Shadow Puppets on the Silver Screen

I have a confession to make. By the time I’m done writing this I’ll probably have more than that, but I digress.

Here goes:  I have never seen a puppet theater show. I know, I know, it’s an art that’s alive and well, and … wait, you haven’t either? 

Well, get ready to be submersed in puppet theater art as Chicago is hosting its first International Puppet Theater Festival in January for ten straight days. Since we’ll be enduring subzero temperatures at that time, which is hard to imagine right now, what better opportunity do you have to traverse the city than taking in theater you’ve never experience?

This past Tuesday I attended a work-in-progress showing of Mementos Mori by Chicago’s own Manual Cinema at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). (Second and third confessions: I haven't been to the MCA in the 10+ years I’ve lived in Chicago and I didn’t know they had a theater for fabulous performances in theater, dance, film and music. Now we both know.

Manual Cinema was founded about four years ago by five Chicago artists all with backgrounds in theater, music, sound and visual arts. They are currently taking up residence at MCE to develop the show that will be presented during the puppet theater festival. 

I had no notion of what I was in for and by the time I left I felt like a child who’d been to the theater for the very first time.  My mind was expanded by the visual spectacle that unfolded before me. Imagine, if you will, seven overhead projectors (the kind used for snooze-inducing presentations in middle school), three screens on stage, live musicians, actors, and on-stage editing. The show will encompass three tangential story lines that are presented in analog and digital, 2-D and 3-D, all without a single word of dialog.

It employs early cinema techniques juxtaposed with modern technology.  Quite a bit went into the writing of the story line itself and how it should be presented, so that the end result is a tug at your heartstrings and identification with the characters, using shadow puppets and live actors.

January might seem eons away but mark your calendars for this city wide event. Manual Cinema’s production of Mementos Mori is the first of its kind especially on such a grand scale and you won’t want to miss it.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is January 16-25, 2015.

Photo by Jerry Schulman.

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