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Montezuma-Cortez senior Lily Sandner continues to build theater family

Lily Sandner (front middle) at the dress rehearsal for the upcoming MCHS play “Hello Dolly.” (Nicholaus Sandner/Courtesy Photo)
Like her family, Sandner promotes the arts and brings out the best in her peers

For a theater program brimming with creativity and high energy from its dozens of members, it can take a strong ballast to keep the ship from sailing off course.

Step into any Montezuma-Cortez High School theater production in the past few years, and the evidence is clear to see, senior Lily Sandner provides that guiding presence to keep an ever-growing program pointed in the right direction.

Maybe it’s in her genetics – Sandner is the daughter of M-CHS theater director Nicholaus Sandner – but her passion for the program extends far beyond having been surrounded by the arts growing up. Sandner now takes it upon herself to make the M-CHS theater program a family of its own, bringing in dozens of students who can play key roles – whether as actors or in tech, stage crew, and set design – in creating a cohesive large-scale project that can be showcased to the whole community.

Montezuma-Cortez High School junior Lily Sandner (Milly) and classmate Chandler Snyder (Adam) play the lead characters in the production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in 2023. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
Lily Sandner and Piper Singleton as “Milky-White” the cow and Ellai Black as “Jack” at the Cortez Middle School's premiere of “Into the Woods Jr.” in 2017.
Lily Sandner showed her art during an exhibit at the Zu Gallery in April. (Courtesy photo)
Lily Sandner as ‘Tock the Watch Dog’ and Oliver Caceres as The Senses Taker rehearse Tuesdayfor Cortez Middle School’s play “The Phantom Tollbooth” in 2018. (Emily Rice/The Journal)

“My family has always been creatively-minded, my mother through painting, my father through theater,” assessed Sandner of her development of theater as a passion, “and it’s always been a release for me – it allows me to get ‘in a moment’ and show my true self – but through the medium of a character.”

“Theater is a ‘family unit’ here,” she added, “and I learned that from some of the upperclassmen like Jadon Cruzan, Koral Jackson, and Savannah Story when I was first starting at M-CHS, who helped teach me how to interact in a more professional setting, but also how to encourage the underclassmen. I like when people can be their best – and I appreciate having examples of how to get there – I want to provide a way to help them be their best selves, and for them to teach me to be the best version of myself, too.”

In many ways, Sandner has served as a matronly figure for the theater program – quite literally in her female lead role as Milly, the guiding conscience in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” during her junior year, following up on her role as Lady Volsius from “Journey Through the Impossible,” where her character acted as a steadying influence for the protagonist George through his various travails. Sandner will wrap up her major production career with M-CHS with her role as Irene Molloy in “Hello, Dolly.” However, it’ll be her work behind the scenes that helps kick the performance up an extra notch.

“’Hello, Dolly’ has a lot of dancing – and usually my father takes on the choreography for that – but with so many people, it’s hard to keep track of it all,” said Sandner. “We’d spend two hours going through one particular dance, and we’d pick a chunk and we’d teach it, then add another chunk, and put them together. It’s been a new experience for me, and it’s shown me just how difficult it is to be an actual choreographer.”

Sandner has shown her range on stage, deviating from a script in her various theatrical enterprises, including as one of the leaders of the M-CHS improv acting troupe. In 2021, Sandner joined forces with seven classmates to earn the Critic’s Choice Award at the Colorado State Thespian Conference – an event that has brought Sandner back for other competitions during her high school career.

“I love having characters that have a lot of personality, and I always enjoy making people laugh. It’s part of the reason that “The Play That Goes Wrong” was my favorite from my time here – I could be goofy.”

Acting is but one of her many artistic contributions to the M-CHS community, as she earned a spot on the Honor Choir at Adams State University, while serving on National Honor Society, along with earning a high score on the Advanced Placement Art exam.

It’s in the visual arts where Sandner finds her most profound love, enjoying the process of depicting a narrative through drawing and graphic design.

“My calling is art,” said Sandner, “and I love storytelling – both through movies and through animation – I enjoy being able to tell a story through a picture.”

“Hello, Dolly” premieres on Friday, March 8 at 7 p.m. from Ralph Vavak Auditorium with performances also on Saturday, March 9 as well as March 15-16, with shows at 7 p.m. on Friday evenings, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. performances on Saturday.

“The thing that really draws me to acting is the community.” Sandner said. “We’re here to have fun and develop family units – and to do it with people I know and trust.”