either on their way to becoming recognizable names, or already are.

Anne: Oh, yeah.

Sam: Jimmy Smits was pretty fresh out of grad school when he got cast to play Othello in 1984.

John Moore: I interviewed him about that. I remember the program bio innocuously noted that “Jim” can be seen in the upcoming NBC pilot, Miami Vice.

Sam: Yes. So at that time, so he wasn’t “Jimmy Smits” just yet.

John Moore: And he had just had hernia surgery.

Sam: I’ll never forget this: Here he was hired to play Othello, and when he got here, he volunteered to play the Sea Captain in Twelfth Night because they needed another actor. He said, “Well, I’m only doing one show. Can I help?”

John Moore: Yeah, Jimmy, but that one role is … Othello.

Sam: Exactly. He was a very nice guy. I was playing Gratiano, the same role I am playing this summer. He is one of the few actors who broke my heart every night in that final scene. I have only had a few actors do that with me onstage. He was the first.

John Moore: Were you around for Val Kilmer’s Hamlet?

Sam: Yeah, I was in that.

John Moore: If the legend is to be believed, girls were climbing over the walls to get into the Mary Rippon.

Sam: That’s all true. We had to have special security. He rented a place that was kept very secret.

John: Had Top Gun just come out?

Sam: Actually that was already out. What came out that summer was Willow.

Anne: So he was a very hot property.

Sam: He was at the top of his career, I would say.

John Moore: Was he a good Hamlet?

Sam: He was a very good Hamlet. It was very punk rock-n-rolly. He drove the administrators and the PR people and the costumers crazy, but he was good with the acting company. He was very distant, but he didn’t play much of a diva card.

Anne: I remember Bill Sadler was here in the 1973 Hamlet. He’s quite a name now (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard 2). But he was just out of the same grad school that Jimmy Smits (Cornell University) would graduate from 10 years later. Bill had never done a role as big as Hamlet before, and he was delightful. Such a nice guy.

John Moore: What about a buddy of mine from Regis High School: John Carroll Lynch (American Horror Story, Fargo, Zodiac)?

Sam: I did two seasons with John at CSF. Did you see his Frankenstein when it toured the country?

John Moore: Yes. It played up here at Macky Auditorium.

Sam: It did. Wonderful.

Anne: I remember a young Michael Moriarty (Law & Order) from back in the 1960s. He was a little temperamental. Dad told the story that Michael was very upset when he wouldn’t let him read for Othello.

John Moore: I heard about this: He was said to have wept when he learned he would not be playing Othello here.

Anne: Yeah, they still cast white guys to play Othello back then. But he was, what, 23? He was very upset. I also worked with Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure). He was very a very nice guy. Quiet. Very shy. He was just out of grad school, too. He only played small roles here. But I remember him well because I was 16 and … very impressionable.

John Moore: Aha!

Anne Sandoe, right, performing in her final Colorado Shakespeare Festival production directed by her father, 'Pericles,' in 1973. Anne played Marina, here with Patricia Ryan as Thaisa. The Sandoes are the First Family of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, with a lineage in Boulder that goes back to 1944.

Anne Sandoe, right, performing in her final Colorado Shakespeare Festival production directed by her father, ‘Pericles,’ in 1973. Anne played Marina, here with Patricia Ryan as Thaisa.

Anne: My last show with Dad was Pericles in 1973. I played Marina, with Patricia Ryan as Thaisa. That was Dad’s last directing job at CSF (pictured at right.)

Sam: In 1979, public television did a really nice little documentary called Borrowed Faces, where they followed four actors from arrival through casting, and one of them was (Denver Center Theatre Company veteran) Annette Helde. She played Titania, Goneril and Mistress Quickly. She was just out of grad school at the University of Washington.

John Moore: What about Annette Bening? I believe the year was 1980. She came back to Colorado five years later and joined the Denver Center Theatre Company.

Anne: I wasn’t here the year she was here.

Sam: Nor was I.

John Moore: Well, we won’t talk about her then. I’d like both of you pick out a favorite role from your time here at CSF.

Anne: Well for me, it’s very recent: Playing the Duchess of York in Richard III that Tina Packer directed in 2013. It was phenomenal for me. It was the right role at the right time, and it resonated with me very deeply. And because of the other women in it like Mare Trevathan and Bella Merlin. We had such a good time. And then last summer, getting to do I Hate Hamlet with that particular group of people. They were all-stars. I never get to do the contemporary pieces, so that was really fun for me.

