Shadow Puppetry in the Modern Age

No longer does a shadow puppet show consist of your friends making barking dogs, snapping alligators and soaring birds. That's kid stuff compared to what Manual Cinema, a contemporary Chicago based group of shadow puppeteers, can do. So far, this barely one-year-old baby of a company has already completed: a performance, Study in Forgetting #3, featured as part of Collaboraction’s Sketchbook Festival, a short teleplay, Nauct Und Traume, adapted to incorporate live action/shadow puppetry for Link’s Hall Puppet Cabaret and The Ballad of Lula Del Ray, which was built and rehearsed in the incredibly short time span of three weeks.
Manual Cinema was formed when puppeteer Julia Miller was developing Ballad and Drew Dir filled an open position. Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman from the band Oh+Ah were contacted to provide music for the performance and after its success, the four fused to create the company. After its formation, another puppeteer was hired on, Sarah Forace to make the impressive five team company that is Manual Cinema.

For those of you who are wondering how these shows really work, I had the pleasure of asking Drew Dir some questions about their process and he sums it up best! Drew explains, “All the puppets are moved by hand. They're hand-cut from paper and manipulated on overhead projectors. The music is typically live-mixed by Kyle and Ben, though for our next show Ada/Ava, Kyle and Ben are going to perform live with us.”

Ada/Ava is the newest project from Manual Cinema and is being performed at The Charnel House, running from July 28-31. Tickets are only $10 so go check it out!

As you all know by now, the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival is July 29-31, and while Manual Cinema will be showing Ada/Ava, they will also be contributing to the vibrant collection of art and performance to be showcased at the festival. The group will be working with a much bigger canvas this time, using seven projectors and six puppeteers, as their screen will be the Hairpin Lofts. Don't know what that is yet? Well, the Hairpin Lofts (at the corner of Milwaukee, Kimball and Diversey) are being transformed into the new Logan Square Arts Center, which will be our neighborhood's 8,000 sq. foot multi-arts space complete with businesses in the first floor and artist lofts above. Drew explains that they want to use the architecture of the building to help tell a story, especially with use of the many windows that wrap around the building. Drew says, “It'll be the kind of installation where you can walk by and admire the images we're producing in the windows, or you can stay a little longer and see a story begin to emerge.”

Can't wait to see them in action? Well, neither can we! And it's only about two weeks away, so mark those calendars! Come on down to the festival and see what Manual Cinema has in store for us, and then mosey on down to The Charnel House to Ada/Ava.

What's in store for the company as the year progresses? Word on the street is that in addition to collaborating with the Chicago Q Ensemble, they will also be composing a show from the poetry of Zachary Schomberg (he's one of my all time favorites!), so stay tuned.

I'll leave you all with an inspiring quote from Drew Dir, “This past year has been all about learning our craft and pushing the medium to experiment with just how much story we can tell with shadow puppetry. It's a very limited medium, but those limitations can be creatively liberating.”

What:   Ada/Ava
Where: The Charnel House, 3421 West Fullerton Avenue
When:  July 28-31
Cost:   $10 tickets here

And don't forget to check out Manual Cinema at MAAF @ Hairpin Lofts -corner of Milwaukee/Kimball/Diversey
July 29-31

-Alex Palmer


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