The Shadow Knows: Manual Cinema's 'Ada/Ava' At Wesleyan

I first ran across Manual Cinema’s sui generis work last August at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was a piece of theatrical wonder, with its shadow puppetry combined with live music and performance, mixed with cinematic sweep.

The Chicago-based group will demonstrate its uncommon, expressionistic and slightly goth art form when it presents Ada/Ava at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts on Feb. 23.

But it’s not only in the telling but in the watching of how the art is being made that makes the storytelling so fascinating.

“We wanted to give the audience freedom of choice where to look,” says one of the five artistic directors of the company, Drew Dir. “It can either watch the big screen at the center of the stage or look at how the work is made by all of us below the screen, as we create all the images, sound and music. Going to a Manual Cinema show is like entering a dream a little bit — but we also let the audience in on the magic.”

The technique of shadows and silhouette also allows the team to treat the storytelling like it was cinema, changing locations, perspective and styles in a more imaginative way,” says Dir, who admits that he was the kid who ran the overhead projector in school.

“And because we deal with silhouettes and we don’t generally use language, there’s a universality that stirs audiences. There’s just something about shadows. It’s like being in a dream.”