Sam: I would say in 2001 when we did Queen Margaret, which is a conflation of all three Henry VIs into one play. The playwright created a role of a chorus – very much like the one-man chorus in Henry V. It was a fabulous role, and it forged a real connection between the audience and the action on stage. And to my knowledge, I am the only person in the world who has ever gotten to do it.

Anne: That’s cool.

Sam: The other show for me was Two Gentlemen of Verona. I had no lines. I played a clown with some others. We were little angels, and we actually had wings and wore diapers. So the balance of this wonderfully talky role and this absolutely silent role was a perfect combination for me.

Anne: How fun.

John Moore: I want to bring it back to your Dad. How does the Festival look today compared to when he left in 1974 in terms of size and scope?

Sam: Well, there’s no grass, for one thing.

Anne: Yes, there is no grass on the stage.

John Moore: Are we talking about marijuana?

A look at the grassy Mary Rippon stage in the 1960s.

A look at the grassy Mary Rippon stage in the 1960s.

Anne: No! It really used to be a grass stage.

Sam: There was no rake. It was an absolutely flat, grassy playing area with a grassy semicircle in front of it.

Anne: Back then you tended to use the whole expanse instead of just the center. There was no set to speak of.

Sam: No, the space was filled up with a lot of banners and things you could move around. You’d have thrones when you had to have them. But there were no background pieces. You know those two little stone alcoves on either side of the stage?

John Moore: Yes.

Sam: They would build platforms behind those alcoves, and that created additional acting spaces both above and below – in the alcove itself.

Anne: In Romeo and Juliet, the balcony was above one of those alcoves.

Sam: They began experimenting with building unit sets in the 1970s. I think they first created the raked disc that we perform on now in 1979. And the sets have just grown from there.

Anne: It’s obviously a more professional company now in terms of Equity (union) contracts. There were none back then. The first Equity contract was in 1983.

Sam: The guy who played Richard III was the first.

John Moore: What about performance spaces?

Anne: We didn’t used to use the indoor stage. Now they do both indoor and outdoor shows, which is a really nice thing – especially for audience members who don’t like to sit outdoors anymore.

Sam: And vice-versa. There are some people who absolutely scorn coming to the indoor shows.

John Moore: How much time did a company have to rehearse under your Dad?

Sam: At least four weeks.

John Moore: As compared to … ?

Sam: About 2 1/2 weeks now.

Anne: But it was such a different season back then. You would be rehearsing more than one play at a time. And I don’t think any of them opened until late June.

Sam: Back then we had auditions to get into the company in February. Then the selected company members would arrive in early June, and then it was a pretty frantic two or three days because no one was pre-cast. Your entire summer was on the line in those first couple of days, and you were either delighted or reasonably pleased or devastated when the casting came out.

John Moore: So when you came to those auditions in June, at least you knew you were in the company?

Sam: Well, not always. Someone from the outside could show up and blow you away. In fact one of the most successful actors in CSF history was a guy named Barry Kraft. He just happened to hear about the auditions when he was up at Jones Drug on The Hill. He came in and auditioned and wound up playing Falstaff in Henry IV, Part Two, and the Bastard in King John. The next year, he played Hamlet.

Anne: It is so much better now to know what you are playing in advance, especially because the rehearsal period is so short.

John Moore: So if your Dad were to magically reappear in 2015, what do you think he would think of Colorado Shakespeare Festival, as an audience member?

Anne: I think he would like certain elements of it very much. Although he would scorn the use of microphones.

John Moore: I am guessing he would grouse that actors aren’t adequately trained to reach the back of the house with their natural voices anymore.

Anne: He was used to working in 1,000-seat theatres. That’s what you deal with.

Sam: My high voice has been my theatrical bane, but in some years it has gotten me hired at CSF because it carries – and I know how to handle the Rippon. There are other actors who have impressive sounding voices, but they can’t get them past the fourth row.

Anne: And I think Dad would scorn the fact that they are not using the whole stage anymore.

Sam: Despite the fact that they have so much more lighting power now. Dad had about four big searchlights across the top of the stage.

John Moore: But given the economy over the past decade, I imagine he would be tickled that the festival is still around.

Sam: He had a great belief in the power of Shakespeare.

John Moore: What’s your take on the state of Shakespeare festival as an entertainment industry? The Institute of Outdoor Drama says attendance at Shakespeare festivals across the country has fallen more than 60 percent in the past 20 years.

