Sandbox Theatre's Heather Stone talks collaboration

Derek Miller, Heather Stone, and Wade Vaughn at Sandbox rehearsal

Derek Miller, Heather Stone, and Wade Vaughn at Sandbox rehearsal

​This weekend Sandbox Theatre will open their latest collaborative production, unspeakable things: the Wandrei brothers project, about Donald and Howard Wandrei, two St. Paul brothers who wrote science fiction books together. The theater is known for its quirky, creative style, and their innovative, multidisciplinary approach. Heather Stone, one of the founders of the company, recently took the time to talk about the processes Sandbox uses to create works.  

City Pages:  How did Sandbox Theater come to be? 

Heather Stone: We--Ryan Hill, Lisa Moreira, and myself--were working on a couple shows together at 15 Head theater lab. We started hanging out socially and we'd meet at each other's places to talk about our future theater dreams--what kind of theater we did in the past, and what kind of theatre we'd like to do in the future. I think it was Ryan who dubbed our "meetings" as the "sandbox." A few months after 15 Head closed, Ryan and his partner, Andrew Lawrence Schiff, invited Lisa and I to dinner at a sushi joint. Ryan had all this paperwork filled out for this thing called Sandbox Theatre. The four of us jumped in that night all wide eyed, excited, and green to start this theater company. That was five years ago.
CP:  How has the group evolved over time?  

HS: Our company has changed slightly. Lisa left to focus on her growing family, but she will always be a founding member, and she still comes in to watch rehearsals and give feedback. Derek Miller joined us just over a year ago as a core member, and this past summer we added new company members to our ensemble: Nicole Devereaux, Matthew Glover, Peter Heeringa, Jenna Wyse, Wade Vaughn, and Tim Donahue. All of these talented people have worked on prior Sandbox shows and we are really excited to grow our ensemble--we're gearing up to expand what we do theatrically in the coming years.

CP:  How do you use experimentation when creating pieces?

HS:  Experimentation is basically the whole shebang of how we create our work. It's really like playing.

CP:  How does the process of collaboration work? Do you have it honed to a technique? Or does it vary from show to show?  

HS:  We do have a method to our madness--or process--of creating new work. We have a base of what we call "givens." These are our "must haves" for a scene. We list these givens, which can be something like, "There must be an apple, there is an entrance and an exit, there must be 15 seconds of silence, you must use these three specific lines of text, and so on." Then we break out into small groups where people create a scene based on these givens. From there we show, we talk about what we saw and liked, we go "shopping" (where we steal something from someone's piece and add it into our own). Then we work on them again. Eventually, we shake it down and mash elements together into one scene. And from that we have something that will be in the show. 

CP:  What are the drawbacks to this kind of process? 

HS: One drawback is that every group can hit a snag; where we're just mind blocked on what we're creating. We know we want to see this specific thing, but sometimes it takes awhile to get there. It's so rewarding when you do get there.

CP:  What are the rewards?

HS: It's really great when something surprising happens, like if in each group they all have a specific movement or see something in the exact same way that wasn't even part of the givens. We're all so connected as an ensemble that we're in tune even when we're not working in a large group, and that's really cool.
CP:  What was the process for creating the current show? What are some of the interdisciplinary approaches that you have used?

HS: The process for this show is the same as how we've approached all of our new works. But on this particular show, we worked with numerous local musicians to create inspirational music for us to use in the rehearsal room that would further inspire us. It was really cool to have these local musicians totally jump on-board, no questions asked, and donate their time and energy to write songs for us.

unspeakable things: the Wandrei brothers project runs November 5-20 at the Red Eye Theater, located at 15 West 14th Street in Minneapolis. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20; $15 for students. For more info, visit