Manual Cinema and Theater Oobleck animate at the Pivot Arts Festival

Two unique, dark and captivating shows are being performed at the Pivot Multi-Arts Festival through June 16, and they are conveniently paired together in as a single ticket. Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava and Theatre Oobleck’s Possession: Baudelaire in a Box, Episode #5 each utilize methods of manual animation giving both shows an old-school cinematic feel. This is appropriate since they are being performed in a space that once served as a production studio for Charlie Chaplin. If you appreciate meticulously choreographed visual effects and storytelling with macabre elements you need to see these shows.

Possession: Baudelaire in a Box, Episode #5

Theater Oobleck interprets the often dark poems of Baudelaire into songs performed by 5 singers and musicians. As each song is performed painted scrolls are manually cranked to reveal haunting images that correspond with the songs.

I do suggest you arrive on time mostly because it is good theatre etiquette but also because the first performer was my favorite. The woman, all bangs and glasses and so petite that her ukulele seemed of appropriate scale, has a coffee shop voice that draws out the dark humor of Baudelaire with its contrasting sweetness.

(Sadly no program was provided, so I do not know the performers’ names.)


Manual Cinema Ada/Ava
Manual Cinema performing Ada/Ava

We return from intermission to the sophisticated shadow puppetry of Manual Cinema. Theater Oobleck’s hand cranked scroll technique is charming, but Manual Cinema’s live hand animation and shadowed pantomime is astonishing.

Ada/Ava would be an impressive work of art if it were simply an animated film. The story is rich, and the design is beautiful. What is extraordinary is that Ada/Ava is being created behind the screen live by the performers, puppeteers and musicians of Manual Cinema.

It can be easy to forget at times that you are not watching a film, which is why when a balloon purposefully escaped the visual frame (breaking not so much the fourth wall as the ceiling) there were audible gasps from audience members including me.

After the show the Manual Cinema cast members invite the audience to go behind the screen to see how everything is done. I won’t reveal what I learned there because as fascinating as it was to see the techniques I think it adds to the magic of the performance to have to wonder “how do they do that?” as you watch. If, however, you can’t help but wonder the picture here is a major spoiler although only part of the story.

These shows continue together tonight through Sunday at Essanay Studios at St. Augustine College, 1333-45 W. Argyle Street. Performances are at 7:30 PM on Friday and Saturday and 3 PM on Sunday. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online here.

The Theater Oobleck and Manual Cinema shows are part of the Pivot Multi-Arts Festival continuing at various locations in Uptown and Edgewater through June 22. The complete schedule of events is here.

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