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Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular!

About the shows :
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.

All four shows will be free to enjoy at . 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.

Here’s more information about the four shows in Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular! :

Lula Del Ray (2012)
July 27-August 3

“A Spectral Parade of Fantastical Images”
- Ben Brantley, New York Times Critic’s Pick, Under the Radar Festival, January 2017
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  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.

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. It was an Official Selection, Chicago International Movies and Music Festival in 2013, honored for Overall Excellence, Puppetry, in the 2013 New York International Festival, and was an Official Selection at the 2017 Under the Radar Festival.

Credits: Conceived by Julia Miller . Based on original text by Brendan Hill . Designed and Directed by Drew Dir , Sarah Fornace , and Julia Miller . Original Sound Design by Kyle Vegter with Ben Kauffman . Original Score by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman with Maren Celest , Michael Hilger , and Jacob Winchester . Mask Design by Julia Miller .

Lula Del Ray was filmed in 2016 at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch, New Jersey. The cast featured in this recording includes Sam Deutsch (Puppeteer), Drew Dir (Puppeteer), Sarah Fornace (Lula del Ray/Puppeteer), Julia Miller (Lula’s Mother/Puppeteer), Maren Celest (Live Sound Effects, Vocals), Michael Hilger (Guitar, Percussion, Vocals), Ben Kauffman (Guitar, Bass) and Kyle Vegter (Cello, Vocals).

“Lula Del Ray shattered the perceptions of what theatre should and can be.”
- Alicia Kort, Paste Magazine , Under the Radar Festival, January 2017

“…a talented cast and crew using inventive storytelling techniques elevates this show to being a unique experience that you should not miss.”
- Scotty Zacher, Chicago Theatre Beat

“Manual Cinema presents a far more visually and aurally engaging (and emotionally subtle) exploration of loneliness, femininity, and the iconography of 1950s/1960s Americana.”
- Jason Prechtel, Gapers Block

The End of TV (2017)
August 3-10

“Puppets, green screens: How did Manual Cinema become the toughest ticket in Wicker Park?”
- Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune , August 2018
Sample images from Manual Cinema's The End of TV.

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 five-piece band.

The End of TV depicts the promise and decline of the American rust belt through the stories of Flo and Louise, both residents of a fictional midwestern city. Flo is an elderly white woman who was once a supervisor at the thriving local auto plant. Now succumbing to dementia, the 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 after she takes a job as a Meals-on-Wheels driver. An unlikely relationship grows 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, the constant background of their environment.

The End of TV premiered in June 2017 as a commission by The International Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven, CT, followed by a sold-out, self-produced run at Chicago’s Chopin Theatre in summer 2018. The production was made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theater Project, with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The End of TV received ArtsEmeron’s 2019 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Design, Visiting or Large Theatre.

Credits: Screenplay by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman . Direction and Storyboards by Julia Miller . Adapted for the screen by Lizi Breit , Drew Dir , Sarah Fornace , Julia Miller , Ben Kauffm an and Kyle Vegter . Music and Lyrics by Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter . Sound Design by K yle Vegter . Puppet Design by Lizi Breit . Drew Dir is Associate Puppet Designer and Storyboard Artist. Assistant Director is Sarah Fornace . Costumes and Wigs by Mieka van der Ploeg . Lighting Design by Claire Ch rzan. Masks by Julia Miller . Stage Manager is Shelby Glasgow . Production Manager is Mike Usrey . Puppet build interns are Zofia Lu Ya Zhang and Kathryn Ann Shivak .

The End of TV was filmed in 2018 at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago. The cast featured in this recording includes Kara Davidson (Flo/Puppeteer), Aneisa Hicks (Louise/Puppeteer), Jeffrey Paschal (Ensemble/Puppeteer), Vanessa Valliere (Ensemble/Puppeteer), Maren Celest (Vocals, Live Sound FX, Live Video Mixing), Deidre Huckabay (Flutes, Vocals), Ben Kauffman (Vocals, Guitar, Keyboard), Lia Kohl (Cello, Vocals), Kai Black (Drums), Marques Toliver (Vocals, Violin) and Kyle Vegter (Bass).

“With puppets, projections and a Rust Belt story, Manual Cinema works magic”
 - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune  The End of TV, July 2018

 “The End of TV’s artistry is awesome. Its impact is profound, unique, indescribable.”
 - Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant, June 2017

”a fascinating theatergoing experience blending live music, old TV video clips and shadow puppetry”
- E. Kyle Minor, New Haven Register , June 2017

 “the audience gets to experience…a moment of live artistic creation, playing out on the stage in front of them, with little to hide and lots to show” 
 - Thomas Breen, New Haven Independent , June 2017

 “akin to a behind-the-scenes look of the making of a movie, with the film itself made in real time”
 - Elena Goukassian, Hyperallergic , July 2017

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
August 10-17

“You’ve Never Seen Gwendolyn Brooks Like This Before”
- Adam Morgan, Chicago Magazine, November 2017
Sample images from Manual Cinema's No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks  brings to life the true story of one of the city’s most beloved figures by combining intricate paper puppetry, live actors working in shadow, and an original score for an unforgettable multi-media experience.

