Manual Cinema and Chicago Q Ensemble

Project Title: FJORDS

FJORDS is a multidisciplinary, multimedia performance by Manual Cinema in collaboration with the string quartet Chicago Q Ensemble. Toeing the line between live scored cinema and performance art, FJORDS features shadow puppetry, live silhouette, video, and manipulated slide projection to create haunting visual renderings of Portland-based poet Zachary Schomburg’s poetry. Juxtaposing dreamscapes with banal everyday experience, Schomburg’s pseudo-narrative poems explore themes of loss, displacement, and childhood. Chicago Q Ensemble will accompany the performance with Manual Cinema composer Kyle Vegter’s original score for string quartet, percussion, and electronics. Employing extended string techniques, live audio signal processing, and theatrical staging, the musical portion of the work will be integrated with the visual elements of the show. Chicago Q Ensemble performers will manipulate amplified objects, play Peking Opera gongs, and interact with shadow puppets to create a unified and decidedly new theatrical performance experience.

FJORDS will premiere February 23-26, 2012 at the Poetry Foundation in downtown Chicago, Illinois. In March 2012, Manual Cinema will embark on their first East Coast tour in tandem with poet Zachary Schomburg.

About the Artists:

MANUAL CINEMA creates immersive theatrical stories that combine handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic motifs, and live sound manipulation. Shows include THE BALLAD OF LULA DEL RAY (2010), STUDY IN FORGETTING #3 (2011), and their first full-length work, ADA/AVA (2011). Manual Cinema has performed at Links Hall, the Chopin Theatre, the Charnel House, the Comfort Station, the Milk Factory, the Logan Square Arts Center, Detroit’s Trumbullplex, and various bars and underground spaces around Chicago. In Spring 2012, the University of Chicago will commission Manual Cinema to create a site-specific performance for the new Logan Arts Center. Manual Cinema is Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller, and Kyle Vegter.


CHICAGO Q ENSEMBLE is a string quartet of four women dedicated to creating musical experiences which uplift and engage all people involved. Their mission is to help create a vibrant community of 21st-century musicians, collaborators and listeners — and to have fun doing it. The ensemble has been heard in concert throughout Chicago, including recitals at Northwestern University, DePaul University, Ganz Hall, Spoke Gallery, Uncommon Ground Devon, Grace Episcopal Church, Music Institute of Chicago, and on the Ravenswood Concert Series at Dixon Strings.


Manual Cinema


Ada/Ava is Manual Cinema’s major project as sponsored artists at High Concept Labs. Ada/Ava is a contemporary shadow puppet show created by Drew Dir in collaboration with Julia Miller and Sarah Fornace with music composed and performed live by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman. Bereaved of her twin sister Ava, septuagenarian Ada solitarily marks time in the patterns of a life built for two. However, a traveling carnival and a trip to a mirror maze plunge her into a journey across the thresholds of life and death. Set in a landscape of the New England gothic, Ada/Ava uses a story of the fantastic and supernatural to explore mourning and melancholy, self and other. Ada/Ava is Manual Cinema’s most ambitious show to date and has been in development since October 2010. Manual Cinema is producing Ada/Ava at the Charnel House from July 28 to July 31.

Study in Forgetting #3

During May and June, they created Study in Forgetting #3, a new ten minute piece that premiered at Collaboraction’s Sketchbook 11 festival. Study examines human loss and memory through shadow puppetry and projection. An unknown woman finds herself trapped in an unknown space; presented with gifts from the Hand of Time, the girl soon discovers the true nature of Time’s exchange.

Study is Manual Cinema’s first foray into human silhouette projection. In order to create the interaction between shadow puppets and a live performer, we needed an unprecedented amount of space to develop and rehearse this piece. Without the high ceilings and ample studio space at HCL, Manual Cinema would not have been able to create a work of this scale.


MANUAL CINEMA is a collaboration between puppeteers/graphic artists Julia Miller, Drew Dir, and Sarah Fornace with musician/composers Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman. Their process combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic motifs, and live sound manipulation to create immersive theatrical stories. Their tools are paper, acetate, ink, light, air pressure, and overhead projectors. They love dreamscapes, landscapes, sound-scapes, feet, hands, space, small delicate sounds, and animating the inanimate.



 JULIA MILLER specializes in the tactile and movement arts. She is a director, performer, puppeteer, choreographer, and graphic designer. Manual Cinema provides her with an outlet for many artistic impulses, including but not limited to breathing life into the inanimate, making incredibly delicate small things, and telling a story without words. She holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University and has studied professionally under Teatro Punto,  Familie Flöz, and Double Edge Theatre.

In Chicago she has performed in association with Redmoon Theatre, Blair Thomas & Company, Links Hall, The Hyde Park Arts Center, Collaboraction, and the Building Stage.


DREW DIR has worked as a puppeteer, playwright, dramaturg, and director in Chicago and London. Most recently, his short play The Lurker Radio Hour was voted Best Production at Collaboraction’s Sketchbook 8 at the Steppenwolf Garage; his Sketchbook plays have been called “daring” by the Chicago Tribune and “ballsy” by Time Out Chicago. He holds an MA in Text and Performance Studies from King’s College London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Currently, Drew is Resident Dramaturg at Court Theatre and a Lecturer in Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.


KYLE VEGTER is a Chicago based sound artist/ composer/ multi-instrumentalist/ producer. He spends most of his time either A) applying reverb, EQ, and compression B) organizing his google calendar or C) purchasing hats. He studied electronic music composition, English, and Mandarin Chinese at the University of Florida.

He is currently a member of the experimental sound collective oh+ah, and performs with them on a regular basis. He is also active as a composer of new electronic art music and has worked most recently with the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra, Access Contemporary Music, and Homeroom Chicago.


BEN KAUFFMAN is an artist, musician, and producer with many identities.  He composes, sings and programs under the name Lawnmower, plays guitar in the sound collective oh+ah, and has been involved in a number of studio projects as an engineer or producer.

Since graduating from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, Ben has made Chicago his home and can be found working at Engine Studios in Wicker Park, performing live at venues across the city, or huddled over his drum machine.  Above all, he is driven by the mystery of creative and collaborative work.


SARAH FORNACE is a performer, choreographer, director, puppeteer, and narrative theorist based in Chicago. She has a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto, respectively. Her interests include: narrative structure, theories of time, non-verbal storytelling, intersecting narrative and spectacle, and interacting with (in)animate objects.

Sarah recently finished serving as fight captain, Jane, and Tinkerbell in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Peter Pan, a play. She has performed and devised with Redmoon, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Collaboraction, and Babes with Blades. Her fight choreography has been seen at Court Theatre, Red Orchid Theatre, Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep series, and elsewhere. She is a founding member of Boum Twa, a clown group devoted to exploring important issues through ladder acrobatics.

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