Manual Cinema presents its poetic vision

The actors of Manual Cinema rehearse “My Soul’s Shadow,” which incorporates the works of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.
The actors of Manual Cinema rehearse “My Soul’s Shadow,” which incorporates the works of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. O Miami/Manual Cinema

Explaining the unique works of Manual Cinema isn’t easy. Perhaps the best place to start is with a simple premise.

“Basically, they make movies,” says O, Miami poetry festival founder P. Scott Cunningham. “But they don’t make them any way that anyone else makes them.”

The Chicago-based company arrives in town Thursday for three nights to perform an original show for O, Miami based on the works of 20th century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Titled My Soul’s Shadow, it incorporates live actors, shadow puppets, six old-school overhead projectors and an original score performed live by chamber ensemble Nu Deco. After the performances, the audience is allowed a closer look behind the screens at Manual Cinema’s magic (and, to make the evenings even more magical, free tacos, beer and sangria are available, too).

“Before you see it, it all sounds extremely complicated,” admits director Sarah Fornace, one of Manual Cinema’s co-artistic directors, who teaches movement at Columbia College Chicago. “It’s like watching a movie being made live in front of you. … When you say ‘puppet’ people think children’s theater or the Muppets. We describe ourselves using terms like ‘live movie animation.’ We use the language of cinema to tell a nonverbal story.”

O, Miami, which runs throughout April, commissioned the work last year, sending the company “a ton of poetry” from which to choose, Fornace says. The artistic directors, who had previously worked with poet Zachary Schomburg on a show called Fjords, settled on Lorca as the subject and used storyboards to sketch out the narrative. Rehearsals were filmed so a composer could marry visuals and poetry to music.

To Fornace, who’s also a choreographer, performer and narrative theorist, the physical nature of Manual Cinema’s work is what makes the shows so compelling.

“One thing I love about this work is it’s very tactile and physical and visceral,” she says. “Puppetry is physically hard to do and hard to do well. You can see the struggle. As an audience member it makes me more invested in the stories, so I like it as a performer as well.”

To Cunningham, Manual Cinema’s work is not only visual but poetic as well — which makes it a perfect fit with the innovative spirit of O, Miami.

“I love that it’s taking an art form and deconstructing it to its parts and reassembling it. There’s something really analog about it,” Cunningham says. “With movies, you don’t really see how they’re made. You see the end product. With Manual Cinema, the guts and the machinery of it are center stage laid bare for you. I love that vulnerability and how intricate it is. There’s something about poetry that feels analogous.”

If you go

What: Manual Cinema’s ‘My Soul’s Shadow’

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Where: 7357 NW Miami Ct., Miami

Tickets: $30, includes tacos, beer, sangria;