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2018/2019 Tour Dates
St. Catherine University- The O'Shaughnessy
The End Of TV
|Saint Paul, MN|
St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
The End Of TV
Wed & Th,
Oct 10 & 11
Open Spaces Kansas City
The End Of TV
|Kansas City, MO|
Green Music Center
The End Of TV
|Weill Hall, Rohnert Park, CA|
Nov 1-Dec 2
No Blue Memories
Tues & Wed
Dec 11 & 12
The Magic City
Please check back soon for newly announced tour dates!
“Lula del Ray, a Spectral Parade of Fantastical Images”
– Ben Brantley, New York Times
Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava was nominated for a 2016 Drama Desk Award in the category of Unique Theatrical Experience! Visit the Drama Desk Awards website for video.
“an unclassifiable story of spectral beauty”
– Ben Brantley, New York Times
“The virtuosic group makes elegant live-scored “silent films” that evoke sweetness, poignancy and fright.”
– Helen Shaw, Time Out New York
“I feel like I’m not doing justice to explaining how magical this all was . . . unimaginably intricate”
– Loren Novek, NY Theatre.com
full article (PDF)
“. . .the boundaries between cinema and live theater, puppetry and reality”
– Meagan Doherty, The University of Chicago Magazine
“Calling Manual Cinema ‘shadow puppetry’ doesn’t do it justice.”
– Ashira Norris, PBS News Hour
“It’s with these simple tools – paper, plastic and light – that Chicago-based Manual Cinema, a shadow puppet company, manages to create a world that makes the absence of light look alive.”
– Wilson Sayre, WLRN
“The troupe’s shadow puppetry ‘combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic motifs, and live sound manipulation to create immersive theatrical stories,’… in a style that would be familiar to devotees of early cinema.”
– David Leveille, Public Radio International
- My Soul's Shadow
- Mementos Mori
- Lula del Ray
- Photo Booth
- The Magic City
- The End of TV
- No Blue Memories
- The Forger
Bereaved of her twin sister Ava, septuagenarian Ada solitarily marks time in the patterns of a life built for two. However, a traveling carnival and a trip to a mirror maze plunges her into a journey across the thresholds of life and death. Set in a landscape of the New England gothic, Ada/Ava uses a story of the fantastic and super natural to explore mourning and melancholy, self and other.
Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in the category of Unique Theatrical Experience: Visit the Drama Desk Awards website for video.
A note from Drew Dir, the Director of Ada/Ava:
“Ada/Ava is a psychological thriller along the lines of Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo,’ but it was inspired by the personal experience of witnessing my grandfather’s mourning process after my grandmother’s death, and seeing how his grief was expressed in small acts of daily routine. In creating the show, we discovered that by making the story about identical twins, we could communicate so much about their relationship through shadow without having to use a word of dialogue. The result is partly a ghost story and suspense thriller, but also a very personal portrait of these two characters, Ada and Ava.
“There are nearly three hundred handmade shadow puppets featured in Ada/Ava. They are manipulated on old-school overhead projectors to create what is essentially a live animated film. There’s no dialogue; instead, the projections are supported by an original musical score that is performed live by an ensemble of musicians. We’ve toured Ada/Ava from New York to Tehran, and are thrilled to be bringing it to the Edinburgh Fringe via the Underbelly in August, 2016”
Manual Cinema’s My Soul’s Shadow is a cinematic shadow puppet installation based on the poetry of Federico García Lorca. The shadow projections are created using six overhead projectors, five puppeteers, two screens, and dozens of handmade paper shadow puppets. Original music by Kyle Vegter is performed live by a chamber ensemble. The installation includes the text of the poems that are turned into moving images in the performance.
My Soul’s Shadow loosely adapts imagery, themes, and characters from Lorca’s poetry, dividing his body of work into three acts. The first act is based on poems Lorca wrote early in his career in Granada and Madrid; many of these poems take inspiration from Spanish folk tradition, and are steeped in nature imagery, as well as portraits of Granada’s gypsy community. The second act is based on poems Lorca wrote while visiting New York City, and the third is based on The Divan Tamarit, which Lorca wrote near the end of his life, and which takes inspiration from the Arab-Andalusian poetic tradition. The performance of My Soul’s Shadow is bookended by the character of Lorca himself, and is based on biographical details of his life, including his ultimate imprisonment and assassination at the hands of Nationalist militia in the early days of the Spanish Civil War.
