Supporting creative work by women
Sandy Yaklin is a set designer & fabricator who lives in Astoria, Queens. Recent set designs & fabrication projects include Frankenstein Upstairs (2013, Gideon Productions), You Will Make a Difference (2012, AliveWire Theatrics), Sovereign (2012, Gideon Productions), Blast Radius (2012, Gideon Productions), Advanced Man (2012, Gideon Productions, IT Awards – Outstanding Production) and the stage set for the 2013 Gotham Awards (fabrication & production management, IFP.org). Upcoming: Dark Water (March 2014, Technical Director, Manhattan Theatre Works), The Understudy (May 2014, Set Designer, Secret Theatre). Sandy is also a lawyer and has taken on a variety of other theater jobs, such as, producer, director, stage manager and board operator. She has a keen interest in reducing waste and improving our environmental practices.
Sandy spoke with Works by Women about her new Queens space — The Sandbox, a breakthrough shop and rehearsal space — as well as her other endeavors to cut down on waste in the theater industry.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about your work and experience in theater.
SANDY YAKLIN: I originally trained as a performer in the music theatre program at Western Michigan University. After performing for a few years on cruise ships, I decided to go law school. In 2005, I quit my job at a big law firm and worked for the New York International Fringe Festival as a venue director then for a few months at the Public Theater building sets. Eventually, I had to go back to being an attorney to pay the bills, but I toyed with the idea of directing. I felt that I needed to know more about technical aspects of theater and started reading, volunteering to stage manage, produce, etc. I started making props and doing some light set work for Gideon Productions. In late 2011, I took the leap and designed the set for the first play in my husband Mac Rogers’ Honeycomb Trilogy, Advanced Man. We didn’t have a technical group in place so I also handled many aspects of the production management, technical direction and building. I grew up building and painting with my engineer/handyman father and making things with my crafty-wafty mother, so it was a natural fit.
WBW: What first drew you to theater?
SY: I basically just popped out of the womb singing and dancing around. We had very good music and theater programs at my junior high and high schools that gave me an opportunity to be on stage in musicals and plays. What I liked the best was the feeling when you are singing on stage and feel the energy of the audience kind of focus through you and feed back to the audience. Sometimes you get a chill. You are very focused and get a sense of being very alive.
WBW: How is being on stage comparable to being behind-the-scenes building and designing sets?
SY: Eventually I realized that I didn’t really have the personality to be a performer. It wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do or the only thing I could do, and I wasn’t fantastically talented. I find I’m more like the visual artists that I know. I like the alone time and to be very focused on a project with a goal, end date and tangible physical product. Designing and building taps into intellectual, spacial and technical parts of your brain. It also keeps me part of the theater community, which has many warm and open people.
WBW: What was the inspiration for The Sand Box? What are your goals for it?
SY: I hate waste and am interested in good environmental practices. When we had to move out of our work/live space this past year, I wanted to have a shop space but also wanted to do something that combined resources of small companies and encouraged recycling of theater goods. Also, I was frustrated with how little time the actors had to work with the set, props and costumes because of the cost of theater & space rental in NYC.
Gideon Productions had recently partnered with Boomerang Theatre Company and Flux Theatre Ensemble to form the “BFG” alliance to collectively rent the Secret Theatre in Queens. We also knew Vampire Cowboys from their community-building Saturday Night Saloons. I reached out to them about some sort of space sharing arrangement. All four companies are now renting storage space at The Sand Box with the idea that they can build shows here and use their stuff in rehearsals.
The Sand Box is really a first step in the experiment. I’d like to eventually have a much bigger space where many small companies can store and share their sets, props and costumes.
WBW: What’s next for you?
SY: I’m heading a project to build a website designed for selling/renting/bartering/giving away theater & film sets, props and costumes. It’s called the Shared Independent Theater List (aka the Sh.I.T. List). The LIT Fund, a great idea in its own right, has given us a grant to establish the website and run it for the first year. It’s really a triumph of small independent theater companies coming together to fund something that benefits them all. We expect it to launch in early Spring 2014. The idea is that it will fill a gap between the green resources that are already out there in NYC: Materials for the Arts, Build it Green, Film Biz Recycling, Craigslist and others. You can get more information about the Sh.I.T. List from our video.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
SY: Well, there’s still a tendency to take men more seriously than women particularly when it comes to technical and financial matters. And for women to promote themselves less. Also, with so few well paying positions in theater, competition is crazy, and it can be hard to find any kind of work/life balance.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
SY: I see many more young women who expect to be taken seriously and really promote their work. The Estrogenius Festival, 50/50 in 2020, League of Professional Theatre Women and the Women’s Project Theater are all great entities. Actually, several projects that I’ve worked on in the past few years have been all or mostly women directors and designers. In particular, Gideon Productions has really focused on hiring women.