Introducing the Sand Box
An Interview with Sandy Yaklin
Saundra (Sandy) Yaklin is a freelance set designer/fabricator living in Queens. In December 2013, she opened The Sand Box, a rehearsal and shop space in Long Island City. In late spring 2014, she will be launching "The Shared Independent Theatre List" (a.k.a. the Sh.I.T. List), a website for recycling set pieces and other theatre goods funded by the LIT Fund. Current theatrical projects include Richard 3 (Queens Players, set design), Dark Water (MT Works, technical direction), The Family Play (Collaboration Town, technical direction/set consultant) and The Understudy (Secret Theatre, set design). Recent projects include the 2013 Gotham Awards (IFP, set management and fabrication), Frankenstein Upstairs (Gideon Productions, set design), You Will Make a Difference (AliveWire Theatrics, set design) and Sovereign (Gideon Productions, set design). Zack Calhoon interviewed Yaklin about her many endeavors.
ZC: What compelled you to go into theatrical design? Do you have a favorite project that you've worked on? What did you love most about the show?
SY: Well, I went to school for musical theatre then left that to become a lawyer. I missed the theatre community and thought about getting into directing but wanted to understand more about the technical elements because I'd never had any theatre tech classes. I grew up doing some building and painting with my father, an engineer, so I talked my way into a job building scenery at the Public for a few months and worked as a venue director at the NY International Fringe Festival. Eventually, I had to go back to being a lawyer to pay the bills, but I dabbled in making props then took the leap in 2012 to design and build a full scale living room set for Gideon's Honeycomb Trilogy. Probably, the second play in that trilogy, Blast Radius, is my favorite because I got to imagine how the earth would be terra-formed by an alien race, make weird alien plants and research how flooding would effect a modern suburban home.
ZC: Tell me about The Sand Box. Where did you come up with idea? Where would you like to see The Sand Box in five years?
SY: The idea of the Sand Box is to have a place where small companies can build, store and rehearse with some of their set elements before tech week. It currently has a 16 x 17 foot rehearsal space and a shop with lots of tools, a slop sink and a 12 x 22 foot workspace. We're in LIC close to the Court Square stop and just opened it at the end of 2013. We don't have a website up yet, but people can contact me at email@example.com to make reservations and get more information in the "About" section on our Facebook page.
I think most set designers for independent theatre in NYC would say that it is crazy trying to find a good, affordable building space near Manhattan. And, it's tough on small companies to have so little time with their sets and props during tech week. It just makes sense economically for these companies to band together and share resources to get a building space and place where they can rehearse with some elements before tech week. Also, it makes sense environmentally to try to share and recycle theater pieces among companies. There is something like 500 independent theatre companies around NYC. Because of the cost of real estate and storage, so many of us reinvent the wheel for shows then chuck most of it in the dumpster afterwards.
The Sand Box is much smaller than I'd like right now, with storage for only four to five companies. Ideally, in five years, we have a larger place with room for many companies to store items, which would facilitate recycling and sharing. I'd also like a bigger shop and more rehearsal spaces.
On a related note, I'm also working on the Shared Independent Theater List (the "Sh.I.T. List"). The Sh.I.T. List is an exciting project I started with several other folks from Gideon, Flux and independent theater that's funded by a generous grant from the LIT Fund. It's going to be a Craig’s List-type website for theater and film groups to sell, rent, barter and give away sets, props, costumes and all things theatrical. We expect to launch it in early summer this year.
ZC: Tell me about Bad Sandy Productions.
SY: Oh, Bad Sandy Productions is the company my husband, Mac Rogers, and I started to rent out building space. It runs The Sand Box and is my company for freelance set design and building projects.
The name actually is not what you'd think. It comes from the "bad snacks" I would bring to work in the afternoon. One Christmas season, I sent around an email saying that Bad Sandy left some presents for everyone and a co-worker suggested that, if I ever had a company, I should name it Bad Sandy Productions. I actually suggested "Mac and Sweet Cheese," since my husband sometimes calls me Sweet Cheese, but he chose Bad Sandy.
ZC: What kind of writing inspires you?
SY: Mostly, I've worked on sci-fi or fantasy plays that spring from very realistic settings. Mac writes very normal, real characters with situations that gradually become more and more off. So for his plays, the settings are generally hyper realistic. I love his plays, but as a person, I actually like suggestive set elements and unabashed silly surrealistic stuff.
ZC: Who or what has been the biggest influence on your work as a theatre artist thus far?
SY: Actually, I would say modern architecture. I'm very interested in the way spaces can be put together efficiently and "greenly" but so that they are visually balanced and entertaining. I love looking at pictures of houses and other buildings and comparing them to the plan drawings in Dwell and architecture books and magazines. I also really like the simplicity and humor of some Japanese otaku artists like Yoshitomo Nara.
ZC: What else are you working on right now?
SY: I've just turned The Secret Theatre into a late 70's, London punk club for Richard 3, which is running now in Queens. I'm also building a fantastical set for Dark Water (MT Works) opening next week at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Coming up I'll be doing technical direction for The Family Play with Collaboration Town at The New Ohio Theatre and designing the set for The Understudy at The Secret Theatre.