Developed in workshop residencies at both the MCA and the University of Chicago, Mementos Mori is a feature-length, multi-character journey that explores digital culture, death, childhood, and our relationship to the movies using hundreds of paper shadow puppets, overhead projectors, actors in silhouette, immersive sound and live chamber music. Despite its simple, handmade materials, Mementos Mori deals with mature and complex themes and is intended for adults and mature teens.
The story of Mementos Mori, written by Manual Cinema’s artistic directors, draws its inspiration from myriad films ranging from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. A bike messenger learns of her own death in a car accident by way of Facebook; an elderly film projectionist exchanges his sick, analogue heart for a digital one; and seven-year-old Melba is awakened to the fact of her own mortality when she steals a pocket watch belonging to Death herself. A handmade love letter to the cinema, Mementos Mori imbues the experiencing of attending a movie with live, theatrical immediacy.
Lula del Ray is performed with overhead projectors, shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music. Told almost entirely sans dialogue, Lula del Ray is the story of a lonely adolescent girl who lives with her mother on the outskirts of a vast satellite array in the middle of the desert. After a chance encounter over the radio, Lula becomes obsessed with a soulful country music duo, the Baden Brothers. Inspired by their music, she runs away from home and into a world of danger, deception, and disappointment.
Set in the mid-century American Southwest and inspired by the music of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and Patsy Cline, Lula del Ray is a mythic reinvention of the classic coming-of-age story. Lula del Ray was developed at the University of Chicago in the Theater and Performance Studies Program where Manual Cinema served as Ensemble-in-Residence in the Summer and Fall of 2012.
Manual Cinema’s Photo Booth is available as a participatory addition to your future event programming. Perfect for celebratory gatherings, Manual Cinema’s Photo Booth captures the moment in a beautifully designed and interactive way. Manual Cinema’s Photo Booth is an interactive photo booth and art installation. It captures the silhouettes and profiles of your guests in a ‘cameo’ style. Attendees are able to mix and match their own settings and backgrounds, then jump inside the image for their photo. The image is then captured digitally and given in an electronic format (via Dropbox or hard copy DVD) to the host after the event.
Loosely adapted from Edith Nesbit’s 1910 novel, Manual Cinema’s The Magic City tells the story of nine-year-old Philomena, who must learn to build a new life with some unexpected characters. Using overhead projectors, paper shadow puppets, live actors in silhouette, a live music ensemble, and miniature toy theatre, Manual Cinema’s adaptation of “Magic City” has updated the novel for a modern retelling, creating a miniature city on stage that the audience can explore themselves after every performance.
Set in a post-industrial Rust Belt city in the 1990s and told through a collection of original 70’s R&B-inspired art pop songs, The End of TV explores the quest to find meaning amongst the increasingly constant barrage of commercial images and advertising white-noise. Two sides of the American Dream — its technicolor promise as delivered through TV ads, and its failure, witnessed in the dark reality of industrial decline — are staged in cinematic shadow puppetry and lo-fi live video feeds with flat paper renderings of commercial products. The show is driven by a sweeping chamber art pop song cycle performed live by a seven-piece band.
The End of TV depicts the decline of an American rust belt city through the stories of Flo and Louise, both residents of a fictional Midwestern town. Flo is an elderly white woman who was once a supervisor at the thriving local auto plant; now succumbing to dementia, her memories of her life are tangled with television commercials and the “call now” demands of QVC. Louise, a young black woman laid off from her job when the same local auto plant closes, meets Flo when she takes a job as a Meals-on-Wheels driver. The two women begin an unlikely relationship as Flo approaches the end of her life and Louise prepares for the invention of a new one. Their story is intercut with commercials and TV programs that are the constant background of their environment. One hour in length, The End of TV is performed by 4 actor/puppeteers, 4 musicians, and 1 video/sound effects/singer, and tours will a total of 11 people.
Premiering June 19-22 at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, CT.
No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks is a new work by Manual Cinema. Celebrating the life and poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), No Blue Memories will feature a screenplay by Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall and with music by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods. The first African American to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, Brooks was known for her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of the 1960’s. No Blue Memories will be performed by Manual Cinema’s signature combination of shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music. Commissioned by the Poetry Foundation, No Blue Memories will premiere Nov 7-19, 2017 in Chicago at the Harold Washington Library Auditorium and is available for touring thereafter.
