Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is taking on a new form this week at the University of Chicago, thanks to an alumni-led performance collective that turns shadow puppetry into a cinematic experience.
Manual Cinema’s production, which premieres Nov. 1 at Court Theatre, reinterprets the monster classic with projectors and silhouettes—allowing viewers to see the story on screen, but without hiding the puppeteers or musicians behind the action.
“A lot of theater and film guides your eye, telling you exactly where to look,” said Drew Dir, one of Manual Cinema’s co-artistic directors. “We give the audience the choice to curate their experience as they watch.”
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 also taught as adjunct faculty. The company was co-founded in 2010 by Dir and Sarah Fornace, both AB’07; Ben Kauffman, AB’09; Julia Miller; and Kyle Vegter.
“Julia Miller got everyone together the first time to do a short shadow-puppet piece,” Dir said. “All of us had little to no experience. The first couple of years of working in the medium were about discovery.”
Similar to the rest of its immersive work, Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein—working from a 250-page set of storyboards rather than a traditional script drawn from Shelley’s 1818 novel—blends shadow puppetry, antique cinematic styles, original music and live sound, vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens around a central “cinema” image, actors, live-feed cameras and a live music ensemble.