My good friend Sam has a thing for movies where a team is assembled to perform a certain (often near-impossible) task. Oceans 11, The Warriors, The Dirty Dozen, etc. The idea being that every team member has a unique and highly specific skill we’re introduced to through foreshadowing that gets miraculously called into action just as Danny Ocean or Cleon (RIP) or Major Reisman planned. Producing a new play is like this, even if the stakes are less deadly. Still, maybe we’ll make sweet vests or something.
Once Sandbox voted to make Queens our Theatres in Residence show for Park Square in 2016, our next step was to assemble a team. Internally, we had a director (Theo Langason), a scenic designer (Derek Lee Miller), expert ensemble creators (Heather Stone, Peter Heeringa) and a project lead (yours truly). (A quick note on our nomenclature — the project lead is often the one who conceived the story, they serve as the keeper of the show’s artistic vision. The director is the one who shapes that vision into action. But these are fluid terms. Most often, the PL and director act in whatever capacity the show needs.)
We began searching for our cast of three last May; we completed our search this January. There were bumps along the way, but ultimately we have the team we were meant to have. The thing about creating from scratch is that a show, any show is inherently different from go! depending on who is on board. It’s just not possible to see a production of ours and think, Oooh, you know who would have been great in that role… because that role doesn’t exist without the person who created it. So we look for players, people who say yes, people who bring that highly specific skill that will be miraculously called into action. For Queens, we have Emily Madigan, Roland Hawkins and Neal Hazard: a dancer, an opera singer and a storyteller.
On the design side, we brought in lighting designer Heidi Eckwall, a frequent Sandbox collaborator who works seamlessly with our process. Heidi has the ability, the patience really, to know that what we have and what we need might change as the story develops. She then delivers magic.
Our costumer is fashion designer Samantha Rei Crossland. She, too, is magic. I was first introduced to Samantha’s work a few years back when I worked with the MNfashion organization. I’d try to wax poetic about her stuff, but her work speaks for her far better than I can.
Lasty, we brought in Jaya Robillard to be our stage manager. Like all roles within our ensemble, Sandbox stage managers are called on to help create, direct, cheerlead, argue, soothe, and wrangle. Our SMs are integral to the life of our shows, and we’re fortunate she said yes to this mess.
So imagine if you will, a golden hour sunlit St. Paul. The first jangly chords of Joe Walsh’s “In the City” play as Theo and I stride through the downtown streets toward 7th Place. One by one we’re joined by Heather, Peter, Derek, Neal, Emily, Roland, Heidi, Samantha, Jaya … we’re all wearing sweet vests.