Post-Mortem Perspective

FullSizeRenderAbout a week after the end of a run, Sandbox likes to gather together and openly talk about the full experience of creating and performing the show. Personal reflections on the start-to-finish experience of conceiving, developing and performing a show. These are amazing meetings that inform us how to continue to refine, develop and more deeply explore the “Sandbox creation method,” as well as our own personal artistry.

Although I was not directly involved with the development of Killer Inside, I did jump in during tech week to help out on some of the technical aspects of the show. This involvement got me a seat at the post mortem for Killer Inside. An enlightening experience that I would like to share.
My involvement with Killer Inside was simple, listen to what has been created and use my technical skills to transparently amplify it so the music is balanced throughout the entire theater and does not over power the voice during song or narrative. I came to the post mortem with a similar attitude — listen to what the ensemble has to say about their experience, take advantage of not having been involved in the daily drama and challenges of pulling a show together, and hear the big picture. There were a few themes brought up that really resonated with me. They struck me because I have the same issues in the creative process, as well as in life’s non-artistic endeavors, and it felt comforting to know I was not alone in encountering these challenges.

Confidence: don’t lose it.
I was amazed to hear that some of my favorite moments of Killer Inside were points of uncertainty or discomfort for the people performing them. I read their faces as confident and the section was great. Too bad they felt that way. This made me remember back to 2012’s Beatnik Giselle, a show that was WAY out of my comfort zone and made me feel like wearing a paper bag over my head because I felt embarrassed. I should not have been. I got a lot of affirming feedback for that show and all my lack of confidence did was weigh me down and prevent me from being in the moment and going to that next level. Of course I want myself and the rest of the ensemble to be critical of what we do, but balance is the key. Being over- or under-critical has an equally diminishing effect on life and art.

Change: one of two things you can count on in life.
We employ a collaborative process in show creation. It is inevitable that the ideas we bring into the start of the build process will meet and mix and mutate with the ideas of other collaborators. I listened to several stories at the KI post mortem; it was like listening to the the voice in my head that gets hung up on what we thought was going to happen vs. what is happening. Interestingly, being open to change is a frequent topic of discussion and focus of life for myself and the people I socialize with, yet it’s still incredibly difficult to live by. I’ve got a strong suspicion that EGO plays heavily into this particular dilemma. So much so that it deserves its own paragraph.

However, my Champagne, cigars and hot tub winter lifestyle is demanding of me now, and leaves me only a few sentences to say what an informative experience Killer Inside was. An opportunity to see the forest from outside the woods. A view of my creative world not through the lens of my ego. Sandbox, you are always helping me grow. Both as a person and as an artist. Thank you.

Tim Donahue is Sandbox’s resident music director and will be leading music production for 2015’s War With the Newts.

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Force of Greyhounds

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The author.

Ryan Hill, Sandbox Theatre’s founding Artistic Director, now makes his home in the East Bay. This is the story of his first Oakland reading.

“So in the next panel, Garfield’s eating lasagna…”
Nothing’s quite as uncomfortable and pointless as an artist talking about what they do. Especially playwrights. Musicians can hand over their headphones, painters can whip out the photos. Documenting theater is like explaining a comic. It’s all “uh-huh, sure, oh-how-interesting”. I hate explaining what I write. A script is a blueprint, plays don’t exist until they’re being played. The medium a playwright uses to create art is the exchange of energy between performer and audience. You can’t explain that. Especially not by writing it down.
There are lots of plays written specifically to be read and not performed. A famous case is Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart – a series of serious conversations about power and politics that a professor in Berlin told me is the closest thing Germans ever got to a Declaration of Independence. It’s riveting socio-political reading but oh-my-f’ing-god-pass-the-Jaegermeister boring onstage.
The theater ideal I work toward is one where the audience and performers are entwined in storytelling together. Responsive, interactive and playfully engaged. So speaking my plays off a sheet of paper isn’t exactly the height of excitement. I’ll wait for the film adaptation.

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Maria Stuart – riveting socio-political reading but oh-my-f’ing-god-pass-the-Jaegermeister boring onstage.

