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Interview: The team from Cardboard Citizens talk to Run Riot ahead of their latest work at the Ensemble Festival at London's Docklands

Image: Cardboard Citizens, photo by Ike Laseiende.

Ensemble Festival returns to London’s Royal Docks on the 20 & 21 July. Produced by East London arts development organisation Certain Blacks, Ensemble once again presents an action-packed programme of circus, street theatre, live music, spoken word, dance and more. Ensemble Festival is completely free to the public.

Renowned theatre company Cardboard Citizens open Saturday’s festival with their youth programme Cardboard Collective Aged from 16 to 25, the young artists either have lived experience of homelessness and poverty or are at risk. Their performances are a result of attending workshops over the course of a year, honing their talents and developing their skills. With music and spoken word taking centre stage, we spoke to Cardboard Citizens Artistic Director Chris Sonnex, the organisation’s Youth Engagement Manager Aliyah Forde plus Cardboard Collective members and artists 4Indika and Edan to find out more.

Run Riot: Cardboard Citizens has been making theatre with and for homeless people for over 25 years. What can you tell us about Cardboard Collective? How did this strand of the company begin and how is it going?

Chris Sonnex:
We set out to enable art to be accessed by people that don’t readily have that access at the fingertips. A music programme seemed to be the best way to do it. Obviously, we are more known for theatre, but even though most art is massively inaccessible for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, music’s draw is a little more open. Most people are drawn to it. To me all art is important, there’s a reason that access to culture is in the human rights act, so theatre company’s need to do as much as they can to attract the people that are under served by the arts, even if that means reaching out and talking about other art forms. All art has an audience after all. we obviously want to facilitate as many artists but we want to show of there are also other brilliant careers in art that make a living behind the scenes. Cardboard collective is an offering of possibility and hope for the next generation.

Aliyah: It’s our new boundary-breaking programme for young people 16-25, focusing on music and Live Events. We are in our second year, continuing to create magic.

Edan: It’s A safe space, I feel comfortable, sharing and showing my music.

4Indika: Cardboard Collective to me, is a place, it’s a space more than a place, to socialise with likeminded people and pursue being the artist I’d like to be.  This is a place I don’t have outside of this space.

Run Riot: What can audiences expect to at Ensemble Festival 2024? Tell us about the artists taking part.

Expect a great lineup from our unheard artists, sharing new music from alternative R’n’B to alternative pop.
Edan: Expect honesty in my music, its authentic and vulnerable.

4Indika: Expect giggles and entertainment.

Aliyah: Our lineup includes, 4Indika, Edan, Wednesday Spears, Joel Jack, Charlie Rose.

Run Riot: Is there a host?

Our Collective Artists will be presented by 2 of our live event associates; Alex and Beyonce, who have spent the last 10 weeks learning all things event production – including producing and hosting. They will certainly aim to get the crowd involved.

Run Riot: Did any of Cardboard Collective start with no previous experience? Also, since they have been involved, have any of them excelled in their artistry beyond their wildest dreams?

Our artists come to us at different levels in their journey, some with experience and some without – that’s what’s great about the programme we welcome everyone no matter where you are on your journey.

Edan: I’ve always sung, I always wrote music but Cardboard Collective has helped me figure out who I am as an artist, given and helped gain confidence in how to be an artist.

4Indika: I’ve had experience performing and singing but this has contributed to my artistry, made me focus more, given me confidence to do it and to tell me that I can.

Run Riot: Who are the key mentors?

We’ve worked with some incredible industry professionals who have guided our Collective young people. A big thank you to Wolfie (check her out) and Dan Tsu (Lyrix Organix) and the Beat Bank.

Chris: I think it’s important to big up Carboard Citizens staff here. We work in a trauma - informed way and make sure that we are careful to be holistically supportive and inspiring. Aliyah Forde , Arjun Singh Sodhi, Rachel Angeli and Clare Robertson, have been people i think the young people can look up to and aspire to be.

Run Riot: Have Cardboard Collective performed at any interesting places so far and are there any notable collaborators?

Cardboard Collective have previously performed at Rich Mix, as part of a takeover, The World Heartbeat Music Academy, Hoxton Hall and now with Certain Blacks at the Ensemble Festival.

It takes creative organisations like Certain Blacks to collaborate with us and help provide additional platforms for our artists to share their work”.

Run Riot: Do you (all) feel that a programme like Cardboard Collective can enable confidence and positivity? Being a professional artist can be a tough career choice, but do you think young people can use creativity and performance skills to help their lives in multiple ways?

: There are lots of skills you can learn in Cardboard Collective; social, confidence and I think there’s a lot of things you can take from creative spaces and put them in real life.

4Indika: Performance skills yes! Performing in front of a crowd and people can help with nerves, and to play with the performances that you need to do.

Chris: Art is where you get to express yourself, have your voice heard. Often lack of confidence comes from the idea that you don’t have anything to say or more precisely that no one cares what you have to say. This is a pandemic with young people, but also anyone that isn’t cishet, straight, white and from more affluent backgrounds. Society has facilitated a place with self-doubt thrives in people that experience poverty and inequity. Cardboard Collective is a way to enable people to say I am here and my life is important you will listen.
For more information about Certain Blacks Ensemble Festival 2024 on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 July, please visit
For more information about Cardboard Citizens please visit

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