The Beautiful Reality of Making Small Theatre

slings and arrowsThere was a Canadian television show about ten years back called Slings & Arrows — it was a show about a Shakespearean theatre festival near Toronto created by Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney and others. They had a full crew, a beautiful cast, drama, intrigue, and the obscene budget to have a person sitting in the house seats with a laptop cranking out scripts or pressers, or whatever. If you love the theatre, you’d probably love S&A. If you work in small theatre, like Sandbox does, you probably think it’s cute and aspirational and annoying and adorable and poppycock. It’s all of those things because it portrays the theatre as a sustainable entity. But lemme tell you, the Slings & Arrows staff of techies, carpenters, administrators and actors are products of outrageous fortune (sorry).

Theatre can be sustainable, sure. Park Square has been making it happen (wonderfully) for four decades, but even with a front of house staff, administrative staff and crew of design artists, every one of the people at Park Square is in go-mode almost all the time. There’s very little time to soak in successes or dwell on failures. The next show is coming, or more often, already begun. When you’re producing over 20 productions in a calendar year, projects dovetail. It’s stressful and will burn a person out quickly if they don’t know how to handle it all. So even though Park Square is large enough to see itself represented in a show like Slings & Arrows, it’s probably as realistic as Wings was to a Nantucket airport.

When you’re as small as Sandbox, Slings & Arrows is almost farcical. The person often designing Sandbox sets is also our Artistic Director. He’s also the master carpenter. And a writer. And an actor. For Queens, our co-director is also a composer. And a performer. And a singer. Our other director is also our marketer, website administrator, copywriter, graphic designer, photographer, development lead, and it’s also me. Sandboxers wear many hats (on top of day jobs) — so many that the weight of them can feel more like a yoke that a beret. But it’s our job to make the audience believe. So whether we’re big or small, we make it happen with all we have.

There are a hundred other small theatre companies in the Twin Cities who do the same. This is why you see artistic directors, stage managers, directors, actors on their hands and knees drilling holes and swinging hammers when we load a show into a theatre. It’s the beautiful reality of making small theatre. It’s ingrained. We’re invested. This is what we do, and for the most part, all we want to do. We put all that we have into our art, and whether you love it or hate it, we want you to be moved by it.

Queens Load In 2

Derek Lee Miller constructed a modified sprung floor for our boxing ring from recovered lumber donated to us by Nautilus Music Theatre. Here, Derek, our stage manager Jaya Robillard, and director Theo Langason work on part 1 of its install.

Queens Load In 1

Sandbox AD, scenic designer and master carpenter Derek Lee Miller lays a sub-floor of plywood. Since Sandbox doesn’t have a shop, Derek fabricated the entire set in his garage, then reconstructed it piece by piece on the Boss Stage. Derek’s ability as a designer & carpenter, as well as his knack for obtaining nearly anything we could need via renewable/reusable/recyclable means, highlights why our best resources are our artists. Two-thirds of the Queens budget is invested in our artists. People over plywood, you might say.

Queens Load In 3

The final step in our boxing ring install was stretching 18 yards of canvas over the top. The canvas was one of the pieces we had to purchase new, but it will live a long life for us beyond Queens.

Queens Load In 4

“But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light.” Emily Madigan takes a moment to sit atop our newly constructed boxing ring floor.

I’m not sure why I decided to take on a ten year-old Canadian dramedy today — let’s just say after undergoing two surgeries in three weeks, I’ve done so out of jealousy for their health care system. Take that, Canada! (You, too, Wings.)



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