By creating unique immersive and interactive experiences for the public to connect with its clients and collaborators, Sandpit shows how the latest technology can be used to communicate effectively in a modern world.
Based in Kent Town’s technology hub Base64, Sandpit was created three-and-a-half years ago by former Border Project artistic director Sam Haren with Dan Koerner and Robin Moyer. With the experimental theatre collective Border Project, Haren and his collaborators used technology to create participatory theatre standouts such as I Am Not an Animal and Half-Real. Haren left the company four years ago and soon after created Sandpit, which also harnesses technology for interactive experiences.
“When we started Sandpit I was really interested in taking those interests, in thinking outside the realm of performance, and thinking about other mediums which we could engage with to creative immersive, interactive or participatory-style experiences,” Haren says. “So, even though the companies are very different, there was a pursuit of an interest in interactivity, for me, in starting the company.”
Haren says Sandpit is a more commercial enterprise than the Border Project but the company still works within the arts and cultural sectors. They collaborated with Closer Productions to create the My 52 Tuesdays interactive photo booth and app for Closer’s acclaimed film 52 Tuesdays, worked with the Australian DanceTheatre to create a virtual reality experience and collaborated with Sydney’s Grumpy Sailor and Google’s Creative Lab to create the intimate and interactive theatre productionGhosts, Toast and the Things Unsaid for this year’s Fringe.
“We’ve done projects that are extensions of film and TV work, and worked in the mental health and wellbeing space, which has been really interesting. We’ve just done a project for Beyond Blue [The Ripple Effect] and we’ve also done a virtual reality and interactive experience for a property developer. There’s a fairly eclectic selection of companies, collaborators and clients in that mix.”
Haren says that Sandpit is interested in how new and emerging technologies are able to connect with people to allow them to have “meaningful interactions with a range of organisations and people”.
“For us, it is equally as interesting if it’s connecting people – like in the Beyond Blue project – so people can share experiences and learn about something that’s very specific that they need in that moment, as well as sharing the stories of someone like Maggie Beer with a member of the public who might want to discover more about her. It’s about how these things can be very intimate and interactive as a way to connect people. The technology will continue to change and evolve. We’ve just hit a stage where virtual reality has hit the mainstream. The rise of that medium offers all these interesting opportunities as people become more familiar with how to use it.”
The company only has four full-time employees with another five on a contract or part-time basis. They want to keep Sandpit small and nimble, as this allows the company to work on diverse projects. “If we just employed three front-end web developers and three back-end developers it would mean our resources are very much tied to working to stay in that medium,” Haren says.
“We are trying to grow the business in a way where we have these core capabilities within the company but we’ve also got the ability to add and expand. That way we can be responsive to the kinds of projects that come up and the kinds of ideas that might need a particular kind of skill.”
Does Haren believe a company such as Sandpit represents the future for communications agencies?
“It’s very interesting,” he says. “We’re in a time where we’ve moved on from this form of mass-communication from the 20th century. Many big advertising companies were based around these one-dimensional broadcast model forms of communication through television and radio, even cinema. Then the rise of the internet allowed this really interesting situation where communication is much more involving and participatory for people who receive the messages as well as people who are constructing them. YouTube is an example of that. The thing that gets circulated on YouTube might be someone’s weird cat video or it might be an incredibly-produced web series.
“I think we’re living in an age where there is a much more participatory form of communication and interaction. People have a hunger to be involved in that interaction and also only engage with things that are relevant to them. People are incredibly good at filtering out things that they don’t feel are relevant to them or feel like it is not genuinely speaking to them. We [Sandpit] get excited about ways where we can very meaningfully and genuinely speak to people or connect or engage with them in a way that’s not generic.”