Where It Began
Sandbox Theatre was founded in 2004 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by four artists — Ryan Hill, Lisa Moreira, Andrew Lawrence Schiff and Heather Stone — who sought a place to play with new ideas and new forms of storytelling. The company came together out of backyard meetings between a playwright, a choreographer, an actor and a designer.
Since our first production Victoria In Red in 2005, the Sandbox ensemble has grown to a company of 11 artists, still devoutly committed to creating visually rich, engaging new theatre stories.
Sandbox’s hallmarks are visual dramaturgy — storytelling through design and movement — and our creative process. The ensemble only creates new plays. Our work is defined by an established, one-of-a-kind process of material generation and group editing; a guided collaboration that creates timely, affecting, inspirational plays.
The Early Years
Sandbox always wanted to be a collaborative ensemble, but we decided our first few productions would be prewritten rather than created by the ensemble. Victoria in Red and the six skits that made up aphasiatica:duet were written in-house and reworked by the ensemble. We were gathering steam and starting to build a community by pulling like-minded artists into our orbit. These were the first shows for founders Heather Stone, Lisa Moreira, Andrew Schiff and Ryan Hill. These were also our first times working with future Sandboxers Wade Vaughn and Megan Lagas.
Koogoomanooki was our first production in a full-sized venue and we grew into it with a mountain of fake fur. The Red Eye became our home base for the next four years and allowed us to begin deeper explorations into ensemble-created work like Zelda: Wonderland. With these shows, we started figuring out how to work and play together. We dove giant-stuffed-head-first into exploring design, process and relationships. This is the year we first collaborated with future Sandboxers Derek Miller and Peter Heeringa.
By our third year, our addiction to risk was apparent. We were testing our frames. What Remains focused on a small, intimate, emotional story of love and loss. Design was sparse with a cast of only three. War With The Newts exploded on the other end of the spectrum with a large, overt production. This was a watershed year for us. Newts was where most of our generative process and vocabulary were born. There was a big ‘aha’ moment during this year. We began to see the need for our type of art. It was our first collaborations with future Sandboxers Tim Donahue, Nicole Devereaux and Kristina Fjellman.
Finding Our Stride
Four years in, we brought in our first new permanent ensemble member. Derek Lee Miller stepped into the contortions and explorations of material and process. We chose to do only one production this year in order to put more energy into planning the future of the company. The Horse, the Bird, the Monkey and the Dancer was our first attempt to reproduce the creative process we developed the year earlier. We learned a lot and this proved to be a very internally productive and reflective year.
Five years into the Sandbox experiment and we decided to play with scale. June of Arc was our first trial in the Fringe Festival format, forcing us to be more intimate in our design and staging. .faust went the other direction, expanding our visual storytelling and asking the audience to join us on an enormous tale told in scale from small puppets to the entire universe. This was the first year we collaborated with future Sandboxers Matthew Glover and Jenna Wyse.
We focused on our house in 2010. In-house, we expanded our permanent ensemble to 10 artists. Then June of Arc played at the Guthrie – our biggest venue to date. Finally, with our full team of new ensemble members, we created an actual house onstage, pulling out all the stops to build Unspeakable Things. We grew our capacity, expanded our resources and flexed our combined artistic muscle for the first time. And like all first times, it was pretty awkward at first, but ultimately felt real good.
After bringing down the house the previous year, we wanted to play with minimalism in 2011. With FARGO and The Mad Trapper of Rat River we found breadth and freedom within tighter visual frames, forcing us to explore process and specificity in front of a blank canvas. We worked in new venues and with many new collaborators.
This year was dedicated to teaching. Our first college collaboration, The Oresteia Project: Queens and Daughters opened 2012 and the year closed with an emotional rush of new artists exploring the Sandbox. Our educational programming pushed students into believing in themselves and our process, and Beatnik Giselle forced us to walk our talk. This was the first year we collaborated with future Sandboxers Theo Langason and Evie Digirolamo.
Our goals for our eighth year were to push against the frames of traditional theater and explore what Sandbox could be outside the black box. We invited guest artists to play in the super stripped down format of Suitcase; asking them to tell stories simply and evocatively with little to no sets or costumes. Then, for This Is A World To Live In, we designed and built an entire world that we invited the audience to not just experience, but to affect.
Twenty-Fourteen saw Sandbox return to the Minnesota Fringe Festival with the haunting Marie-Jeanne Valet, Who Defeated La Bête du Gevaudan. The spartan set created space for imaginative staging and storytelling, and brought us our second Fringe hit. La Bête finished in the top 10 in overall festival attendance, and won an encore slot at The Southern Theater. Come fall, we staged our first musical, Killer Inside. Based on murder ballads, KI featured over 20 original songs and stories created by the ensemble in just under eight weeks. It was a huge leap for the company, and our audiences leaped with us. The successes of La Bête and Killer Inside earned Sandbox Company of the Year honors from l’etoile Magazine.