Cardboard Theatre: Low-budget productions bring new plays to life

Give a child an empty box or a paper towel tube and they'll make it into a race car, or a telescope, or an intergalactic teleporter. Give Cardboard Theatre those materials and they'll do the same but on a grander scale. Yes, even the teleporter. Probably.

Cardboard Theatre, a new production company out of De Pere, is bringing original, locally written shows to the stage, and has the unique and compelling hook that most of their production is, well ... cardboard. Their first production, “Subaverage Explorers, collaboratively written by Mike Eserkaln and Matt Worzala, premiered at The Green Room, 365 Main Ave, De Pere, in May of this year. The writing team is already at work on their next show, “Crime!”which opens November 15 at The Green Room.

The concept of Cardboard Theatre is the brainchild of Mike Eserklan, artistic director of ComedyCity. Why cardboard? “Because it's affordable and abundant.” says Eserkaln, “Every delivery box that's otherwise tossed in the recycling bin could be a potential prop or stage piece.” The proof of this idea was made abundantly clear in “Subaverage Explorers” which featured among other things, portholes, a brig, suitcases, a phone and the interior and exterior of a submarine, all created from those boxes. As Eserkaln explains, “One of the biggest hurdles to creating live theatre is the cost of staging it. We believe theatre should be accessible to anyone that wants to do it and using cardboard in this very creative way is one way to do that.

While Eserkaln and others dream up the cardboard creations, it's the talented Maggie Dernehl who brings those dreams into reality, one fold at a time. Dernehl, whose design work you've seen in many exhibits at the Neville Public Museum, is the one responsible for designing, constructing and erecting most of the items seen on stage. “It's been a fun challenge trying to think of things Maggie can't make,” says Eserkaln. “So far we haven't been able to stump her.”

“I like taking the writers' ideas and figuring out how to make them happen,” says Dernehl. “At some point I'd like to take it as far as cardboard furniture the performers can actually sit in. The challenge is to make things that will be able to make it through rehearsals and performances without needing to make a lot of repairs.”

“Cardboard Theatre is dedicated to creating new theatrical works with collaboration and low budgets,” explains Eserkaln. Joining Eserkaln and Worzala in bringing “Crime!”to the stage is Michelle Oren who will be working with the writers and cast to choreograph scenes and local musicians Tom Harter and Kevin MacLeod who are creating original compositions.

Theatre should be a place where we can play again like we did when we were kids. After all,” grins Eserkaln, “they are called plays.”

Cardboard Theatre has at least two more productions in the early stages, including a reinterpretation of traditional folklore and a 2020 collaboration with Let Me Be Frank's Frank Hermans.

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