Manual Cinema worked in collaboration with the New York Times to create shadow animations and original music/ sound design for The Forger, a short film about the life and work of Adolfo Kaminsky- the famed Paris Forger that worked during WWII.
“How do you become a forger? Out of necessity and by chance,” says Adolfo Kaminsky. As a teenager, Kaminsky saved thousands of lives by forging passports to help children flee the Nazis. He spent his life helping others escape atrocities around the world.
This is the story of the secret life of Adolfo Kaminsky, a man who spent decades making fake passports so that people could cross borders and flee persecution.
The Forger has been nominated for a Peabody Award.
By Samantha Stark, Alexandra Garcia, Pamela Druckerman and Manual Cinema Studios.
Manual Cinema is a performance collective, design studio, and film/ video production company founded in 2010 by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller, and Kyle Vegter. Manual Cinema combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive stories for stage and screen. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality.
To date Manual Cinema has created three feature length live cinematic shadow puppet shows (Lula Del Ray, ADA/ AVA, Mementos Mori); site-specific installations (La Celestina, My Soul’s Shadow); music videos, cinematic trailers; short films; and live cinematic puppet adaptations of StoryCorps stories (Show & Tell). Their work has been commissioned by the Logan Square Arts Center, the University of Chicago, and eighth blackbird.
Manual Cinema’s work has been featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) The Tehran International Puppet Festival (Iran), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Noorderzon Festival (Netherlands), The O, Miami Poetry Festival, Handmade Worlds Puppet Festival (Minneapolis), The Screenwriters’ Colony in Nantucket, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Future of Storytelling Conference (NYC), the NYC Fringe Festival, The Poetry Foundation (Chicago), the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival, the Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, and elsewhere around the world, including various bars and found spaces around the city.
Drew Dir has worked as a puppeteer, playwright, dramaturg, and director in Chicago and London. Most recently, his short play The Lurker Radio Hour was voted Best Production at Collaboraction’s Sketchbook 8 at the Steppenwolf Garage; his Sketchbook plays have been called “daring” by the Chicago Tribune and “ballsy” by Time Out Chicago. He holds an MA in Text and Performance Studies from King’s College London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Currently, Drew is Resident Dramaturg at Court Theatre and a Lecturer in Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.
Sarah Fornace is a choreographer, performer, and narrative theorist based in Chicago. Her interests include: narrative structure, theories of time, non-verbal storytelling, spectacle, and interactions with (in)animate objects. She has choreographed fights and stunts for Depaul University, Court Theatre, Red Orchid Theatre, Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep. series, The New Colony, Adventure Stage, and elsewhere. She has performed with Redmoon, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Collaboraction, and Babes with Blades. Sarah has been a member of Blair Thomas and Company (puppetry) and Boum Twa (ladder acrobatics). She is also a member of Cirque du Soleil’s artist database. She currently teaches movement at Columbia College Chicago.
Ben Kauffman is a multi-disciplinary artist who creates installations, interactive media, video, and participatory environments. His most recent work has been exhibited at CUNY’s Baruch College and Freshkills Park on Staten Island, and he has given talks and workshops at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University, Baruch College, and Parsons The New School of Design. He is also the co-creator of the interactive web-based zine, SMOG. He holds a Master’s degree from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and is based in Brooklyn, NY.
Julia Miller specializes in the tactile and movement arts. She is a director, puppeteer, and graphic designer. Manual Cinema provides her with an outlet for many artistic impulses, including but not limited to breathing life into the inanimate, making delicate small things, and telling stories without words. She holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University and has studied professionally under Teatro Punto, Familie Flöz, and Double Edge Theatre.
Kyle Vegter is a composer, producer, sound designer, and Managing Artistic Director of Manual Cinema. As a composer he’s been commissioned by such groups as TIGUE, the Chicago Composer’s Orchestra, and Homeroom Chicago. His production credits span genres, and include recent releases by Thin Hymns, Spektral Quartet, Tim Munro (of eighth blackbird), and Color Card. His past Composer/ Sound Designer credits with Manual Cinema include Lula Del Ray, Ada/ Ava, FJORDS, and various other performance and video projects. He has been an artist in residence at High Concept Laboratories, and co-founded Chicago’s only contemporary classical music cassette label Parlour Tapes+.