The first lady of Chicago poetry, Gwendolyn Brooks was an icon, a poet laureate, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. But she was also a treasured educator and mentor to the countless writers and children who knew her as their very own “Miss Brooks.” Weaving together poetry, storytelling, sound design, original music, and striking visuals, No Blue Memories is an exploration of Brooks’s beloved city and a story of how she navigated identity, craft, and politics over the course of one of the most remarkable careers in American literary history.

No Blue Memories was commissioned in 2017 by the Poetry Foundation for the Brooks Centennial.

Credits: Written by Crescendo Literary ( Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall ). Directed by Sarah Fornace . Music composed by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods . Music Direction by Ayanna Woods . Storyboards by Drew Dir . Puppet Design by Drew Dir and Lizi Breit . Sound Design by Ben Kauffman . Costume and Wig Design by Mieka van der Ploeg . Lighting Design by Claire Chrzan . Sound Engineered by Mike Usrey and Kim Kozak . Production managed by Ben Kauffman and Julia Miller

No Blue Memories was filmed in 2017 at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. The cast featured in this recording includes Felix Mayes (Puppeteer), Jyreika Guest (Puppeteer), N. LaQuis Harkins (Gwendolyn Brooks/Puppeteer), Eunice Woods (Puppeteer), Rasaan Booker (Haki R. Madhubuti/Puppeteer), Kai Black (Drums), Alexis Lombre (Piano, Vocals), Ryan Nyther (Trumpet),
Randle Watson (Trumpet), Ayanna Woods (Bass, Vocals), Jamila Woods (Vocals, Guitar) and Ben Kauffman (Live Sound Effects).

“Manual Cinema turns Gwendolyn Brooks into poetry magic”
 - Aimee Levitt, Chicago Reader , November 2017

‘"No Blue Memories’ gives glimpse of Gwendolyn Brooks’ literary life, legacy”
- Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune , November 2017

Frankenstein (2018)
August 17-23

“A piece of theatre that is full of boundless imagination, ingenious technique and beautiful storytelling that packs an emotional punch . . . simply outstanding.”
- Elspeth Chapman, Fringe Review UK , August 2019
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 thrilling classic gothic tale about the horrors of creation weaves 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. In the end, Frankenstein exposes how the forces of family, community, and education shape personhood—or destroy it by their absence.

The Court Theatre commissioned and presented the premiere of Frankenstein in Chicago in November, 2018, with additional commissioning support provided by the University of California, Berkeley. Frankenstein was originally developed with The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Initiative in a research residency partnership with the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, with assistance from the Orchard Project, Ari Edelson, Artistic Director.

Frankenstein was the recipient of the 2018 Jim Henson Workshop Grant. Its Court Theatre debut captured five Jeff Award nominations, including new work, sound design, original music, puppet design and projection design. Frankenstein was subsequently presented by The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival (New York City) in January 2019. Its international debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival followed in August, 2019.

Credits: Adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley . Concept by Drew Dir . Devised by Drew Dir , Sarah Fornace and Julia Miller . Original Music by Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter . Storyboards by Drew Dir . Music and Sound Design by Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter . Shadow Puppet Design by Drew Dir with Lizi Breit . Projections and Scenic Design by Rasean Davonte Johnson . Costume and Wig Design by Mieka van der Ploeg . Lighting Design by Claire Chrzan . 3D Creature Puppet Design by Lizi Breit . Prop Design by Lara Musard . Production Stage Manager is  Erin Albrecht . Video Mixing and Live Sound Effects by Shelby Glasgow . Sound Engineered by Sadi Tremblay and Mike Usrey .

Frankenstein was filmed in 2019 at McEwan Hall at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The cast featured in this recording includes Sarah Fornace (Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley), Julia Miller (The Creature, Elizabeth Frankenstein), Leah Casey (Caroline Frankenstein, Percy Shelley, Vocals), Sara Sawicki (Alphonse Frankenstein, Lord Byron) and Myra Su (Ensemble). Musicians: Peter Ferry (percussion), Zachary Good (clarinets and aux percussion), Deidre Huckabay (flutes, aux percussion, piano) and Lia Kohl (cello, aux percussion, vocals).

“…an exquisitely stylized, self-contained reality that seems to belong both to the early 19th century, when Shelley’s novel was written, and to the dark corridors of its author’s imagination.”
- Ben Brantley,  The New York Times , January 2019

“an ingenious merger of live music and captivating visuals. No matter where you look, you’ll find beauty and intrigue.”
- Catey Sullivan, Chicago Sun-Times , November 2018

“a majestic accomplishment that boggles the mind.”
- Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre Review , November 2018

 “Highly recommended…a complex visual treat…impressive in scope and execution, entertaining, and (especially if you’ve never seen Manual Cinema before) absolutely fascinating to watch.”
 - Karen Topham,  Chicago On Stage , November 2018

Note: Mark your calendar for Manual Cinema's LIVE Tele-FUN-draiser World Premiere Special , the culminating event of Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular! Saturday, August 22 at 8 p.m.

Manual Cinema’s fans, friends, funders and artists will gather online for a one-night-only retro variety show, including 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.

Visit for more information.

For the very latest updates, follow Manual Cinema on Facebook at , on Instagram at and on Twitter at @ManualCinema .
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.

For more information, visit , follow the company on Facebook at , on Instagram at and on Twitter @ManualCinema .

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Note: Manual Cinema's 10th Anniversary
Retrospectacular! is represented by
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