Edinburgh Fringe 2016: Ada/ Ava Q&A

talks to director Drew Dir about the UK debut of his shadow puppet based production, Ada/ Ava

Ava/ Ada’s premise is very much about loss. At its core is this Ada/ Ava about living with solitude?
Yes, and in particular, it’s about the solitude of an elderly woman, Ada, who loses her twin sister, and much of our story depicts how she is forced to re-organize the daily routines of her life to accommodate her sister’s absence.

The production takes quite a unique multimedia approach to performance. How did its various elements emerge and how do you think they effect one another? (for instance, where did the idea of telling a story through silhouetted puppetry come from)
We call our medium “cinematic shadow puppetry,” because it’s not quite like traditional shadow puppetry; our work looks more like an animated film, except that all the imagery is being made live right in front of you, using old school overhead projectors and hundreds of paper cut-outs. We’re not the first artists to use overhead projectors for shadow puppetry, but what sets us apart is our commitment to really thinking of this work as cinema.

Elsewhere you’ve compared the production to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, how do you go about building suspense in this unique medium?
We use many of the same camera techniques as Vertigo, except that, properly speaking, our work doesn’t involve a film camera. But through illustration and projection, we can create what look like camera pans and expressionist angles. Music, of course, also plays an important role in the building of suspense.

You’ve also said the story was developed after seeing the effect of your grandmother’s death on your grandfather, how does they production reconcile quiet grief with the more intense activity we might expect from a Hitchcock-esque thriller?
Personal grief is the heart of the story, but mid-way through the performance, our character’s journey takes a turn into the uncanny; she begins to believe that her own reflection is actually her dead sister, and attempts to bring her out of the mirror and back into their life together. Her psychological symptoms of mourning and melancholy begin to overthrow her senses, which is a familiar Hitchockian theme.

The production uses nearly 300 handmade puppets, can you tell us a little about the technical difficulties involved in producing these?
Almost all of the shadow puppets are cut out by hand, though there are a few that have been designed on a computer and cut automatically with a machine. The puppets are paired with color transparencies that provide the setting or background, so that each “shot” resembles an animation cel. Each puppeteer begins the show with a stack of these puppets and transparencies that are arranged in order, and as the performance goes on we simply move through our stack, animating each puppet on the surface of the overhead projector for only a few seconds before we’re on to the next shot.

Ada/ Ava contains no spoken dialogue, how does the act of removing explicit speech effect your role as a storyteller?
Telling a complex story without dialogue is challenging, but the limitations of it also offer a kind of freedom. It also means that the images rely heavily on the show’s original score and sound effects, which is often doing as much to tell the story as the puppets. The music, too, is scored live, and played in quadraphonic surround sound; even if you’re not conscious of it, what it’s doing is lending depth and layers to the two-dimensional puppet.

In many ways you are creating a film in front of a live audience, making your own creative process explicit. Is it your intention to make your audience aware of the process behind what they are experiencing?
We’re interested in offering the audience the opportunity to see us create the show’s imagery and effects in part because audience members often don’t believe that it’s really live (many assume we supplement the work with CGI, which isn’t true). But there’s also an aesthetic ethos behind it, too; in our culture, we’re so inundated with phone, TV, and cinema screens that we take all this imagery for granted. We like to think that we’re marrying the humanity and presence of live theater with the language of cinema.

Ada/ Ava will be performed from 3rd August at 4pm in Underbelly Potterow

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