Cardboard Creativity…
Making Do While Making Great

It can be easy to forget that creativity is a brain exercise more than a money exercise.  Sure, money helps – but it can also get in the way.

Subject in point – The Cardboard Theatre’s first production at Indiana University – Bloomington.

Life is all about solving problems.  

  • Problem? Students at IU want to put on a show but have very limited funds.
  • Solution? Sets made from cardboard (unless you needed to sit on it – then it was ‘borrowed.’)  
  • Result? A delightful evening featuring all original work by IU students for the IU community. 

(Full disclosure: Like myself, there were also a few proud parents in attendance.)

True creative talent often makes use of materials that others have discarded or set aside. Seldom do we have every tool we need or the perfect material we want. The creative enterprise is all about taking what is available and finding ways to invent what isn’t.

Since this isn’t the place for a review, suffice it to say The Cardboard Theater created two evenings of wonderful entertainment for a budget minded audience (admission was free) and was able to showcase some great work by the IU fine arts community. The evening was centered around the idea of dreams and visions, hope and fear, decisions and love. The group as a whole featured great writing, directing and performing talent, including my daughter Sarah’s directorial debut for the one act “We, The Boys” by Kelly Lusk. 

Theater has a long tradition of storytelling with sparse sets and simple spaces that many innovation centered organizations would be wise to remember. The core idea of any lasting production is always good story told well. The core idea of any successful innovation is always good idea told well. Bells and whistles, unlimited permutations, infinite pre-release rehashes that occur when budgets are flush can actually work against finishing and distributing the core idea, the basic improvement that customers will understand and appreciate.

The name of the production was Cardboard Theatre.  We all knew the sets would not be made of 24k gold. The promise was made for entertainment and maybe a bit of enlightenment. I give Maggie Smith and her team of writers, actors, directors and production crew credit for they fulfilled the promise in spades — on a college students budget, for college students with a budget. 

Have you taken stock of the Cardboard Entrepreneurs in your organization lately?

Cardboard Entrepreneurs are everywhere, but maybe your budgeting process is hiding them or discouraging them. Is there an idea sitting on your desk that you would love to do but only have 5% of  the budget you need to do it?  Think through the core idea and then challenge yourself – can I change the world with cardboard, scissors and string?

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12 Responses to Cardboard Creativity…
Making Do While Making Great

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Fred, Great question! We do live in a smoke and mirrors world, don’t we? Fancy sets and special effects can’t make up for a dumb story ineptly told. Same goes for sales and marketing (can you tell I’m a content guy?). Remember the movie “My Dinner with Andre”? Two men in a restaurant, talking. Fascinating movie, and nobody got blown up or thrown off a cliff.

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..How Important Is Google PageRank?

  2. Terry Heath says:

    I think one you could print bumper stickers that say, “Embrace the Cardboard.”

    This theatre production wore their budget shortcomings like a badge. In doing so, we the audience expect they must be creative and they will be innovative. We go into the production with a set of expectations, all based on knowing there isn’t going to be elaborate scenery. On some level we already know necessity is the mother of invention.

    They’re not apologizing for the cardboard, they’re embracing it. If we had all the resources, the things we accomplish would not be remarkable. In not having them, but producing anyway, we are showing our creativity and our dedication. Those are not qualities to hide under a bushel!

    Terry Heath’s last blog post..SEO Benefits of Adding a Blog

  3. Andrew says:


    In terms of resources, it’s not what you have, but what you do with what you have which counts, and I can only imagine that it must have been a true pleasure for you as a parent to see the creativity of your (adult) child and his or her peers in action.

    Andrew’s last blog post..What I learned from almost being mugged

  4. Can’t agree with you more Brad, although I am guilty of loving my Lord of the Rings movies.

  5. “Embrace the Cardboard” Terry, that sounds zen enough to get a following. I also think it builds confidence to rely on yourself, trust yourself and take bigger risks! I’m going to pass this on to the gang at IU.

  6. Thank you for your comment Andrew. It certainly was a pleasure seeing the group perform. Since my kids are always young in my mind, it always amazes me to see the wonderful things they and their friends can create.

  7. Fred,
    How delightful. Bravo to them. Limited choice or resources actually increases creativity. I love Terry’s “Embrace the Cardboard”. I’ve actually designed whole blocks of projects based on recycling materials, or using found objects for the activity at hand. Simple materials, but really good studio practices. Besides being way fun, I got notes of thanks after for “making art accessible”, or “thanks now I know I can make art out of anything”…and that just made my day.

    When you shift focus away from the results and onto process, huge possibilities appear. And that is rich in my book.

    Thanks for stopping by so I come come over here and read about the cardboard theatre. It had to be a fun night.

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..Being Present

  8. Hi Janice – It was a great night. Neat how folks responded to your recycled/found objects projects. I wonder how many are taught that only specific tools deliver art, rather than opening up the creative spigot to all that is around us.

    I enjoyed your post and the ‘creative destruction’ project you described. Glad you had time to take a peek over here.

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