Tag Archives: Manual Cinema

ADA/AVA – Theater Review – Segerstrom Center for the Arts

ADA/AVA tells the story of the bereaved twin ADA dealing with the loss of her sister AVA. The story is performed live and engages the audience as a full-length cinematic feature.

Performance Dates: January 19 & 20 at the Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa
Director: Drew Dir
Cast: Manual Cinema featuring puppeteers: Kara Davidson, Sam Deutsch, Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller and Musicians: Maren Celest, Michael Hilger, and Kyle Vegter.

From Chicago, Manual Cinema tells the story of ADA and AVA, two elderly twins. Their story is told using the ancient form of storytelling known as shadow puppets. As you enter the Samueli Theater, you see a large open stage and your eye is drawn directly to a white screen and a table with four old-style overhead projectors.

The performers now approach the stage. Three musicians provide the score and foley effects. Their instruments include two keyboards, a cello, electric guitar and clarinet. Two laptops provide the sound effects for the show.

Five puppeteers provide the action. Characters are portrayed using cutout cardstock figures placed on the overhead with transparent plastic attached aot the puppet’s joints to simulate movement. The only the main characters of AVA (Kara Davidson) and ADA (Julia Miller) are performed live as shadows against the screen. Backgrounds are created with photographs and graphics printed on transparency film and props are created with cutout cardstock.

As the puppeteers, place backgrounds, characters and props on any of the four overhead projectors, the performers are able to create dozens of unique visual effects, like lightning, and dozens of cinematic effect like scene transitions and focus transitions. Through perfected choreography, the musicians and puppeteers can tell a 60-minute story that is visually stunning and engaging. The fact that the performers are there on stage in front of you, revealing their tricks, is even more amazing and at times leaving you dumbstruck.

The story is also told without dialogue. ADA and AVA are identical twins. As children, they are competitive, but quickly learn that they are a truly inseparable pair. Today, ADA and AVA are seniors. They live together, shop together, play chess together and run the town lighthouse together. Before you know it, AVA passes away, and the rest of the play follows the grieving process of ADA as she attempts to cope with her everyday life as half of a duo.

Life and loneliness do not treat ADA well. Soon a mysterious carnival comes to town, the same carnival that ADA and AVA loved as children. ADA is drawn to the carnivals Mirror Maze, and it is here that ADA is plunged into a journey of life and death. ADA’s spiritual journey can only be told with this unique form of shadow puppetry from Manual Cinema.

ADA/AVA is part of the annual Off Center Festival at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. I encourage you to check out not only ADA/AVA by Manual Cinema but the other performances during the festival. Think of it as an alternative to the movies and television shows we review. There is a spectacle and daring element to a living performance that you can’t feel on film or streaming on your computer. The Off Center Festival is happening now and ends on January 31. Go to www.scfta.org/offcenter for more performances.