The Performant: Playing in the Sandbox

In the Sandbox: left to right, Molly Noble, Carlye Pollack, Keith Burkland of "The Inevitable"

SF Playhouse’s Sandbox Series puts play back into playwriting

It’s getting harder each year to determine when exactly the “off-season” is in terms of things to do in the City, considering that this past, random weekend in February alone saw collisions of three major festivals -- SF Sketchfest, SF Indie Fest, and SF Beer Week -- on top of all the usual openings and closings and goings on. In fact, it’s been so hectic (albeit muy divertido) that the Performant is going to break protocol and look ahead to an event lingering just on the horizon, to ensure it doesn’t get lost in the onslaught of events to come.

Founded in 2010, SF Playhouse’s Sandbox Series is a play series (beginning Feb. 27) that inhabits a region somewhere between staged reading and full production -- offering new plays a full run and technical support, without breaking the bank on design and promotion.

Past playwrights have included William Bivins ("The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry"), Daniel Heath ("Seven Days"), and Kenn Rabin ("Reunion"). This year, the ladies will take centerstage with Inevitable, penned by SF Playhouse’s own Literary Manager, Jordan Puckett, and the next play in the series a commissioned piece from Lauren Gunderson on the life of artist Rudolf Bauer.

I caught up with SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English and artistic associate Lauren English to get the scoop on playing in the “Sandbox.”

SFBG When you founded the Sandbox Series in 2010 did you anticipate it having this kind of staying power?

SF Playhouse (Initially) we were worried we were taking on too much by starting an alternate season of World Premieres, but this is our fourth year and the funding has miraculously kept up with our needs.

What’s the selection process for plays like?

SFP We started by soliciting scripts from the outside and three of our Sandbox plays were commissions of Playground—a new play incubator—that provided part of their funding. Now we are trying to feed our own commissions into the Sandbox, while still accepting scripts from outside SF Playhouse

SFBG It appears that these productions straddle a line between staged reading and full production, care to break down the dynamic a bit.

SFP The gulf between readings and full productions is an area where not many theatres dare to tread, but one where there is a great need. Sandbox offers a unique experience for both the playwright and the audience. It’s not a full production nor is it a staged reading, it’s in that gorgeous “in-between” phase of play development that is not often seen by the public. We look to create simple design gestures to support the story, while keeping the focus on the story itself. We try to stick with scripts that have five or less actors and fairly simple technical demands.

SFBG Have any of these plays gone on to fully staged productions at SF Playhouse or elsewhere? What is the future for a Sandbox series play?

SFP Not yet, but we are still working on some of them and our aim is to have Sandbox plays track to the mainstage or productions at other theatres. We always meet with the playwrights after run closes to do a post mortem and make recommendations.

SFBG Anything you’d like to add?

SFP If theater is to continue to be a part of our culture and thrive into the future, it is essential to develop new voices. Playwrights are the prophets of our culture, with sensitive antennae poised to see, hear, and feel the essentials of being alive in our time and to translate those insights into stories that give us much needed perspective on our lives. We need them and our Sandbox program is our commitment to nurture these voices.

SF Playhouse Sandbox Series
previews begin Feb 27, $20
Unscripted Theatre
533 Sutter, SF
(415) 677-9596

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