We Remember UMaine’s Theater Director Dr. Sandra Hardy

If you pay attention around these parts, you know that I’m in charge of the Arts & Culture beat for Fill The Steins.  I mean… Mostly.  There was that time I wrote up an April Fool’s prank that was sports-themed, right?  And some Football Playoff stuff.  But interviews and especially the arts world have been my go-to.
 
That’s because, during my time at UMaine, I was a proud member of the Theatre Division of the School of Performing Arts.  Make no mistake – I am not an actor.  The occasions I wandered onto a stage were during technical rehearsals to adjust lights, to mark out set pieces with glow-in-the-dark tape, or – most likely – as a stage manager, overseeing lots of different aspects of any given production.
 
My mentor, Dr. Sandra Hardy, who retired from UMaine this spring sadly passed away on Thursday. Among the many reasons I’m proud of my time in Theatre at the University, my time, work, and friendship with Sandra is chief among them.
 
I arrived as a cheery frosh, admittedly a little scared of Dr. Hardy.  Her rep was one of a tough, take-no-prisoners director and educator, who would do what it takes to A) get a lesson across in her classes, and B) get results on stage during productions.  Both are true, I found out, but what was lacking in the stories told by upperclassmen to tweak the young’uns was that Sandra knew what you could handle; she cared more than any professor I ever had, and wasn’t afraid to show you that she loved you, just the same.  She gave her all to theatre (at UMaine and elsewhere), and wasn’t afraid to ask the same of her actors and techies.  In many ways, she asked no less of student performers than is asked of student athletes that strive for greatness, and there are thousands of UMaine alums who will tell you that they are better for having been directed by Sandra.
 
After my sophomore year, I had successfully stage managed a handful of shows, and would do a few more in my third year. Somewhere in there, Sandra called me into her office, and told me she wanted me to stage manage Cabaret.  Emphasis on told.  Even if I wanted to, there wasn’t much in the way of turning that chance down.  

That winter/spring was amazing.  When you have a cast and crew of 75+, there are a lot of opportunities for biiiiig parties.  There was the time at 5-O (home to FTSers, Adam and B-Mac) that included an epic performance by short-lived college punk sensation, The Squirts (headlined by HBO’s own Tim Simons!)  In short, that show was the backdrop for some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

But beyond the socializing…?  The lessons I learned from Sandra are some that I will never forget, and continue to use, daily.  Of course, I learned about stagecraft, direction, script interpretation, and on and on.  But more valuable were the lessons that have stuck with me beyond my time in theatre.  Self-assurance: I learned that, sometimes, I’m the smartest person in the room, and to own that, not defer to someone louder.  Project Management: I learned that wrangling a large cast and crew through a rehearsal and production process, with choreographers, designers, and students who have other pressing issues is directly applicable to later career management, and working with Sandra gave that to me in spades.  Work ethic.  Communications skills.  Human relations. These are all things I had, by virtue of my upbringing – Sandra Hardy nurtured, fostered, and brought them all out in me, and they’ve fortunately stuck, as I’ve grown up (at least a little…)

After graduation, Sandra and I stayed friends; we had lunch, talked about theatre, politics, the politics of UMaine Theatre, and lots more.  She wrote references for my applications to grad school, which I think might be the nicest things ever written about me.  She always encouraged me to keep learning, no matter what, and to stretch beyond my comfort zone.  As you can tell by this point, I can’t say enough about Sandra’s role in shaping the adult Matt Grondin.
 
As such, along with a group of other Sandra-impacted alums, we’ve established the Sandra E. Hardy Theatre Scholarship Fund at the University of Maine Foundation.  This scholarship will encourage UMaine students who are involved with the Theatre Division to take Sandra’s words to heart – to stretch beyond their comfort level, and to keep learning. The Fund will provide support for students who have demonstrated an interest in professional theatre by taking on an internship or apprenticeship, etc., in the hopes that Sandra’s lessons won’t stop, just because of a mere retirement.

Anyone can donate.  Any amount is great.  And the UMaine Foundation has a great matching program for donations between 2014-17, to boot.  Details are available through the Foundation, or you can get in touch with me at mgrondin@fillthesteins.com, too.  For what Sandra gave to us, it’s the least we can do. 
 
Any other memories of Sandra out there?  Let us know in the comments here, or on Facebook/Twitter.

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