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Man stands in workshop full of wearable cardboard art and costumes
Sam is theatre’s premier cardboard creator
Andre Pattenden

Meet the “Card Bard”: A Theatre Designer Who Makes Stunning Cardboard Creations!

What started as a family pastime turned into an award-winning stage show

Neil Patrick Harris is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Wondercade. In his spare time he also acts — fairly well, too, as his Tony and Emmy Awards can attest.

June 20, 2024 11:16 am

U.K.-based @samueljwilde is a great Instagram follow. Sam is a fellow man of the theatre — he’s been a set, costume and production designer for over a decade, and has worked in countless theaters, including Shakespeare’s Globe. During the pandemic he started making intricate, brilliant cardboard puppets for his kids and playing around with them on Insta…’til one thing led to another, and he combined his new recyclable hobby with his theatre career to put on a full-blown children’s stage show with his cardboard creations (which he still makes — and posts about — to this day). He even won an Offies Award last year (the U.K.’s awards for alternative theatre). Hmm…kind of makes me feel like I should be doing more with all these empty Amazon boxes…

Neil Patrick Harris: Hi Sam. Thanks for being here. So I’ve gotta ask…why cardboard? Did you have too many Amazon deliveries one day and decide to get creative?

Sam Wilde: I’ve been working with cardboard for almost 15 years. I’m a theatre designer and puppet maker, and you’ll probably find that most people in my line of work turn to a cardboard box for at least part of their process. For me though, I really found my voice with it when I had my daughter, Clementine.

She adores my wife’s brother, who works on a boat. I remember saying to Clem that we would get a big toy boat and pretend we were with him…but at the time, I couldn’t afford to buy one. So, one night when she was asleep, I stayed up all night and made my first cardboard make for her: It was so far from what I wanted it to be — it was all cracked and beaten, bits of glue sticking out all over the place, but the next day…her face! From then on, I started making cardboard toys for my daughters and I realized that all of the questions I’d be asking myself — how I can be a better dad, how I can act more sustainably, how can I give my children a creative childhood — they all had the same answer!

Sam plays with child in cardboard dragon costumes
So adorb
Andre Pattenden

NPH: Lovely! And resourceful!

SW: A lot of people have this barrier where they think they need special materials and special shops to make creative things. Almost all of my work is a craft knife, an old cardboard box and a glue gun, although I have branched out to include a newspaper or two recently!

NPH: Yeah, it’s something that’s accessible to most folks, I imagine. And yet! Even this humble material of cardboard sent you down quite the path of professional success. I hear your dabbling in cardboard puppetry led to an actual show, that my sources tell me changed your life? Do tell.

SW: The adaptation of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back [the brilliant and somewhat dark children’s picture book]. We were in lockdown here in the U.K., and my friend, director and performer Ian Nicholson, thought we should do a little puppet performance that he would film on his phone, and ask Little Angel Theatre, a 100-seat children’s puppet theater in London, to release it on their YouTube channel.

At first, it was just something to kill time. I made everything in two weeks. I think we all got paid a couple of hundred pounds each for it. It cost £20 to make. Then we released it, and my life changed. We ended up in all of the newspapers, on the BBC. It was so bizarre seeing these lists which were like, “See Benedict Cumberbatch at the National, see Patrick Stewart perform Shakespeare, see Sam Wilde and Ian Nicholson’s I Want My Hat Back!” We followed it up after the pandemic with a live version, at the Royal Albert Hall! There were over 100 cardboard puppets, and the entire set was a massive cardboard theater on a table. That was the show that made me The Card Bard.

Sam moves cardboard characters in theatre set
Sam’s blending of cardboard craftsmanship with theatre set production is simply inspired
Andre Pattenden

NPH: The Card Bard! Brilliant.

SW: We make so many things out of plastic these days that we forget that not all things have to last forever. In fact, it’s often better if they don’t. How long are your kids going to play with that toy? One of my favorite things about working with cardboard is when the show is finished, when the toy is just taking up space…I just pop it in the recycling bin, head to the coffee shop over the road, get a cuppa and wait for the bins to be collected. The looks on the face of the bin collectors when they find an entire cardboard dragon, well, that’s something to see!

Sam gradually transforming into Cardboard Man
Sam gradually transforming into Cardboard Man

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