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Manual Cinema
Mementos Mori

Jan 15–18, 2015

Presented as part of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Their works completely reenchant me with the moving image.
Chicago Reader

This endlessly inventive group of Chicago artists use disarmingly simple tools—live music, paper puppets, overhead projectors—to tell transformative stories. Their enchanting works unsettle the boundaries between cinema and theater.

With Mementos Mori, their new feature-length performance of cinematic shadow puppetry, they offer a beguiling meditation on how digital culture is changing our relationship to death and dying. Shadow puppets interact with live actors in silhouette, while a chamber ensemble and video complete the immersive multimedia experience, imbuing the experience of attending a movie with a live theatrical immediacy.

Mementos Mori weaves together three interrelated stories about death and technology. After she steals a pocket watch from a mysterious visitor, five-year-old Melba sees visions of dying birds. A washed-up TV host with heart problems, Mel finds unexpected romance in the arms of a bewitching stranger. And a bike messenger, Marie, delivers her final package from limbo.

Mementos Mori was commissioned by the MCA and the company and has been provided an eight-day production residency at the MCA that culminates on August 19 with a work-in-progress open to the public.

Running time: 90 minutes

Artists Up Close

MCA Studio
Manual Cinema, Open Doors
Wed, Jan 14, 2–4 pm

Museum visitors are invited to quietly come and go from the theater to observe the artists working on the production.

MCA Talk
Thu, Jan 15, postshow

Audience members are invited to stay at the end of the performance for a conversation with the artists, moderated by Peter Taub.

About the Artists

The multidisciplinary ensemble members of Manual Cinema combine their varied backgrounds in theater, visual arts, and music. Five Chicago artists formed Manual Cinema in 2010, using handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic motifs, and live sound manipulation to tell theatrical stories. The company has performed in Chicago at the MCA, Links Hall, and the Hideout, and nationally at the New York International Fringe Festival and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others. Manual Cinema has also held residencies and taught at the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Manual Cinema comprises a visual team—Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace and Julia Miller—and a sound/music team—Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter. Dir has worked as a puppeteer, playwright, and director in Chicago and London. He is the resident dramaturge at Court Theatre and a lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fornace is a choreographer, performer, and narrative theorist who has performed with Redmoon, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Collaboraction, and Babes with Blades. She teaches movement at Columbia College Chicago. An artist, musician, and producer, Kauffman works at Engine Studios and performs live in venues across Chicago. Miller is a director, performer, puppeteer, choreographer, and graphic designer who curates puppet cabaret at Links Hall and is a member of Blair Thomas & Co. Vegter is a sound artist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. A composer of new electronic art music, he is a member of the experimental sound collective oh+ah.

Learn more about Manual Cinema here.


Manual Cinema: Mementos Mori is developed in part through the MCA Stage New Works Initiative, with lead support from Elizabeth A. Liebman. The MCA Stage presentation is generously supported by Lois Eisen.