Recently, Sandbox’s Ryan Hill directed a middle school show at the Oakland School for the Arts. Here are his thoughts on his first time directing with kids.

You know those gameshows where some desperate dude tries to get shocked out of a phobia by submitting himself to something torturous like locking a cage of tarantulas on his head? I just did that. Except replace ‘tarantulas’ with ‘middle schoolers’ and ‘box’ with ‘teen-body-odor-soaked-rehearsal-room.’

The rest is the same. All those eyes… all those awkward limbs… all those unpredictable thought patterns…

For nine weeks I worked with 40-some kids on a children’s show. My first time directing children and a wee bit terrifying. But like any good children’s story, we all ended up learning something. They hopefully learned something about working as an ensemble, being self-sufficient problem solvers and maybe something about proper public hygiene.

I learned how to not swear quite as much. I learned a lot about impulse control – or lack thereof – and I learned how infuriating teenage eye-rolling can be. But I also clearly noticed something about the nature of growing as an artist.

The kids were all over the spectrum of pinocchio3physical, mental and emotional development, but one thing was clear – the most socially ‘mature’ kids were the least willing to play.

Not such a surprise in itself. One of the hardest jobs we have working with adult professionals is getting them to open up, contribute and trust the process. In essence, to play. But it was a little surprising to see that by 13 or 14, the kids were already tuning out of playing. The work they created was forced, clichéd and literal. They already had a very adult obsession with focusing on limitations rather than exploring solutions. It was surprising how often I had to say, “Are you asking me to explain the logic of a children’s story?”

“Why won’t you little shits just play?”

Here’s pinoccio1what I’ve realized: we’ve equated the process of playing (outward-focused, free exploration) with the product of play (games and ‘screwing around’). Children play, adults work. That confusion of process with product devalues curiosity and the joy of discovery and instills a fear of failure and criticism. It contributes to a cultural undervaluing of creativity and makes for very boring artists.

But this transcends theater or art. Playfulness is essential to any human endeavor. Play is exercise for the muscle of curiosity. And curiosity keeps us engaged in life. Stay playful and you’ll be resourceful, you’ll be agile, you’ll be aware, you’ll be present. Playfulness defends against boredom and inoculates against self-importance. It’s a moving platform that forces us to keep perspective on the dips and curves of success and failure.

When you hold on to your sense of play, you don’t need to choose between false dichotomies. Playful people are alert and patient at the same time. Playful people are both resilient and malleable. Playful people thrive in ambiguity and revel in repetition. Playful people rise out of a crowd and delight in blending in.

How do we retain a sense of play? How do we get kids to accept all results as valid without sacrificing a strong vision? I’m not real sure. But it can’t hurt to model it for them. So next time you find yourself surrounded by teenagers, please don’t try to act like an adult. Work on showing them being grown up doesn’t mean squashing your instinct to play. Let them see what amazing things can happen when you’re accessible, willing to fail and not precommitted to a result.

Show them that playfulness fuels courage and confidence. Show them playfulness grants us vision to see around obstacles. Show them that with a playful attitude, you’ll never pass up sticking our head in a box of spiders.



Every year, Tim Donahue sets out on his bicycle for some physical exertion and mental recharging. This year, his trip took him to the Pacific Coast of Northern California.
CA Beach

Every year I do my best to get out on a bicycle tour for several consecutive weeks. A time for me to get far away from the daily distractions and really focus in on who I am and where my priorities are. Days are simple. Wake up with the sun, pack up camp, ride as long as daylight permits and then set camp back up. Not many significant decisions need to be made and the goal is simple. Keep going forward and appreciate the now. My physical body is properly distracted and my mind is free to dig back into the mountain of cluttered thoughts that builds up in me. Being that my dear friends Little Hill (Ryan) and Mr. Schiff (Andrew) moved out to California, the decision of where to go this year was simple. Go to CA, eat all their food, drink all their booze, concern their neighbors over who that weird long hair guy is and remind them of how happy they are to not live 6 blocks away from me anymore.

