So what are you doing on Saturday night?
If “dinner and a show” is your answer, it probably means that you’ll be watching a movie, or perhaps a gig after eating out. A stage play is most likely not part of the equation.
There’s something intimidating about theater, and except for a privileged few, many would agree that the last play they’ve seen was a musical during a field trip in high school. Brace yourselves—the subconscious reluctance to theater is about to end.
The Sandbox Collective, a performing arts group that, through off-kilter yet groundbreaking theatrical productions featuring seasoned and fresh talents, aims to bridge the gap between theater and a wide but still untapped Filipino audience.
At the helm of this young theater company are Toff de Venecia and Anna Santamaria, both founding members of 9 Works Theatrical and respected figures in the field.
While 9 Works focuses on typical Broadway, Off-Broadway and West End productions, Sandbox is geared towards reimagining projects so that they may cater to what Santamaria refers to as a “younger millennial audience” aged 18 to 30.
Think of Sandbox as theater for the indie crowd, like the audience that Cinemalaya attracts.
“It’s the kind of people that want to be challenged. You want to force them to think, and to think out of the box… on what kind of theater is possible in Manila, and also how they view life. Of course it’s a millennial audience—very existential, always trying to make sense of who they are,” explains De Venecia.
De Venecia is no stranger to theater. The Sandbox Collective’s 20-something managing artistic director has previously directed plays for Ateneo Blue Repertory and worked for 9 Works Theatrical as well.
He brings his love for theater wherever he goes; this is a guy who watches as many shows as he can when traveling abroad.
“I saw 30 [shows] on my last trip. So I get to see all kinds of theater,” he says. “It also awakens something in me na parang, wow, these are the possibilities that you can explore for theater. I noticed that no one’s doing it here yet.”
Thus was born the idea of The Sandbox Collective.
De Venecia’s experience with Ateneo Blue Rep and his having written for youth-oriented publications have been inspiring.
He muses: “I’ve always gravitated to the youth, and there are movements that are happening. The different kinds of performance arts and even visual arts… You have younger visual artists, fashion designers, filmmakers, even chefs. You have younger people starting their own kinds of artistic endeavors. So, I thought, why not do that for the theater as well?”
As a director, De Venecia has always been compelled to reimagine existing text, and the art of reimagining is important to The Sandbox Collective. This drive to innovate on how things are done is evident in Sandbox’s mission-vision: to find new artistic voices, develop new audiences, and contribute to a keen and diversified theater ecology for the local performing arts scene.
He expounds: “How do you explore it, given a different framework or production style? I feel that there are people out there who just haven’t experienced theater, but then how are you able to activate or harness their potentials and bring them to the theater discipline? I feel that audience development is important, especially with this audience that we’re trying to target, the 18 to 30 millennial audience. I would say they’re a little bit demanding. I mean, I am demanding myself. I belong to that audience. We always want something that’s authentic, new, something we haven’t seen before.”
Reimagining existing material is only one of the facets of The Sandbox Collective’s three-pronged program.
Second is Blueprint, a Sandbox original production to be fueled by newfound artistic voices from other fields such as film and visual arts.
Another is Imaginarium, a four-day multi-arts festival of local and international flavors slated for later this year.
The Sandbox Collective’s initiative to develop new audiences goes beyond getting more people to watch its shows. Part of its thrust is to engage these audiences from the moment they enter the venue to the minutes after the show. Fore:Play is a preshow activity designed to enlighten the people on the theater experience, while Talkback is an opportunity for them to interact with the creative team and the cast after the show.
Sandbox will also be offering backstage tours, discounted student matinees and group packages to encourage affordable theatergoing habits among its young target audience.
For its maiden production, The Sandbox Collective will be staging the off-broadway musical “Dani Girl” by American composers Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond. It tells the story of Dani Lyons, a nine-year-old lass who battles leukemia and loses her hair after three years of being in remission. The show reveals how, through her vivid imagination, the young cancer patient copes with her condition.
Sandbox was considering other musicals for its debut production, but De Venecia instantly chose “Dani Girl” as soon as he read the synopsis. But there is more to “Dani Girl” than a compelling story line, and De Venecia has several other reasons for singling it out.
“Knowing that the composers are winners of the 2010 Jonathan Larson award, which is given to young composers who have changed the game in Broadway, I was like, wow, that’s pretty special,” he says. “And then, when we obtained the text of the show, I was reading through it and I started seeing this confluence with Theater of the Absurd which is a style that I often use in the shows that I direct. And then I was reviewing the history of the show, the production history and how it’s been done across Australia, Canada and the United States. I saw that it was a lot of imagination theater going on, which I feel is perfect for the audiences of The Sandbox Collective.”
Santamaria, Sandbox operations director, explains further, but zeroes in on the music. “The music is really amazing. During our auditions, we had very limited material because there’s no official recording, there’s no soundtrack. We had to Google everything on YouTube and we were hopeful that there would be recordings from previous productions.
“There were a few, and we were excited to hear that they’re very catchy and all, but when we started auditions, that’s when we realized how really beautiful the music is. At first it’s like playful, nice-to-hear music, but when you listen to the lyrics, wow, it’s really powerful, and towards the end you have this lump in your throat. You realize, oh my God, this is about cancer.”
While the plot is replete with somber themes such as life amid death and loss, “Dani Girl” promises to be more than just an exposition of drama. The Sandbox’s reimagined presentation is bound to be a whimsical, fascinating but yet moving experience for the audience.
“Dani Girl” goes onstage from July 11 to 27 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.
For show-buying, block-buying, and ticket inquiries, please contact 5856909 or 0917-8996680, or call Ticketworld at 8919999.
You may also visit www.thesandboxcollective.com, or follow them on Facebook: /TheSandboxCollective, Twitter: @TheSandboxCo, and Instagram: @TheSandboxCo.
“Dani Girl” is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.