Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Manual Dramaturgy: Julia Miller @ Edfringe 2017

Lula del Ray by Manual Cinema Presented by Underbelly and Manual Cinema
Underbelly Med Quad (Cow Barn), Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 14th), 16:30

After wowing all of Edinburgh with Ada/Ava in 2016, Manual Cinema return to the Fringe with another exciting UK premiere - Lula del Ray.

In their customary magical style, Lula del Ray is performed with overhead projectors, shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music. Told almost entirely without dialogue, Lula del Ray is the story of a lonely adolescent girl who lives with her mother on the outskirts of a vast satellite field in the middle of the desert. 

After a chance encounter over the radio, Lula becomes obsessed with a soulful country music duo, the Baden Brothers. Inspired by their music, she runs away from home and into a world of danger, deception, and disappointment.

Julia Miller, Co-Artistic Director of Manual Cinema for Lula del Ray.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I wanted to create a narrative about a strong female protagonist. I was interested in a journey quest from the perspective of a young girl. I sent my friend Brendan Hill, who is a writer based in NYC, a bunch of images and the idea of this girl who hears a song and goes on a big adventure. I was in Chicago so we emailed back and forth. He would send me writing and I would send him notes, more inspirational images, and also music by Roy Orbison and Hank Williams that felt like the type of music Lula, the main character, would listen to. 

Brendan ended up writing this giant epic story, pages and pages. And then I would take sections of it and sort of rearrange and add to them in a way that made sense for shadow puppetry. This was the first project we made before we called ourselves Manual Cinema. It’s the show that got the group together. Since then we have remade it quite a few times, adding a mother character, and rewriting the ending quite a few times. Lula del Ray has been through many iterations. I think we might actually be at Lula del Ray 4.0.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

I think so. I mean the whole idea of getting a group of people together in a space to experience something in real time is a basic feature of live performance. And when that happens people are usually going to talk about what they saw. So a natural discourse starts to happen around the topics in the show as you process it.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I was in school shows starting at a very young age.  I was doing Macbeth in elementary school with a very ambitious art teacher. She just made it seem like this really fun thing that you get to wear costumes and be silly. It was just a fun thing to do at school, but  when I got older I started taking it more seriously. I ended studying performance in college and moving to Chicago where I started doing puppetry and met the other folks from Manual Cinema.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

Our process combines animation, film and theatre. We start with a written outline of the show that gets turned into a storyboard. We take the storyboards and use them as a blueprint to design the show, build the puppets, and stage the scenes. We shoot a rough demo of the storyboards and edit it together to see how it is working. Since it’s a visual medium we need to see it on its feet to know what works and what doesn’t. 

The video demo then goes to the sound team for scoring and sound design. The puppet team then takes the demo and we try to stage it in real time putting together the puppetry and live action scenes and how to transition from one shot to the next. During each stage the show changes and gets tighter.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

All of our shows use a similar combination of overhead projectors, puppets, live actors and live music. All Manual Cinema shows have a shared aesthetic in that we are working with silhouettes in shadow puppetry. 

But some of our shows also experiment with other live media on stage, like a GoPro camera that acts as another puppetry sight, or an actor that moves through different sets around the audience.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they go away feeling like they experienced a well told story in a format that kept them engaged and asking questions. Everyone experiences our shows differently so you can't always know how someone will be affected by the story you're telling. 

I do think the format of our shows are a less passive experience for the audience because there is so much technical stuff happening on stage you are watching the final image and also at the same time can see how it is made. So I hope the audience is brought in by the technique and not distanced by it.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

A well-crafted story is always at the centre of what we make. We want to create a space for the audience where they feel like they can follow the story and go on a journey with our characters. We also use music and sound design to create a strong environment for our shows that we hope also transports the audience into the world of the show.
Set in the mid-century American Southwest and inspired by the music of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and Patsy Cline, Lula del Ray is a mythic reinvention of the classic coming-of-age story.

Manual Cinema co-artistic director Julia Miller comments, The original inspiration for this show came from my desire to make a narrative from the perspective of a strong female protagonist. It was also the first project that brought the artistic directors together and resulted in us forming Manual Cinema. Lula has been through many iterations and has grown up with us as we grew up as a company. It's a coming of age story from the female perspective and we are thrilled to bring it to the Edinburgh Fringe for its UK premiere.

Lula del Ray was developed at the University of Chicago in the Theater and Performance Studies Program where Manual Cinema served as Ensemble-in-Residence in the Summer and Fall of 2012.


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