I would like to share a little of this adventure…

CA Beach 2

Typically I go on these adventures alone. This time I started the first week out with the company of two adventure friends, Charlie and Cody. We drove straight through from Ft. Collins, CO to just north of Napa, CA. The tour started out perfect, delirious from lack of sleep and a LONG drive, sipping on beers waiting for the sun to come up so we could roll out. After a full day of long tough back roads in the upper elevations of wine country and a CA Adventuremeal, a local informed us of a lovely unofficial camping location that we could slip off into. Indeed it was a lovely spot. Right on the shore of an attractive lake and tucked in the cover of trees. People before us had built a large lean-to out of long tree limbs and branches. Charlie and Cody could not resist the temptation of climbing on the lean-to like a couple of 10 year old boys. However, they are much heavier than two kids and part of the lean-to gave away. Oh, what an amazing sound that followed! When something traumatic is happening, people project their voices in a very distinct way. Regardless of what words or non-words they say, the sound is an unmistakable, “something very bad is happening…” The combined sounds of snapping limbs and things coming out of Charlie and Cody’s mouths was amazing, and brought our whole part of the lakeshore to immediate silence. No birds, no movement, just eyes wide open and silent looks of what just happened. Fortunately Cody “knows how to fall.” Although he ended up all folded and bent up funny with a limb or two on top of himself, and his bike rolled or fell into the mix somehow, he was fine. Charlie managed to stay wedged between two live trees. We all agreed that what just happened was pretty cool and had a drink in celebration. The rest of the week with my guys was quite the adventure full of calamity and beauty best saved for a
future story. We made our way to the Golden Gate where they turned me over into the custody of Little Hill and Mr. Schiff and departed to return home.

Charlie and Cody

After a couple of fine days with the Oakland boys, I set out solo — south bound along the Pacific Coast, South of San Francisco. The ocean and mountains are rare for me and inspire many thoughts and feelings. For seven days the ocean, land, weather, sun and moon had my full attention. I found a great deal of perspective on my life and where I’m headed. I fully embraced the simplicity of my day. I smiled a lot. I was relaxed and simply open to what or whomever came my way. Interestingly, when I’m open and relaxed like that, much of what I’m seeking comes to me without effort. Perhaps something like my loud
mouth mind is quiet enough that I can hear my intuition and simply be in the right places at the right times? My social anxieties go away and I engage people freely. Point being, once again I’m reminded quite clearly that when I quit trying to force things to happen and open up to what the world around me is saying, I get rewarded well.

The Schiff-Hills

CA Vista 2

CA Vista 4

CA Vista

Tim Donahue is a Sandbox Theatre ensemble member and the company’s Music Director. He is a 365 bicyclist and member of the band The Eclectic Ensemble.



Crossing the River: Sandbox in St. Paul

partner logos

Cap City here we come!

Sandbox is pleased to announce our new partnership with Park Square Theatre, Girl Friday Productions and Theatre Pro Rata on a project to fill Park Square’s new Andy Boss Thrust Stage. Spanning three theatre seasons and beginning in the spring of 2015, Sandbox and Theatre Pro Rata will produce one show each season and Girl Friday will produce every other year in Park Square Theatre’s brand new space..

Sandbox Artistic Director Derek Lee Miller said, “St. Paul has been consciously constructing a new arts renaissance, and Park Square’s new stage and programming will be at its forefront. We’re honored to be a part of this project as our first major foray into St. Paul.”

Sandbox is looking forward to bringing a style of theater St. Paul rarely sees, but actively craves. We’ve been brought in to mix it up, and mix it up we will. We’re thrilled by this new partnership, and we couldn’t be more excited to work alongside Girl Friday and Pro Rata in making some noise in Cap City.

Production information and news on the first full partnership season will be coming soon.