Manual Cinema: Mementos Mori

This endlessly inventive group of Chicago artists uses disarmingly simple tools—live music, paper puppets, overhead projectors—to tell transformative stories. Their new feature-length performance of cinematic shadow puppetry offers a beguiling meditation on how digital culture is changing our relationship to death and dying.

Julie Miller: A Manual Cinema show is kind of like a combination of seeing a movie and also seeing a play.

Drew Dir: Manual Cinema is a Chicago-based multimedia theater and performance company. These are the old-school overhead projectors you had in your elementary school and we use hundreds of shadow puppets to create feature-length stories that are told entirely through sound and music and imagery.

Sarah Fornace: We use overhead projectors and humans and silhouettes and a band with a quadrophonic sound system to to create an experience that feels like being at an animated movie. However, you’re seeing everything being constructed frame by frame and note by note in front of you.

JM: We work in a way that kind of combines classic staging of theater but also animation in the way that animators work.

Kyle Vegter: It’s the first story that we’ve cowritten so we, the five artistic directors wrote it together. My job is to take a 2D puppet and sort of make it real and living and breathing.

SF: One of the most exciting parts about our MCA residency

is just the enormous stage space that we have access to here, so this is actually the first time we’ve set up this show because it’s simply too big for our studio.

DD: You’re constantly failing actually but that experience of constantly failing and discovering more things about the medium and pushing through and making new discoveries is what makes the work really rewarding and four years on we’re still learning so much about cinematic shadow puppetry that it’s exhilarating to work in a medium that gives back and that teaches you so much constantly.