Bienen takes up acting in retirement
Sandy Bienen has found what most of us aspire to – a full and happy life in retirement.
Bienen is perhaps best known around town for acting roles such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in "Annie" or as Mr. Kirby in "You Can't Take it With You," as well as in other Morgan Arts Council productions at the Ice House.
"I never envisioned myself on the stage," Bienen said, although he does remember going to his first Broadway play at the impressionable age of 9. The play was "Annie Get Your Gun with Ethel Merman."
"Not knowing what to expect," Bienen recalls, "the music started, then the curtains opened, and Indians and Cowboys were singing and dancing around the stage. I was enthralled, awestruck, and captivated."
But it would be years later before Bienen discovered his love for the stage.
Life before acting
Born in New York City's Bronx borough and growing up in Queens, Bienen pursued quite a different career. After graduating from Queens College, he attained a Ph.D in Psychology from the University of Maryland.
Living in the Baltimore and Washington area, Bienen worked for 30 years as a manager in the Mental Health Services field. During that time, he held positions with Prince Georges County, the State of Maryland and the federal government.
In 1994, Bienen and his wife, Allison Carter, moved to southern Morgan County and built a house on 20 acres of rural land.
"We had a dream to move to the country and see how we liked living there," Bienen said.
For ten years after moving to the area, Bienen and his wife operated a small bed and breakfast and retreat center where they held new age and spiritual workshops.
They both enjoy the pastoral setting. Allison Carter likes photography and has won first prizes for nature pictures two years running in The Morgan Messenger's photo contest.
A second career begins
Bienen started acting four years ago when friend and professional actor Tom Brooks was directing Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and asked him to take a small part in the play.
"I fell in love with the whole process," Bienen said. "There is nothing like the stage for excitement and exhilaration."
Bienen said it takes about five weeks of rehearsal to get a play together. During that time, the cast and crew become a family, he said.
Bienen credits Brooks for his encouragement and mentoring and praises the Morgan Arts Council for providing the opportunity for him and so many others.
"The opportunity is huge and unpredictable. Community theater is a wonderful and powerful experience in my life," Bienen said.
Recently Bienen played Mr. Waldgrave in the Morgan Arts Council production of "The Nerd" at the Ice House.
"My daughter Janet is my biggest fan and comes to all my shows. One of my most exciting moments on stage was to see my 12-year-old granddaughter Ashley, in the audience," Bienen said.
Though Bienen has now been featured in
three independent films and acted in several shows for public television, in addition to plays at the Ice House, he is humble about his acting career.
"I don't put myself forward as a great actor. There are some really very talented people right here in Berkeley Springs," Bienen said.
Asked to mention them, he declined, except Tom Brooks. He was afraid he might forget to name someone.
Talking about acting in movies Bienen said quite often you are picked for the way you look, rather than your talent.
"It's a hoot being picked to be in somebody's movie," he said.
Most recently, he was featured in "The Bronze Door," a film shot at American University in Washington, D.C. based on a story by Raymond Chandler.
Bienen thinks acting might be in his genes. His mother, Nadya Miller, danced on Broadway in the Ziegfield Follies and in musicals during the 1920s and 1930s.
Asked what his favorite acting role has been, Bienen smiles and gives a somewhat tongue in cheek answer:
"Whatever the last one was, they are all good, challenging and fun – fun to please people, fun to make them laugh. If you touch a few people, it makes it all worthwhile."
With his long history as a health care administrator, Bienen was a natural to serve on the board of the Morgan County Health Department.
Bienen serves on the board of Eastridge Health Systems which has facilities in Martinsburg and Berkeley Springs. Eastridge helps the mentally challenged and those suffering from addiction.
He is also a member of the Morgan Arts Council's Handicapped Accessibility Committee, which is trying to make the Ice House more accessible.
Bienen is a member of the Ecology Coalition of Morgan County, which provides education on sustainable and renewable resources.
In what spare time is left, Bienen is putting the finishing touches on a play of his own. The working title is "A Country Gentleman." It is an examination of how well men transition between a lifetime of work and retirement – a transition that Sandy Bienen has apparently made with ease.
Bienen has been featured in the independent films "Gray Matters, America: At the Corner of Clark and Clifford" and "The Bronze Door."
He has appeared at the Ice House in the plays "You Can't Take it With You," "Annie," "Crossing Over," "Under Milkwood" and "The Nerd."
In addition, Bienen has appeared in educational programs doing historic spots for Public Television, on Channel 16 in Fairfax, Va.