Each year the members of Sandbox Theatre gather to pitch big ideas to one another. It’s part brainstorm, part carnival barking bluster. These big ideas are the early germinations of shows to come. We listen, we challenge, we invest in one another. A luxury of creating all of our work from scratch is that anything and everything subject-wise is on the table. Whatever strikes our interest, whatever one of us is currently obsessed with, we sell it and the group may buy it. Ballet and Beat poetry? A hoarder/sci-fi writer with a 15′ monster made of cardboard boxes in his living room? An 80 year-old unsolved Canadian wilderness mystery? Check, check and check. Last year one of my big ideas hit with everybody; that idea was Queens.
As noted in Part I, I’ve been interested in boxing for years and it’s not uncommon for me to spend an hour or two reading old essays and newspaper reports about Joe Louis v Max Schmeling (I & II), Floyd Patterson v Sonny Liston (I & II), or Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier (I, II & III), so when in the spring of 2013 I came across this: The 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time, I was surprised to find I wasn’t nearly as versed in boxing history as I’d thought. Not only were there 50-odd fighters I’d never known on this list, but four of the top ten were total mysteries to me. A fifth name was only recalled casually, like yeah, maybe I’ve heard of him … or was he the guy on Quincy, M.D.? I’ve never heard of 50% of the top ten fighters of all time? C’mon. But sure enough… They had names like Harry Greb and Joe Gans, and they had records that were peppered with losses and draws and something called Newspaper Decisions. A guy with a 145-10-16 record is no.8 all time and undefeated Rocky Marciano is no.65? Mike Tyson doesn’t even make the list!? Sitting at Number One is a man named Sam Langford — heralded as the best fighter never to win a title. A subjective list, yes. One man’s opinion, yes. But my interest was peaked.
I began formulating the rough edges of a story about a boxer who lived his whole life without a title shot. A man who fought for something else. But what? A hundred years ago, fights weren’t even broadcast on the radio, let alone $50M PPV events. What would make a person fight for a living if, rather than the promise of riches and glory, the promise was … what? How far will we go to feel belonging, to feel worth, to feel understood, to feel heard?
I pitched it to the company last February. My friends and fellow Sandbox artists Theo Langason and Peter Herringa came on to help dream it all up. The company voted and the show was chosen. The I is gone. This show is now a We. We settled on a world, a framework, a few characters and a title. The rest of Queens will be built from the ground up by our ensemble, featuring three cast members, three ensemble creators, three designers and a creative leadership team. We’re 120 days from opening night and we have no script. This is where the real fun begins.