Manual Cinema, the Chicago-based performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company founded by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller, and Kyle Vegter, will celebrate the company’s 10th Anniversary with a four-week virtual celebration launching Monday, July 27 at Noon CST.
Titled Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular!, this month-long virtual birthday party will bring back four of the company’s most seminal shows from the past 10 years on multi-camera, high-definition video and in their entirety.
Today, Manual Cinema revealed its four-show, “best of” Retropectacular! line-up: Lula Del Ray (July 27-August 3), The End of TV (August 3-10), No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks (August 10-17) and Frankenstein (August 17-23).
All four shows will be free to enjoy at manualcinema.com/watch.
Each week’s show will be posted on Monday at noon, where it will be available for free, 24/7 on-demand viewing until the following Monday at noon, when it will be replaced with the next week’s show.
Each show will open with a personal introduction from one of the company’s five co-artistic directors, who will briefly introduce its place in Manual Cinema’s history. The streams also come with a suggested donation to Manual Cinema to compensate for lost touring income due to Covid-19.
In addition, live, online, virtual talkbacks reuniting each production’s creators, collaborators and fans are Saturday, August 1 for Lula Del Ray, Saturday, August 8 for The End of TV, Saturday, August 15 for No Blue Memories and Friday, August 21 for Frankenstein. Talkbacks start at 8 p.m. CST.
Mark your calendar for the culminating event of Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular!: Manual Cinema's LIVE Tele-FUN-draiser World Premiere Special, Saturday, August 22 at 8 p.m. CST.
Manual Cinema’s fans, friends, funders and artists will gather online for a one-night-only retro variety show. This live virtual celebration will be hosted by Manual Cinema’s Julia Miller, includes cameos by characters featured in past Manual Cinema productions, along with special guest artists like Myra Su, who will perform one of her unique shadow crankie pieces, and singer/songwriter/visual artist Maren Celest, who will share a musical set.
Climaxing this must-see event is the world premiere of a new, 15-minute work created and performed live by Manual Cinema’s five co-artistic directors featuring shadow puppetry, toy theater, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music. Again, donations will be encouraged to compensate for lost touring income due to Covid-19.
Visit manualcinema.com for more information about Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectular! and Manual Cinema's LIVE Tele-FUN-draiser World Premiere Special.
More about the four shows
Lula Del Ray
July 27-August 3
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. It tells a sweeping tale of a lonely adolescent girl who becomes obsessed with a country music duo and runs away from home on an epic journey to find them. Told almost entirely sans dialogue, this 2012 Manual Cinema classic is performed with overhead projectors, shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music. “A Spectral Parade of Fantastical Images” - New York Times
The End of TV
The End of TV explores the quest to find meaning amongst the increasingly constant barrage of commercial images and advertising white noise. Set in a post-industrial Rust Belt city in the 1990s, this 2017 production is staged in cinematic shadow puppetry and lo-fi live video feeds with flat paper renderings of commercial products, and driven by a 70’s inspired R&B-inspired art pop song cycle performed by a five-piece band. “With puppets, projections and a Rust Belt story, Manual Cinema works magic.” – Chicago Tribune
No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
No Blue Memories: The Story of Gwendolyn Brooks tells the true story of the first lady of Chicago poetry by combining intricate paper puppetry, live actors working in shadow, and an original score for an unforgettable multi-media experience. This 2017 Manual Cinema premiere was written by Crescendo Literary (Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall), and features music composed by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods. “You’ve Never Seen Gwendolyn Brooks Like This Before” - Chicago Magazine
Love, loss, and discovery merge in unexpected ways when Manual Cinema stitches together the classic story of Frankenstein with Mary Shelley’s own biography. This 2018 Court Theatre world premiere is a thrilling classic gothic tale about the horrors of creation, weaving together the stories of Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein, and his Monster using shadow puppetry, a 3D creature puppet, live actors in camera, live music, and percussive robots. “Full of boundless imagination, ingenious technique and beautiful storytelling that packs an emotional punch…simply outstanding.” - Fringe Review UK
Note: See this companion backgrounder for more details about each production.
