You’ve seen the Charles Dickens holiday classic but you have certainly never seen it like this. Hundreds of paper puppets, miniatures, silhouettes and a live original score will come together to tell an imaginative re-invention of this cherished holiday classic, presented by the critically acclaimed collective better known as Manual Cinema, through December 20th. Screen spoke with Manual Cinema co-founder Sarah Fornace about the stunning and uplifting project, but first here is your sneak peak of the show:
“It’s definitely not a traditional staging of A CHRISTMAS CAROL,” Manual Cinema co-founder Sarah Fornace told SCREEN. “The easiest way to describe it is a visual art piece with music. We use shadow puppets, paper cut-outs, and projection to create a hybrid of theater and animation; the whole thing is scored with original music and sound design by our composers. While there is some dialogue and narration in the story, many of the most well-known scenes from A CHRISTMAS CAROL are staged without words, and told only through shadowplay and music. Some of the design choices are formally experimental — for example, the Ghost of Christmas Past is created using light from a vintage slide projector, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is designed as an homage to Maya Deren’s MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON… but the story is still Charles Dickens!”
This visually inventive performance was inspired, to some extent, by the challenges of the 2020 pandemic. “We tried very hard to make an adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL that would speak to the isolation many of us might be feeling in the pandemic, so we wrote an additional framing story that gives the original Dickens story some contemporary context,” Fornace shared with SCREEN. “It’s about a woman named Aunt Trudy who has lost her husband during the pandemic, and she’s spending Christmas alone. Her late husband, however, used to stage this beloved amateur puppet show of A CHRISTMAS CAROL every year for their extended family, so Trudy – who, like Scrooge, isn’t all that fond of Christmas – has been asked to continue the tradition over Zoom. So the whole conceit is that this character is reluctantly performing the show over Zoom for us in the shadow of COVID-19. As the show goes on, Trudy’s story begins to merge with Scrooge’s; it recasts the story as one about isolation, grief, and family.”
The show also has a special personal significance for Fornace. “Christmas has always been a special time for my family,” Fornace told SCREEN. “In fact, my grandfather used to stage puppet shows for our extended family every Christmas, just like the character in our show! This is also my first Christmas as a parent – our baby was born back in May – and having a child at Christmas makes the holiday seem all the more magical.”
World premiere performances of Manual Cinema’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL are created for all ages, and continue through December 20th. Each 60-minute show will be performed live in Manual Cinema’s Chicago studio in a socially distanced manner, and live streamed to audiences at home. The stream will be delivered by Marquee TV. Click here to purchase your tickets today.