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After 25 Years, NKU Theatre Professor to Retire with Sold Out Run of "Pygmalion"

Sandra Forman has been an intrinsic part of Northern Kentucky University since she arrived on campus in 1990 as the first chair of the theater department. Now, after 25 years here as educator, director, and actress, she’s retiring.

Forman may be best known beyond the campus for her quarter-century oversight of the Y.E.S. Festival, Northern Kentucky University’s biennial showcase of three new plays performed, festival style, in repertory.

What is she proudest of? Forman says, “The students present and past, of course, and the collegiality of the faculty. To say we are a big family is really an understatement.”

Forman’s final NKU stage credit will be as director of the already sold-out production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (Lerner and Loewe romanticized it and added music to create Broadway legend My Fair Lady). It plays March 29-April 3 in the Stauss Studio Theatre.

The always passionate Forman is excited about “everything” about the classic. Everyone who’s ever sung along with “I Could Have Danced All Night” knows the basics: World-renowned phonetician Henry Higgins leaves Covent Garden one evening and encounters Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. He makes a bet he can transform her into a lady by teaching her how to speak properly – and they both embark on life-changing journeys.

“It's really a play about transformation and growth and that's what education is all about,” Forman observes. “I appeared in My Fair Lady in 1964, vocal-coached a production of Pygmalion in 1967, and have spent my career teaching voice development and phonetics, so the play has a special place in my heart.”

Forman offers this tidbit: “Shaw was good friends with Henry Sweet who developed the basis for the International Phonetic Alphabet, so the story of Pygmalion is actually based on a real person and his work.”

Forman’s life in the theater has included appearing in outdoor dramas, dinner theaters, and touring Europe with the USO in the Sixties. Her directing credits include Virginia Shakespeare, as well as productions in Spain, Austria, and France.

Her favorite NKU directing credits include The BacchaeAs You Like It, Nunsense, Nuncrackers, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Bus Stop, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Little Women: The Musical, and the Y.E.S. Festival world premieres of Dorian: The Musical, Nightjars, and One Good Turn

“Transformation” and “growth” also describe NKU Theatre during Forman’s tenure. “It was relatively small when I arrived, and I have seen it grow by leaps and bounds with an increase in Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in a variety of areas and, of course, the expansion of our dance program.”

The Y.E.S. Festival will begin accepting submissions for its 2017 edition (the 18th festival) on May 1 and Forman agrees she always hoped it would be foundational for the department. 

“In 1991 we produced A Farce in His Ear by British playwright Anthony Marriott (and) his submission really put us on the map. And Romulus Linney's Tennessee in 1999 confirmed us as one of the most recognized festivals in the U.S. For the past 30 years we've managed to produce three, sometimes four, new works with submissions in the 400-500 range.”

Playwrights interested in submitting a full-length play scripts for its for 18th Biennial Y.E.S Festival can find information here (PDF).

The longtime Newport resident is moving to Greenville, N.C., where, most importantly, she’ll be close to children and grandchildren.

Theatre will still be part of her life, she says happily. She taught there for 17 years before coming to NKU and says, “There are about five colleges and universities and I know everyone.” She expects some teaching, directing, and acting to be in her future. “I’ll stay involved.”

Pygmalion, March 29-April 3. SOLD OUT. Northern Kentucky University, Corbett Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Highland Heights. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. The wait list policy can be found online at on the Box Office page. Tickets $14, seniors $10, students $8. 859-572-5464 and [email protected]

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Sandra Forman (provided)