'Beatnik Giselle' brings two worlds together

'Beatnik Giselle' brings two worlds together
Photo by Richard Fleischman Photography
The classic ballet Giselle and the innovative American writers who attempted to break apart literature get paired up in Sandbox Theatre's latest piece, Beatnik Giselle.

"This show has been evolving for a long, long time. It started with an idea that a company member had in 2005," says Derek Lee Miller, one of the creative leads. "It's gone through many mutations over the years."

The incarnation that will be performed this week presents two worlds: that of the female dancers on one side; and the male Beat writers on the other.

"The Beats were aggressively male. The way the community evolved, the women got relegated to the back seat. The core of the group was men, and they were consumed with by the idea of being a man," Miller says.

While the show takes cues from classical ballet, the era in question -- the 1950s -- was part of the rise of modern dance, a movement with numerous female leaders and creators. Those divisions helped to build the essential tension of the show, but there are also themes that unify them.

"We settled on the central question of the show: What do you do when your society no longer represents what you do and when your society has precepts and ideals that you don't believe in?" Miller says. 

For much of the production, the two groups stick to their own side of the stage. There rare moments where they do interact "are very important to the show," Miller says.

The company includes Kate Guentzel as Giselle, Ryan Hill as Allen Ginsberg, and Miller as Jack Kerouac. 

The show has been built from the ground up by the performers. While work began two years ago (the company had hoped to stage the piece last year), the heavy lifting has occurred in the last 12 months.

Miller and Nicole Devereaux are the project leads, with Lisa Moreira serving as director.

Sandbox has "a complicated process. We have a director and the project lead, and that is the artistic plumb line of the show," Miller says. "We start with the barest of bones of ideas. Once we cast the show, we give all of the actors assignments of research to do."

The beginnings of the production included detailing possible plot points along a 15-foot-long piece of butcher paper. Once the bones of the work were put into place, scene work was started, using improvisation and other tools. Eventually, the project leads worked with the material to develop a script. "After that, it becomes more like a traditional play," Miller says.

A traditional play, however, with a lot of flexibility. Changes are made throughout the rehearsal process and can continue through the run. "Even when we put a show up, we consider it a work in process," Miller says.


Beatnik Giselle
Southern Theatre
1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Friday through Sunday
For tickets, visit online

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