Anne: I believe that.

John Moore: But the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has re-tooled itself after some tough years and, from outward appearances, appears to be bouncing back.

Sam: It is, but as the culture changes, and as our iPhone consciousness takes over more and more, I don’t know. The festival used to be one of the things you always did in the summer in Boulder. But now there are so many other things to do here. It can get lost in the entertainment shuffle.

Anne: I went to see the Utah Shakespeare Festival a couple of years ago, and I could see why they do so very well: There is really nothing else to do at night in Cedar City, Utah. But if you come to Boulder, there are a gazillion other things to do. And so you can’t quite sell it through the hotels and motels the way you can in Cedar City. You can’t rely as much on tourism, so you have to build a culture that draws from your own state. I think we are doing a much better job of drawing from Denver than we used to, and I think a lot of that has to do with hiring more Denver-based actors instead of bringing in so many people from out of state. Now, I think it’s good to bring in people from out of state because that means fresh faces. But I think having a good base of Denver actors is also very important to building a broader audience base.

John Moore: As we start to wrap up, I want you to channel your father one more time. This is about the nobility of the pursuit: Why is it important that we keep Shakespeare alive moving forward into the next generation?

Anne: I think the peril we are in is that our audiences are aging out – those people who love and appreciate the live theatre experience. I am not sure the younger generation is being brought up that way. They are so focused on their devices.

Sam: It parallels the problem that symphony orchestras are having. Audiences for classical music are aging out. How do you capture the young?

Anne: I think it takes careful training. I think we have to get schools involved in any way we can. The live anti-bullying tours that CSF does are a great way to get kids interested in what live theatre can be. You have to begin to develop that new generation of theatregoers.

John Moore: Is part of the solution perhaps opening up the season a bit? Shakespeare is certainly the greatest playwright in the English language. But he’s 400 years old.

Anne: I understand that. But it’s called the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, so I think you have to do at least a couple Shakespeares every year.

John Moore: But the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is offering 10 titles this season – and Shakespeare only wrote three.

Anne: Do they have to all be Shakespeare? Absolutely not. I think it is important to do other shows, and we are branching out here. But not all contemporary plays will play very well in the Mary Rippon Theatre. That’s a thousand outdoor seats. That theatre is particularly well-adapted to Shakespeare.

Sam: When you look at the non-Shakespeare plays that have done very well in the Mary Rippon, you are looking at Treasure Island

Anne: The Three Musketeers

John Moore: To Kill a Mockingbird.

Anne: Mockingbird was great outside. But not all plays are going to adapt very well for outdoors.

John Moore: Like, say, Our Town.

Anne: No. So I think you have to pick your shows very carefully.

John Moore: So as long as the Shakespeare Festival keeps going, do you both intend to keep doing it?

Anne: Well, when they quit casting me … I’ll quit.

John Moore: What, it’s not entirely up to you?

Anne: Well, no, unfortunately. As long as I can remember lines and there is something they want me to do, I will do it.

Sandoe Family Tree

• James Sandoe (1912-1980): Directed at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, ending with Pericles in 1973.

• Julia Sandoe (1918-1992) Taught art in the Boulder Public Schools, retiring in 1978.

• John Sandoe (1941-2014) joined the Navy and served as a medic with the Marines in Vietnam, where he was awarded a purple heart.

• Jill Sandoe (1943-) gave up acting to teach taught arts, crafts and home economics in middle schools for almost 20 years. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

• Anne Sandoe (1947-) Earned her MFA from Florida State University. Began acting at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1961. She has taught for more than 30 years and for the past 13 has been the director of MBA program at the University of Colorado’s Business School. She returned to acting at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 2008 and is currently performing in her 15th season.

• Sam Sandoe (1954-) was in the first class of BFAs to graduate from the University of Colorado Boulder and received his MFA from UC-San Diego. He is now performing in his 26th season with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

2015 Colorado Shakespeare Festival

  • Now playing: Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Wittenberg, Henry V and Henry VI, Part One
  • Dates: Through Aug. 9 in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre and University of Colorado Mainstage Theatre
  • Tickets are available at or by calling 303-492-8008.
  • The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located in the University Club on the CU-Boulder campus.

Video bonus: Anne Sandoe’s contribution to The Denver Sonnets Project

For more on the Denver Sonnets Project, click here

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