University of Delaware’s Sanford (Sandy) Robbins will be recognized for
his three decades of work in the theatre with The Acting Company’s 2019
John Houseman Award — an honor so prestigious that Robbins describes
himself as “probably the least famous person to ever receive it.”
Robbins, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and the founder and producing artistic director of UD’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP)
professional theatre company, previously founded and was director of
training for the University’s Professional Theatre Training Program,
which concluded in 2011.
The award “honors individuals who have extended the legacy of The
Acting Company founder John Houseman’s profound commitment to the
development of American classical actors and cultivation of a new
audience for the theatre,” the famed repertory company said in
announcing Robbins’ selection. Previous Houseman Award recipients
include actors Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline and legendary theatrical
producer Joseph Papp, among many other respected and influential
At UD and throughout his career, the company said, Robbins has been
committed to training young actors “and continues to inspire audiences
with productions created and performed by some of the nation’s foremost
Robbins, who said the possibility of winning the award “was not even
on my radar” until The Acting Company notified him, was pleased to be
recognized for his work both in developing actors and in directing.
At the REP, he oversees each season’s schedule, chooses the resident
and nonresident actors and directs at least one production a year, in
addition to leading outreach activities to engage the community and
expand the audience. With a mission of creating lifelong theatre-goers,
the REP performs at least two shows each season that are studied in the
UD curriculum and offers matinee performances and classroom visits for
middle school and high school audiences.
Although he does less teaching now than in the past, Robbins
continues to offer some master classes and to coach actors in classic
plays. One of his specialties is voice coaching for actors in
“You may be a very talented actor, but if you’ve never done
Shakespeare, you may need some additional coaching because it takes some
special skills,” he said.
Shakespeare’s sentences, for example, are very long compared to
modern works, and actors must pay attention to their breathing and their
phrasing to avoid interrupting the flow of the verse. Proper phrasing
also makes the meaning of the words clear to the audience, Robbins said.
“Audiences are self-deprecating,” he said. “They’re quick to say that
if they didn’t understand a Shakespeare play, it must be their fault.
But it’s really on the actor; if it’s well spoken, the meaning is
Robbins agreed that the professional training program he founded —
first offered at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and then moved
to UD — has had a major influence in developing talented actors. But,
he said, most of the graduates work on stage and so may not be household
names outside the theatre community.
“If you ran a play for 20 years, you wouldn’t be seen by as many people as you would on TV for one night,” he said.
Still, live theatre and especially the classics are powerful and
inspiring, he said. Just as classical productions are the focus of The
Acting Company, they remain Robbins’ favorites as well.
“Those plays stood the test of time,” he said. “They spoke to us
through the ages with beautiful language and form, and they continue to
In addition to his directing work at the REP, Robbins directs one or
two outside plays a year. He’s well known for his work with Sam Shepard
plays and has directed a number of their premieres overseas.
“I like directing, because I like being an audience member,” he said.
“As a director, you not only get to see the play but you get to make it
the kind of play you want to see.”
About the Houseman Award and The Acting Company
Founded in 1972 by director/producer John Houseman and Margot Harley
with members of the first graduating class of the Juilliard Drama
Division, The Acting Company develops the best young American actors by
giving them an opportunity to practice their craft in a repertory of
classic and new plays.
The company also works to build a discerning audience for the theatre
by producing plays for diverse audiences and educating students in
communities with limited access to the arts.
The company has performed 148 productions reaching more than 4
million people. More than 400 actors began their careers on stage with
At its 2019 Fall Gala, to be held Oct. 28 in New York, the company
will present the John Houseman Award to Robbins. It will also honor
business leader Richard C. Yancey with the Joan Warburg Award for
philanthropy in the arts.
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published Sept. 24, 2019