MANUAL CINEMA combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic motifs, and live sound manipulation to create immersive theatrical stories. Using overhead projectors, multiple screens, paper puppets, actors, live feed cameras, and a live band, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality. They aim to combine the lightness of film with the heaviness of theater. Manual Cinema translates cinematic language into analogue shadow puppetry, emulating montage, camera movement, and depth of field using handmade visual effects. Inspired by early cinema, stories are conveyed without dialogue, relying instead on rich, multi-channel sound design and live music.
Manual Cinema was founded in 2010 by five Chicago artists with diverse backgrounds in theatre, visual arts, music, and sound art. They have created two feature length live cinematic shadow puppet shows; site-specific installations; music videos for Sony Masterworks, Gabriel Kahane, and eighth blackbird; cinematic trailers; a collection of shorts in collaboration with poet Zachary Schomburg and string quartet Chicago Q Ensemble; and live cinematic puppet adaptations of StoryCorps stories.
Manual Cinema’s work has been presented at The Tehran International Puppet Festival, X Fest at SIUE, Handmade Worlds Puppet Festival, The Screenwriters’ Colony in Nantucket, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Future of Storytelling Conference NYC, the NYC Fringe Festival, The Poetry Foundation, The University of Chicago, Hideout Chicago, the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival, the Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, and elsewhere.
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. In 2013 Manual Cinema has held residencies and taught workshops at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, The Future of Storytelling Conference, NYC, RCAH at Michigan State University, and Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution in Swarthmore, PA, Southern Illinoise University, and the Chicago Park District.
Currently, they are developing Mementos Mori, a multi-character live feature performed with three screens, to premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in January 2015. They are also creating two short films (one based on a Virginia Woolf short story and one based on ecological/meteorological research) and working with Opera Erratica (London) to create a video/sound installation based on La Celestina designed for the windows in the Velez Blanco patio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in March 2015.
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 Soliel’s artist database. She currently teaches movement at Columbia College Chicago.
BEN KAUFFMAN is an artist, musician, and producer with many identities. He composes, sings and programs under the name Lawnmower, plays guitar in the sound collective oh+ah, and has been involved in a number of studio projects as an engineer or producer.
Since graduating from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, Ben has made Chicago his home and can be found working at Engine Studios in Wicker Park, performing live at venues across the city, or huddled over his drum machine. Above all, he is driven by the mystery of creative and collaborative work.
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+.
LIZI BREIT (Puppeteer, ADA|AVA, Fjords, Lula del Ray, Show & Tell) is a puppeteer, designer, printmaker and comic artist living in Chicago. Since graduating from SAIC in 2010 she has designed and/or performed puppets with various theatre companies in the city, including Blair Thomas & Co, The House Theatre and Dog & Pony Theatre Co.
MAREN CELEST (Sound and Vocals, ADA|AVA, Lula del Ray, Show & Tell, Mementos Mori) is a multimedia artist, burrito lover and vagabond collaborator. Originally from middle-of-nowhere, Michigan, she has attended school in London and lived in Oakland, CA and Chicago, IL, released two full-length albums and a 7″ EP in the Photographers, has had photographs published internationally (Levi’s, CZE Magazine, Hope & Anchor’s Paris Exhibit, Firehouse Collective Exhibit, etc), nurtures an on-going solo project and is working towards combining her passions in motion picture.
MICHAEL HILGER (Guitar, Vocals, Percussion, Lula del Ray, ADA|AVA, Show & Tell) is a musician and artist living in Chicago. Most recently he has worked as a sound designer for Redmoon Theater’s 2012 Youth Spectacle and can be found singing, playing guitar and synthesizer in the local experimental pop group, THIN HYMNS.
JACOB WINCHESTER (Guitar, Bass, Autoharp, Lula del Ray, Show & Tell) is a multi-instrumentalist, writer/poet, and proficient Swedish speaker. After studying English and Scandinavian languages at the University of Minnesota, Uppsala University and the University of Iceland, he relocated to Chicago in order to pursue his dream of becoming an artisanal hummus entrepreneur whose face would be featured regularly on 3 a.m. public access television commercials. He has also acted in several films by director Mel Gonzalez including Dal Niente, which was accepted into the Chicago Underground Film Festival, and Vetting Wail. His poems can be found in Love is the Law magazine and various smaller publications.
KATHERINE GREENLEAF (Puppet Build and Production Assistant, Lula del ray, ADA|AVA) is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago in Theater and Performance Studies. She has worked with Steep, About Face, American Theater Company, Chicago Dramatists, Lifeline, and Mary Arrchie, and interned at Court and the MCA. Katherine is interested in film and photographs as physical objects. She loves her Kodachrome collection, and is working on a project about storytelling within families.
SAM DEUTSCH (Puppeteer, Lula del Ray, ADA|AVA) is a puppet guy around town. He was a fish, and a dog, and he likes small things.
IZZY OLIVE (Sound Design Intern, ADA|AVA)
ERIC STREICHERT (Percussion, Fjords)
MYRA SU (Build Intern, ADA|AVA, Puppeteer, Show & Tell, Mementos Mori)