Lighting director magically mixes shadow play with tech in 'End of TV' at Chopin

  • Kara Davidson plays Flo, an elderly woman whose memories of her life become tangled with TV commercials, in Manual Cinema's "The End of TV" at Chicago's Chopin Theatre.

    Kara Davidson plays Flo, an elderly woman whose memories of her life become tangled with TV commercials, in Manual Cinema's "The End of TV" at Chicago's Chopin Theatre. Courtesy of Judy Sirota Rosenthal

 
By Diana Leane
dleane@dailyherald.com
Posted7/13/2018 6:00 AM

Commercials from the 1990s that once rocked pop culture and encapsulated the decade's eccentric energy have since retired to online archives and YouTube or have been forgotten altogether. Yet a select group will be brought to life this summer by Manual Cinema in "The End of TV" at Chicago's Chopin Theatre.

The ads will be re-created by actors, and a five-piece band will play the music in conjunction with inserted sound bites. Manual Cinema, a theater and production company, re-creates the ads by pairing the ancient art of shadow play with newer technologies, such as a projector, live camera feeds and a blue screen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Lighting is always crazy for us because (Manual Cinema is) a shadow puppet company … so this show had really interesting requirements," said co-director Julia Miller.

Manual Cinema's "The End of TV" uses shadow play, a projector, a blue screen and live camera feeds to create video on an overhead screen.
Manual Cinema's "The End of TV" uses shadow play, a projector, a blue screen and live camera feeds to create video on an overhead screen. - Courtesy of Manual Cinema

Des Plaines native Claire Chrzan, the lighting director, had to work with the intricacies of lighting the five-piece band, blue screen, shadow puppet screen and actors so that everything could be seen without warping the shadows.

"She brought a lot of expertise in how to create designs," Miller said. "She's really smart -- she's juggling like a million different things in her designs, and she knows how to keep track of all of those things."

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Chrzan attended Columbia College, and she has worked on numerous productions in the Chicago area. She said that designing lighting for "The End of TV" differed from traditional theater because of the show's technological components.

"Mostly the way I approach a show is, 'How am I telling this story? What scene are we going to be in?'" Chrzan said. "That's a little bit less my role in this kind of production because I'm really just keeping the entire stage accessible to the audience."

Jeffrey Paschal stars as a TV news host in Manual Cinema's "The End of TV." Below the screen are Paschal and fellow cast member/puppeteer Vanessa Valliere.
Jeffrey Paschal stars as a TV news host in Manual Cinema's "The End of TV." Below the screen are Paschal and fellow cast member/puppeteer Vanessa Valliere. - Courtesy Judy Sirota Rosenthal

"The End of TV" starts its run Thursday, July 19, and will tour throughout the Midwest in September and October.

The story, set in a Midwestern Rust Belt city in the '90s, follows two characters, Flo and Louise, who develop a connection as one ages and approaches the end of her life while the other finds hope in a new job and new future. The plot delves into how technology influences their lives and how they interact.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The audience sees the plot unfold from multiple perspectives. On one side of the stage, actors interact with and perform in front of the screen displaying the shadow play. A blue screen and a live feed camera sit center stage where cast members create the commercials.

Claire Chrzan, who grew up in Des Plaines, is the lighting director for Manual Cinema's "The End of TV" at Chicago's Chopin Theatre.
Claire Chrzan, who grew up in Des Plaines, is the lighting director for Manual Cinema's "The End of TV" at Chicago's Chopin Theatre. - Courtesy of Ariela Subar

The camera's feed is then edited instantaneously and displayed on a screen hanging above the stage with the ad's background inserted. On the other end of the stage sits the band performing the show's songs.

"We're using this technology in a way it's not normally used, … and all of that is taking place in the same space," Miller said. "It's a lot of tech considering how everything is being made manually."

• • •

"The End of TV"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday; from Thursday, July 19, to Sunday, Aug. 5

Where: Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago, manualcinema.com

Tickets: $20-$30

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