Manual Cinema is excited about performing at the inaugural Pivot Multi-Arts Festival, and we are beyond excited about performing at Uptown’s Essanay Studios. What better place to present live silent cinema than the former studio of Charlie Chaplin!? Also, we are thrilled to share a bill with the illustrious Theater Oobleck (of whom we at Manual Cinema are big fans).

This production is the second full-length incarnation of Ada/Ava. Drew Dir first workshopped Ada/Ava as a short for a Halloween party. Drew and Julia performed the show in a first-floor apartment window on one overhead projector for a costumed audience (made up of equal parts hipster and trick-or-treater) that stood outside on the sidewalk.

Later, also under Drew’s direction, Ada/Ava was expanded into Manual Cinema’s first feature length show over the winter, spring, and summer of 2011. We performed it at a converted funeral home in July and then again at Links Hall later that fall.

In January 2013, we decided to remake and update Ada/Ava. We had been itching for a chance to get back to the story and had even kicked around the idea of making it into a film rather than a live show. During Ada/Ava 1.0, we developed some of the techniques that make up the foundation of our shows: mixing puppets with live actors, double-exposing images, creating montages of close-ups. However, since then, we have substantially expanded our vocabulary: new masks, depth of field, vertical pans, editing speed, and more. Armed with these new tricks, we returned to the puppet mines and re-made the original show entirely. More story, more puppets (at least double if not triple the number of the first show), more projectors (4 instead of 2), more actors (see if you can spot the body doubles), and (perhaps most importantly) a more multifaceted Ada (played by the beguiling Julia Miller).

We began Ada/Ava 2.0 by fleshing out the story. Manual Cinema is committed to creating shows with dynamic female protagonists, and our new cinematic editing abilities (made possible in part by doubling the number of overhead projectors) enables us to develop Ada as more fully realized character. In Ada/Ava 2.0, we get to see more of her life with Ava, we see more of her struggle to make her solitary life work before she gives into despair, and we see more of her resilience as she fights her way out of the mirror maze.

In Ada/Ava 2.0, we are also more extensively exploring genre fiction in film (an exploration close to my narrative-theory-infused heart). Ada/Ava 2.0 is a Hitchcockian thriller, and we are using every trick we know to help increase the terror and suspense. Shadow puppetry usually wants to move at a slow, dream-like tempo, but we have pushed it to the rushing speed of chase sequences and sudden reveals. We are using distortions and doubling that twist the comfort and familiarity of shadow puppets into the terror of the unknown monster lurking around the corner. Also, now that the show can move quickly when we want it to, we subsequently have the ability to move intentionally slowly in order to build suspense. Before the reveal at the end of the show, when the audience knows that something is going genuinely wrong but Ada is still in denial, some moments go on just a little too long and some characters move a little too slowly. I personally cannot wait to test these moments in front of an audience and see if we get some of our first audience screams!

We often struggle with making endings for Manual Cinema shows. This is may be related to the fact that our stories are told non-verbally and in shadow. There is an openness inherent to silent cinema and this is doubly true of silent shadow cinema. We cannot neatly tie up our endings with verbal explanations. And actions that often feel final and encapsulating to us can have disparate meanings for audience members who have established their own interpretations of the movements and motivations of the shadow characters. As a result, we are often changing endings right up until show time in reaction to our audience and our own ideas about the story. In Ada/Ava 1.0, we changed the ending after completing an entire initial run of the show. However, in Ada/Ava 2.0, we came up with an ending more than 3 weeks before the show. Not only an ending, but one with a twist. This is a brave, new world for Manual Cinema.

We tend to bill each new show as “our most ambitious show to date.” And while this might seem hyperbolic, it is true. Each show builds on the last show’s advances in story and design. However, this version of Ada/Ava feels to me like a bigger technological and narrative leap for us than usual. More emotions, more suspense, more shots, more projectors, more props (Julia is rehearsing how to secretly carry dozens of flat cut outs of props on her person): this show is indeed our most ambitious to date and I cannot wait to share it with the Pivot audience.

Sarah Fornace is a company member of Manual Cinema.  Their show Ada/Ava plays in tandem with Theater Oobleck’s Possession: Baudelaire in a Box, Episode #5 as part of the Pivot Multi-Arts Festival June 13 – 16 at Essanay Studios, a former Charlie Chaplin production studio in Uptown.