Sam Wilde discusses BOXVILLE at LAT Children’s Puppet Festival
Let’s just get this straight – there’ll be no sitting around for you and your youngsters this summer holiday. No indeedy. You’re expected to get yourselves down to the Little Angel Theatre where you can become cardboard engineers in an exciting storytime escapade with the Cardboard Adventures team. “A show based entirely on cardboard?” I hear you gasp! Yes, that’s correct, and the incredible designer Sam Wilde – the Card Bard no less – is here to tell us all about it.
Hiya Sam. We know you’re a busy man, so we’re really glad you’ve managed to find a slot to talk to us about BOXVILLE. This sounds like an extraordinary production! Can you tell us a bit about what to expect?
No matter how busy I get I’ve always got room on my plate for the Everything Theatre Team!
BOXVILLE is a really special show for me. It’s actually about 15 years in the making and began its life as BOXMOUTH at the Portsmouth Harbour Festival. It was the first show that I ever worked on as a designer that actually got made, it was also the very first show that Director Ian Nicholson (I Want My Hat Back) and I worked on together.
It’s had bits of development here and there over the years, usually with Ian and I performing side by side with others, but this is the first chance we have had to spend some real dedicated time developing it in earnest (with the wonderful support of We The Curious and Arts Council England).
The show itself though is… well it’s all my favourite things!! Our wonderful actors (Hannah Miller, Iona Johnson and Megan Vaughan-Thomas) have devised a fun show where the audience really get involved, adults and children crafting their way along with the characters to solve problems and play games. It’s empowering and engineering and craft and great puppets and music and cardboard… lots and lots of cardboard!
So can anyone make something in this show? What if you’re not very good at it?
Well if you’re not very good at it then you probably need the practice so you should definitely come!! But seriously, it is a very welcoming environment and the focus is really on play, rather than creating a wonderful work of art!
I began making things with cardboard when I was an out of work creative, just starting out as a designer and a father. I couldn’t afford toys for my daughter so I started making them from cardboard, and it ended up being the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done… it made me a better father and a better person. I spent so long doing it that I eventually got good. This production isn’t about how well you make things, it’s about spending time with the people you love and having some fun! Every time we do this show it just fills me up: seeing adults and children making things together is like watching myself make that first boat with my daughter… We’re all good enough to make ourselves better, the cardboard stuff is really just the middle man!
ALSO, this show is just the start. A lot of the bits the actors use are available on my website – CardboardAdventures.co.uk – so if you love the guitar on the beach, or the dragon puppet or the crab claw, you can get the instructions and watch the videos showing you how to make them all yourself and play BOXVILLE at home!
And it’s not just cutting out bits of cardboard – there’s music involved too? Who else is on the team?
Absolutely, we’ve made the show in Bristol, making a real effort to keep down our carbon miles so have been working with a really incredible (mostly) Bristol based team.
When it comes to music though, we’ve been working with the incredible Greg Hall for this production! He’s been amazing, creating in a very similar way to Ian and myself; always in the room, letting the music build and develop alongside the narrative and the design and the action. It’s real world building!
But there are so many amazing creatives on the team, I could fill pages in praising them. Sarah Shepherd has been an amazing co-producer on it. Steph Kempson has been our dramaturg; I’ve worked with Steph many times before and she’s just a powerhouse of a creative, constantly brilliant! Joy Chen is a recent graduate from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and has been the design assistant on the show – she’s incredible, just incredible! Alison Cowling was a performer in the previous incarnation but we’ve been blessed to have her back with us as assistant director!
And the actors!!! Megan Vaughan-Thomas is the uber deviser, full of ideas and charisma and clown – you could put her in any show and she’d shine! Hannah Miller is about as adaptable as they come, she can hold a space and your attention with the same beauty, delicacy and care that she’s does a puppet (which is substantial). And Iona Johnson – her every movement is an example of a performer at the top of their game, her vocal talent when she plays RoBOX is pure and simple genius!
Not forgetting Ian Nicholson as well. He and I have co-directed BOXVILLE, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you of his calibre. He’s a vital asset and part of the team!
We really have managed to put together such an amazing crew! I’m just the lucky one who gets to give them some stuff I’ve made and they somehow make it work!
Can you tell us about the sustainability aspects of the show? Do children really care about that?
My kids certainly do! In my experience they tend to care more about it than their adult counterparts! Whether they consciously do or not, it’s going to be a big part of their world.
So much of the artistic narrative surrounding sustainability is focused around making do with less, with cutting back on sets and costume and stuff. What we’ve done with BOXVILLE is show you how much MORE it can give, we have an entire cardboard dragon, we have dancing cardboard crabs, there’s an entire cardboard robot overlord! And all of it, every single scrap, is recyclable.
All the puppets, the costumes, the props, the focus of the process is on making a sustainable show, and the cardboard’s just a tool in achieving that!
Boxville is part of the Little Angel Theatre’s Children’s Puppetry Festival; how did you get involved with it?
Well it really had to be Little Angel. They feel like as big a part of the cardboard theatre journey as Ian and myself. The award success, the crafting activities, the shows they have produced… when all of those things happen to one venue, that’s not an accident, that’s a wonderful building filled with wonderful people!
And importantly, I think they stand for all the same things that I want this show to stand for, and you can see it in the other shows that are a part of their Puppet Festival; Crafts, Accessible Design, Family Theatre that is made with dedication and artistic excellence, sustainability, shows that have impact and importance and just really great theatre!
We’re just really lucky to be a part of this festival that Oliver Hymans has built, to have BOXVILLE be on the same billing as Drew Colby in The Fox Poet and The Fisherman is a dream! And so many other excellent shows and creatives, I’ve had the privilege of working with Hannah Goudie-Hunter before and I’m sure what Kitchen Zoo have put together for the Tortoise and the Hare will be magical!
I cannot forget to mention our old friends over at Smoking Apples Theatre Production and their award winning production of Kinder as well! If you didn’t manage to catch it last year then make sure you do now! Its beauty, its integrity and quality – it’s the top of top quality theatre!
What’s the best thing one of your audience members has made during the show?
Some fond and lasting memories!! It’s so hard to tell. Every show has its gems and there are lots of great makes. I think if you had to push me then I remember a particularly good toaster from one of the recent shows and there’s always some decent guitars and trumpets!
Will BOXVILLE be recycled at other places after the Puppet Festival?
I hope so, we’re going back to Bristol to do some free outdoor performances on Millennium Square on 9 and 10 September (the show has been developed with We The Curious science centre) but then we have no future dates booked!
The hope is that we will bring it out again next year and go to a few festivals and outdoor spaces, it’s a great show for theatres and community centres, but I think its true home will always be in a big tent in a field in the sunshine! So we are currently looking for venues if anyone knows any!
Thanks enormously to Sam for taking the time to chat with us about this Wilde and wonderful show.
Boxville is aimed at ages 4-8, and runs at Little Angel Theatre from 21 Aug–23 Aug. Further information and booking details can be found here.