“In a world where grown men wear cartoon bunny heads…”
I used to have a lot of readings before I realized nobody wanted to listen. I had some drunk stragglers stumble down to St. Mark’s Theater in the East Village one night who started heckling the readers. There were only about a dozen other people there. That sort of squelched my interest in readings. The hecklers were funnier than my work.
But short of starting your own theater company, >awkward throat-clearing< there aren’t a whole ton of other ways to have control over getting your voice into the public as a writer. So I reverted to form and threw together some work for a reading in my new hometown of Oakland.
The event was great. 50 people or so came, almost every one of them absolutely new to my voice. Which kind of freaked me out. Actually, I was freaking out well before then when I realized I didn’t know any actors in town. I think Heather (Stone) caught wind of my freakout because she flew out to read (ohmygodthankyouagainHeather). I was also freaking out trying to find the ‘right’ pieces to read (too long, too short, too serious, too many androids, too many dead baby jokes, too self-referential, too many tutus). But eventually, it came together and the event pleasantly bled over into drinks at a neighborhood bar that serves killer greyhounds. But even during the congrats and chats, I was wondering over my vodka whether or not the reading really conveyed anything accurate about my work.

“Sooo, do I actually pronounce the ‘-‘?”
Some of the plays we read were dense and wordy. Others were silly and light. They suffered from titles like, “Love in the Age of Medication: Heavy Machinery” and “My Ancestors Survived the Omniblink and All I Got Was This Lousy Single-Point Existence.” As individual works, they didn’t hang together. The performers were doing their best negotiating paper, fighting with made-up words and nonsense language, and trying to make sense of stories that purposely don’t make sense. I even created an audience-participation piece. It ended up being enjoyable, I got to make a mask, there was lots of laughter – But Did It Represent My Work? I don’t know. I had another greyhound and swore off readings again as too damn stressful.

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“Then, in the last panel, Garfield’s standing over an empty pasta pan…”
A few weeks after Andrew (Lawrence Schiff) and I met, I had a reading of a play I’d been working on for a while. It’s an artsy, self-conscious piece of writing prone to melodrama – a lot like the 20-year old who wrote it. Even though this was Andrew’s first exposure to my work, I remember not being too concerned about how good he thought it was. I was just excited that he would get to see something I couldn’t explain any other way. He’d get to hear a voice I can’t express any other way.
14 years later, we read an excerpt of that play in Oakland. It was me, a new friend I was working with for the first time (ohmygodthankyouLluisforreading) and an old friend who I’ve been working with for a decade (youshoulddrinkabottleofchampagnebeforeeveryreadingHeather). Afterward, Andrew said how nice it was to hear that text again. I kind of batted his observation away with the fact that I had edited the shit out of it and wrote an entirely new paragraph, but he shrugged and said, “It’s the same. It’s you.” I suppose that’s the revelation I’m having. I should stop worrying so much about what’s being presented. Art, at its base, isn’t about expressing ideas or skills or talents. It’s about expressing who you are. If that comes through, you’re doing your job.

Ryan is returning – mostly through the miracle of electronic communication – to lead Sandbox’s 2015 production War With the Newts at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

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Ensemble Theatre Creation Workshop

LAB WORSHOP 1

Workshop: Sandbox Ensemble Theatre Creation
December 6th – 10am-5pm
The Cowles Center, Studio 5B • 528 Hennepin Ave Minneapolis MN 55403
$40 for Adults BUY • $25 for Students BUYLimit 25

About the Workshop
This workshop will introduce you to the methods Sandbox uses to generate our original ensemble work. You’ll learn the essentials of Bogart/Landau Viewpoints to develop a shared language of communication with your collaborators, then dive into Sandbox Stations work, creating original compositions and sharing them with your fellow artists.
This workshop is best suited for more advanced artists, but participants of all abilities aged 17+ are welcome.

About Sandbox LAB
Sandbox has been creating new art via our unique creation process since 2005. The Sandbox Process is an ensemble method grown from years of study and practice, honing elements of physical theatre, music, design and text into performances that are creative, imaginative, and innovative. Each year, we offer artists of all genres the opportunity to learn and grow in their craft as we study the subtleties of movement, voice, and composition. Challenge yourself to reconnect with your innate ability to collaborate, generate new material, and defuse your negative internal criticism.

Sandbox LAB is conducted with experienced members of the Sandbox Theatre ensemble, and will give participants the tools to help them create the unexpectedly poignant and beautiful a-ha! moments that are hallmarks of ensemble-created performance.

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