More about Manual Cinema
The five founders and co-artistic directors of Manual Cinema are (standing, from left) Kyle Vegter, Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, (front, from left) Julia Miller and Ben Kauffman.
For 10 years now, Manual Cinema has been turning heads in Chicago and around the globe, combining handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive visual stories for stage and screen.
The Emmy Award winning performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company was founded in Chicago in 2010 by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller, and Kyle Vegter. 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 nine feature length live multimedia theater shows (Lula del Ray, ADA/ AVA, Fjords, Mementos Mori, My Soul’s Shadow, The Magic City, The End of TV, No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, and Frankenstein); a live cinematic contemporary dance show created for family audiences in collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance and the choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams (Mariko’s Magical Mix: A Dance Adventure); an original site-specific installation for the MET Museum (La Celestina); an original adaptation of Hansel & Gretel created for the Belgian Royal Opera; music videos for Sony Masterworks, Gabriel Kahane, three time GRAMMY Award-winning eighth blackbird, NYTimes Best Selling author Reif Larson and Grammy Award winning Esperanza Spalding; a live non-fiction piece for Pop-Up Magazine; a self-produced short film (Chicagoland); a museum exhibit created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum (The Secret Lives of Objects) a collection of cinematic shorts in collaboration with poet Zachary Schomburg and string quartet Chicago Q Ensemble (Fjords); live cinematic puppet adaptations of StoryCorps stories (Show & Tell) and NPR’s Invisibilia and four animated videos for the Poetry Foundation (We Real Cool, Poem, Three WWI Poems and Multitudes). Manual Cinema’s Emmy Award-winning collaboration with The New York Times (The Forger), was nominated for a documentary short Peabody Award and won 2nd prize in the World Press Photo 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest, Long Form.
Manual Cinema has been presented by, worked in collaboration with, or brought its work to: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), The Tehran International Puppet Festival (Iran), La Monnaie-De Munt (Brussels), Brooklyn Academy of Music (NYC), Underbelly (UK), Adelaide Festival (AU), The Avignon Off Festival (France), The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Saudi Arabia), Theatre World Festival Brno (Czechia), A Tarumba – Teatro de Marionetas (Portugal), The Chan Center for the Performing Arts (Bristish Columbia), The Kennedy Center (DC), The Kimmel Center (Philadelphia), 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, Arts Emerson (Boston), Yale Repertory Theatre, The Poetry Foundation (Chicago), The Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival, Pop-Up Magazine, The Chicago International Music and Movies Festival, The Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival (NYC), and elsewhere around the world.
Manual Cinema was ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago in the Theater and Performance Studies program in the fall of 2012, where they taught as adjunct faculty. They were an ensemble in residence at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in partnership with the Public Theatre in winter 2019. They lead the Catapult: Professional Training Workshop with the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival and the Poetry Foundation during spring 2018. Manual Cinema has taught workshops at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, The Future of Storytelling Conference (NYC), Stanford University, Yale University, Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, the Chicago Parks District, and many other theaters and universities around the country. The company offers extensive workshops and education opportunities as part of its touring engagements.
In Fall 2016, Manual Cinema contributed visuals, music, and sound design for an immersive adaptation of Peter Pan with producer Randy Weiner (Sleep No More, The Donkey Show, Queen of the Night) which premiered in Beijing in December 2016. The company was awarded an Emmy Award in 2017 for “The Forger,” a video created for The New York Times. In summer 2018 Manual Cinema premiered and self-produced a sold-out run of The End of TV at Chopin Theatre, which was quickly followed by its world premiere adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at Chicago’s Court Theatre. By year’s end, the Chicago Tribune named Manual Cinema Chicago Artists of the Year in 2018. Frankenstein subsequently had its New York City premiere in January, 2019 at The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival.
Current and upcoming projects include creating shadow animations for the film remake of Candyman debuting September 25, 2020, and a world premiere adaptation of two Mo Willems’ children’s books, Leonardo, the Terrible Monster and Sam, the Most Scaredy-cat Kid in the Whole World, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. followed by a Chicago premiere with Chicago Children’s Theatre.