Sally-Jane Heit was born in Brooklyn into a tumultuous, arts loving Jewish family with eight children and modest means. Her need to garner attention among her siblings stirred her natural abilities as a performer – singing, dancing, and acting. At home, she felt like just another sister, just another daughter, but on stage, she was special and she thrived in the spotlight. As a child, she trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse and as a teenager, studied at New York’s High School of Performing Arts, where Martha Graham and Sidney Lumet served as her mentors. Her ambition was to become a big-time movie musical star. She and Betty Grable had the same shoe size.
For women of Sally-Jane’s generation, the script was marriage, children, and taking up a hobby. She found the husband and gave birth to three beautiful daughters, but performing was no hobby. It was her lifeline. While her husband attended Yale Law School, she studied at the Yale Drama School, and when they moved to Washington, DC, she kept performing: in nightclub cabarets, dinner theaters, and in summer stock productions up and down the east coast. She found that musicals suited her big personality, comic instincts, and expressive basso voice and she happily starred in Gypsy, Guys and Dolls, Sweet Charity, Dolly, Company, Kiss Me Kate, and nearly every other classic show.
Once her daughters were launched, she divorced the husband and moved back to New York City, where she worked steadily in film, television, and off-Broadway. Somewhere in the middle of mid-life, she finally got her big break when director and choreographer Michael Bennett (of A Chorus Line fame) cast her in the Broadway musical Ballroom. She thought she’d finally made it, but was disappointed to discover the compromises that go into getting a big show onto Broadway can destroy integrity.
The combination of a less than fulfilling Broadway experience and an inspirational conversation with Lily Tomlin about her one-woman show, The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which was a theatrical expression of her life story, gave Sally-Jane the courage to start creating her own productions based on her personal experiences as a woman, mother, and professional caught between changing times.