Some years ago, my friend Sam and I wrote, directed and performed in a Fringe Festival play. One night, after a particularly tight performance with a raucous crowd, we headed, joyfully, from the venue to the bar with a few friends. Moments after we arrived, an out of breath man with a notepad (who had evidently been chasing us for blocks) accosted us us outside the old Bedlam Theatre.
“Who was the writer? Who was the Director?” He shouted.
“Uh, we were,” I said.
“Who was the writer!? Who was the Director!?” He was practically screaming now.
“We were,” I repeated, and we walked into the bar.
Credit, in ensemble theatre, is hard to pin down. Society isn’t very good with ambiguity. Does there have to be an all seeing, all knowing Oz? It’s easy to forget the Wizard was a fraud.
The studio of industrial design icon Charles Eames was an open, collaborative space, but he knew people couldn’t handle the ambiguity, so everything that came out of it, whether he had a large hand, some hand, or no hand at all in its development bore his name. He was the genius, always. The cost – even for the sake of simplicity – was failing to openly acknowledge the contributions of others. To me, that’s a shame. Worse, it’s assuming your audience isn’t smart enough. For a man who created The Best for the Most for the Least, he sure didn’t trust the Most very much.
Sandbox makes ensemble theatre. You might hear terms like devised or collaborative, but we like ensemble. The answer to why is in its definition: ensemble theatre stresses harmony of ideal to achieve a unity of effect. All voices into one. For us, it’s about the show, not the individual.
With every show we do, there follows at least one conversation that goes like this:
“Who wrote it?”
“Right, but who wrote it?”
Our ensemble plays Total Football*. On any day in any rehearsal you’ll find cast members, directors, stage managers, even visitors writing with either their hands or their mouths. We free write daily. We produce text via verbal free write through a creation station we call Talking Statues. We share, we steal from one another, we cut, we hone. It’s nearly impossible to separate the author of one line of text from another because it doesn’t matter who wrote it as long as it serves the show. It’s not stubbornness when we say we, it’s our reality.
We write for one another, we move for one another, we teach one another. How can a credit do that justice? The show comes first, always. Out of many, one.
But hey, if my word isn’t sufficient, here are a few bits for you to enjoy:
The first dance scene in Queens between Raymond and Lucy Webster was conceived one evening in a composition by Peter Heeringa, Emily Madigan and Heather Stone. After an iteration or two, they taught the scene to Theo. From there, they all honed it into the beautiful moments you see on stage.
Raymond’s first fight began as a solo piece written by Derek Lee Miller. He and Neal Hazard worked out the physicalities, then paired it with a solo Emily Madigan had made about a third party witness to the fight and voila! You get this:
Lastly, not everything we create makes it into the show. In fact, we usually create 2 to 3 times the material needed before chiseling it down to the play it becomes. This composition, a combination of a two-person piece Emily and I made, and a solo Neal created, is a great example of physicality and text that might not suit the show as-is, but often finds its way in through other characters or scenes:
As an artist, this way of creating is empowering; your work is all over the stage, in almost every facet. As a person, it’s humbling, it’s supportive and it’s a constant lesson in believing in the strength and ability of others. As an observer, the collaborative ownership is palpable and inspiring. If you’d like to share in it, Sandbox rehearsals are always open to visitors. For observation or play.
*In Total Football, a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team’s intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a predetermined role; anyone can successively play as an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.