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Freespace at Taikoo Place: Pulling Strings with Lula del Ray’s Julia Miller


By Amanda Sheppard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this cinematic moving experience during Freespace at Taikoo Place is likely to render you speechless. 

Just like the show itself. 

Lula Del Ray is a visual story told almost entirely without the use of dialogue -- but instead, through 400 shadow puppets, a troupe of actors, live music and vintage overhead projectors. The production is conceived and performed by Manual Cinema, a performing collective that seeks to "transform the experience of attending the cinema and imbue it with liveness, ingenuity and theatricality," according to its Artistic Director Julia Miller. 

“This cinematic experience is likely to render you speechless.”

Without the aid of dialogue or facial expressions to emanate the emotive power of theatre, Miller and the troupe rely on scoring, musical composition and the hyperbolic movements of its actors and puppeteers. "We are using a more universal vocabulary that does not require knowing a specific language to experience and understand the show," Miller says. "Because there are no words, we engage our audience on a deeper, more emotional level."

Lula Del Ray tells the story of a melancholic teenage girl living in a remote satellite town in the American hinterlands. Originally conceived in 2010, the upcoming production is "version 4.0 or 4.5," Miller speculates. "Every few years, we would return to Lula to incorporate new discoveries and to tighten the story," she says. The production has since been adapted to create a more dynamic and visually engaging experience for viewers. From humble beginnings with just two puppeteers and a singular projector, the show's evolution reflects Lula's own journey -- a classic coming-of-age tale. 

The story is told in part through Lula's encounter with the music of the Baden Brothers, which not only provides a focal point in the narrative, but also sets the tone and ambience of the show. Music, both live and recorded, says Miller, "acts both as a movie score and an omniscient narrator, expressing the internal emotion of a character." The production's sound design also helps to create an immersive theatre experience, with four speakers on hand to envelop the audience in 360-degree surround sound.  

You'd be forgiven for assuming the puppeteers and actors would be confined to the backstage of the production. But in Lula Del Ray "version 4.0", Manual Cinema has inverted the set up of conventional puppetry by bringing the backstage to the forefront of the production, which, as Miller says, "captures the handmade quality of the work while also presenting it in a cinematic format." 

"Our goal is to seamlessly cut between [the] live actors in silhouette and paper puppets," she continues. Each actor wears a mask to mirror the silhouette of their puppet, and expresses emotion through metaphor, gestures, and the dynamics of breath, such as sighs and sharp breaths. 

From the transporting of the backstage to the visible realm, to its seamless intertwining of puppets and puppeteers and the very way they perceive the role of an actor, Lula Del Ray is indeed a unique production. Furthermore, "our shows are unique in that the entire cast is playing the main character and that everyone will puppet the protagonist several times during the show," Miller says. "The live actor is not the only one doing the storytelling."

While the puppeteers remain in view for the duration of the performance, their presence does not detract from the experience. Rather, thanks to clever lighting from the overhead projectors, the focus remains on the images on the large projected screen for a result that's truly magical.

Lula del Ray
27 October 2017

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