INTERVIEW: Manual Cinema bring FRANKENSTEIN to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name of Edinburgh show: Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein
Venue: Underbelly Bristo Square (McEwan Hall)
Performance time: 14:45
Show length: 75 minutes
Ticket price: Previews: £7, Weekday: £13.50 (£12.50), Weekend: £15.50 (£14.50)

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I am one of the Artistic Directors of Manual Cinema. With the company, I work as an actor, puppeteer, director, choreographer, writer, storyboard creator (as well as our Education Director, Casting Director, and head of performer contracting). I studied biology and literature in school, but I started working in devised theatre, circus, and puppet theatre in Chicago in my 20s. Chicago is an incredible community of artists, and I don’t think that I would be able to be the multidisciplinary artist that I am today if I wasn’t in this community of brilliant, experimental, ensemble-oriented artists.

Tell me about your new show, what it is all about?
Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein is about:
Mary Shelley
Women Writing Books, Inventing Genres, Leaving Legacies!!!
Creation
Abandonment
Ambition
Nightmares
Grief and creativity
The loss of a child
The struggle to create
Empathy and its absence
Our responsibility for what we have created
Unintended consequences
Loneliness
The need for human connection
Mad science
Epic music
Robots
Cinema

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to
audiences in 2019?

Frankenstein is Manual Cinema’s newest show. We premiered a version of it last fall in Chicago, and we have reworked it this summer for the Fringe. It has been 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and invented science fiction. Our show is a new way of looking at this old and eternally relevant story. Not only are we adapting it for a whole new medium, we are exploring aspects of Frankenstein’s origin that have been largely ignored. Mary Shelley first published the 1818 edition anonymously, but later in the second edition she published it under her own name with a new foreword. In this introduction, she defended her own authorship and spoke of the loss of her baby and the nightmare that she drew inspiration from. We took this nightmare as a jumping off point to explore motherhood and creation and loss and hideous progeny and regret in this story that contains multitudes and remains relevant and inspires adaptations in media invented centuries after the author’s death.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
See as many shows as possible, meet new people, and hang out with other artists! Drink Scotch and marvel at the fact that you are in one of the world’s most incredible cities (and that you are usually within view of a castle that is built on hardened lava from an extinct volcano). I try to leave myself more time that I need to get to places, because the streets can be so crowded and sometimes you want to stop and watch a street performer. When I need to escape the Fringe crowds, I hike up Arthur’s Seat. I also love watching the fireworks from Callow Hill. For sustenance, I highly recommend the curry laksa at Kampong Ah Lee, the long blacks at BrewLab, and everything at The Dogs.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Our shows have several hundred puppets in them and we only have a matter of seconds to set up them before they are live on camera! I have set puppets upside down more than once. It can make a serious, tragic scene into a comical one in which characters are walking on the ceiling or flying through the air. Usually, we fix it really quickly.

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
So many people and companies in this industry have inspired me. In Chicago, the work of 500 clown (now disbanded) had a huge impact on me as a young artist due to their use of game structure and physical mayhem to adapt complex stories about power, humanity, and empathy.

I love the work of One Step at a Time Like This (from Australia). They build shows integrated with the physical architecture of specific cities for solo audience members using headphones and mobile devices. Their shows really change the way you experience time and space. I also love the work of The Neo-Futurists (non-illusory, interactive, brilliant theater and a Chicago treasure), The Fly Honeys (a group in Chicago that re-imagines cabaret to promote gender equality and self-love), Anne Washburn (playwright), Vanessa Stalling (director), Lily Mooney (writer/performer), and Myra Su (an independent puppeteer/director who happens to also be in our production of Frankenstein at the Fringe!!).

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I always make sure to stretch before the show, because there is a lot of choreography and intense action involved not only in the scenes themselves but in the acrobatics required to create the live cinematic effects! I make sure to check the settings on all of the cameras that we use onstage. We often also run a short sequence of show: usually the Creature’s attack in the cottage. This sequence not only involved the puppeteers and musicians but also our 8 percussion playing robots! The show moves extremely fast, and the whole ensemble needs to work together to tell the story. And the percussion robots keep going if I drop a puppet or miss my entrance, so we always run the hardest sequence to make sure that we are all sync-ed up and focused up before we bring in the audience and start the show!

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
I am really excited to see Circa’s new show and Hot Brown Honey. I also always see Austentatious at least once at the Fringe (I am so thrilled to be at the same venue as them this year). I see as many shows as I can at Summerhall, because everything I see there is always unique and generally great (and I love their gin). It’s not the Fringe… but I am saving my money to see 1927’s Roots and the National Theater of Scotland’s Total Immediate Collective Terrestrial Salvation at the International Festival. I try to see as much puppetry, physical theater, dance, and immersive theater as possible at the Fringe, especially work by womxn. Usually, I will comb the Fringe catalogue and chat with other artists during the first week of the fest and make a list of all of the things I want to see over the month!

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
Our show is utterly unique. We make an original movie live onstage in front of the audience with live musicians, music playing robots, a mad science lab of percussion instruments, 5 puppeteer/actors, 2 cameras, and over 500 handmade puppets. The story is an emotional roller coaster of creation and abandonment that will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to make something or anyone who has sought connection to another human being.

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