Browse reviews

Fringe Online 2020

A Feast for the Senses! Creative, Imaginative and Heartfelt – Christmas Carol by Manual Cinema

Manual Cinema

Genre: Puppetry, Shadow Puppets, Theatre

Venue: Online Stream


Low Down

“In this world premiere online event created for audiences of all ages, interdisciplinary performance collective Manual Cinema takes on Charles Dickens’s holiday classic with a visually inventive adaptation made to broadcast directly to your home. An avowed holiday skeptic, Aunt Trudy has been recruited to channel her late husband Joe’s famous Christmas cheer. From the isolation of her Chicago apartment, she reconstructs his annual Christmas Carol puppets”


Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Christmas Carol as a part of Cal Performances at Home, streaming premiere Thursday, December 17 at 5pm PST (credit: Drew Dir)

The World Premiere of Christmas Carol by Chicago’s innovative award-winning interdisciplinary performance collective Manual Cinema is performed and streamed live into your home, presented by Cal Performances at Home: December 17, 18 and 19, 2020.

Manual Cinema creates original shows which are always a feast for the senses and imagination, with actors, puppeteers, exquisite shadow puppetry, and live musicians playing original music. Their shows are transporting and unique. Christmas Carol, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s holiday classic is their latest show, developed during the pandemic to be presented live on a digital platform for audiences of all ages.

The story revolves around Aunt Trudy, who is trying to perform a virtual family show – Christmas Carol – on Zoom – usually performed in person by her late husband Joe. However, she, like most of us is in isolation, plus she is not used to using Zoom – or performing! From this hesitant beginning, Aunt Trudy, the personable storyteller, gets things started but soon the hundreds of hand made puppets take on a life of their own!

Aunt Trudy rummages through a large cardboard box overflowing with stuff, including tangled festive Christmas objets…and then there is a lightening series of flashbacks of recent news (all played by the same quick change actor).

“Dim your Lights” Trudy says in her warm voice and we transition to a large glowing screen with shadow and silhouette characters, taking us back to Charles Dickens’s time when Bob Cratchit asks for Christmas Day off, and Scrooge says “Bah Humbug”!

Narrator Aunt Trudy is our link, a bit annoyed at Joe and his puppets, next, thunder strikes and she is in the dark…and begins to close down the show, but in her old fashioned room with patterned wall paper she is a little scared…yet decides to continue but improvise by telling the story in her own way!

Now we are in the realm of Manual Cinema’s style of ingenious and quirky puppet characters and beautiful imagery and rich backgrounds – a man in the distance walks home in the cold, he becomes closer and taller as he opens a door…and then he sings!

The characters in this story are brought to life through the imaginative hand made puppets manipulated by the various actor puppeteers (performing live in pods and at a distance). Soon we meet several ghosts, an insect like man with spindly legs, a very cute youthful Ghost of Christmas Past in a red Scarf with a woolly hat, a cool dude Santa – and more – set against a glorious old timey sepia brown palette with flashes of bright color, complexly layered with song, vibrant music, characters and detailed imagery.

Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Christmas Carol as a part of Cal Performances at Home, streaming premiere Thursday, December 17 at 5pm PST (credit: Drew Dir)

The flat cardboard puppets are animated – with arms and hands that move – by the puppeteers who breathe life into the objects, very effectively. A poignant moment happens in silence, when a subtle movement of one puppet character and moody lighting moves forward the visual storytelling, in another a puppet emotes with a simple look towards another.

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol has humor, wit, drama, pathos, warmth – and authentic family moments such as when Trudy is feeling lonely – and her mood is uplifted by a young child – it’s a true teachable moment for everyone at this time.

After each performance Manual Cinema presents an additional live segment called Puppet Time immediately after the show, for the audience to meet the performers and ask questions about the show and puppets via Chat, so look out for this fascinating opportunity! 

Christmas Carol is a quirky, endearing holiday season show which embodies Manual Cinema’s wonderful storytelling to entertain and delight. Highly Recommended!

Cinema Artistic Directors: Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter.
Cast members are Lizi Breit, puppeteer; Sarah Fornace, puppeteer; Ben Kauffman, guitar, piano, lead vocals; N. LaQuis Harkins, Aunt Trudy/puppeteer; Julia Miller, puppeteer; and Kyle Vegter, cello, keys and vocals. The production team is Drew Dir, storyboards; Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter, original music and sound design; Drew Dir, puppet design; Lizi Breit and Sarah Fornace, puppet build assistants; Drew Dir, additional puppetry; Maddy Low, costume design; Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter, set design; Andrew Morgan, Trudy lighting design; Mike Usrey, technical director and sound engineer; Shelby Sparkles, stage manager; Ben Kauffman, streaming and UX; and Julia Miller, production manager.