Leonardo is a terrible monster. He tries so hard to be scary, but he just…isn’t. Then Leonardo finds Sam, the most scaredy-cat kid in the world. Will Leonardo finally get his chance to scare the tuna salad out of an unsuspecting human? Or will it be the start of an unlikely friendship? They will need to make a big decision: will they be friends or will they be controlled by their fears?
Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About A Terrible Monster is adapted from the beloved children’s books by Mo Willems, and realized through mind-bending projection, DIY cinema, music, and immersive sound by critically-acclaimed multimedia artists Manual Cinema.
The Emmy Award winning Manual Cinema combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive stories for stage and screen. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality. The company was awarded an Emmy Award in 2017 for “The Forger,” a video created for The New York Times and named Chicago Artists of the Year in 2018 by the Chicago Tribune. Their shadow puppet animations will be featured in the film remake of Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions.
To date Manual Cinema has created nine feature length live multimedia theater shows; a live cinematic contemporary dance show created in collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance; an original site-specific installation for the MET Museum; an original adaptation of “Hansel & Gretel” created for the Belgian Royal Opera; music videos for Sony Masterworks, Gabriel Kahane, three time GRAMMY Award-winning eighth blackbird, NYTimes Best Selling author Reif Larson and Grammy Award winning Esperanza Spalding; a live non-fiction piece for Pop-Up Magazine; a self-produced short film; a museum exhibit created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum; live cinematic puppet adaptations of StoryCorps stories and NPR’s Invisibilia and four animated videos for the Poetry Foundation. Manual Cinema’s Emmy Award-winning collaboration with The New York Times was nominated for a documentary short Peabody Award and won 2nd prize in the World Press Photo 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest, Long Form.
Manual Cinema has been presented by, worked in collaboration with, or brought its work to: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), The Tehran International Puppet Festival (Iran), La Monnaie-De Munt (Brussels), Brooklyn Academy of Music (NYC), Underbelly (UK), Adelaide Festival (AU), The Avignon Off Festival (France), The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Saudi Arabia), Theatre World Festival Brno (Czechia), A Tarumba – Teatro de Marionetas (Portugal), The Chan Center for the Performing Arts (Bristish Columbia), The Kennedy Center (DC), The Kimmel Center (Philadelphia), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Noorderzon Festival (Netherlands), The O, Miami Poetry Festival, Handmade Worlds Puppet Festival (Minneapolis), The Screenwriters’ Colony in Nantucket, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Future of Storytelling Conference (NYC), the NYC Fringe Festival, Arts Emerson (Boston), Yale Repertory Theatre, The Poetry Foundation (Chicago), The Chicago International Puppet Festival, Pop-Up Magazine, The Chicago International Music and Movies Festival, The Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival (NYC), and elsewhere around the world.
“Chicagoans of the Year: Directors of Manual Cinema have created a whole new art form” -Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune
“this Chicago troupe is conjuring phantasms to die for…” -Ben Brantley, The New York Times
Author and Illustrator Mo Willems has been awarded the American Library Association’s Caldecott Honor three times for his picture book illustration. Additionally, he is the recipient of two Theodor Geisel Medals and five Geisel Honors for his Elephant & Piggie early readers. Mo began his career as a writer and animator on Sesame Street, where he garnered six Emmy Awards. His work has been exhibited around the world, including solo retrospectives at the High Museum in Atlanta and the New-York Historical Society. Over the last decade, Mo has written three musical theater works based on his books, two of which were commissioned and toured by the Kennedy Center. His papers reside at Yale University’s Beinecke Library.
The creator of The Pigeon series, Knuffle Bunny, and Elephant & Piggie, Mo will develop and present multidisciplinary programming and performances across the Kennedy Center including theater, jazz, dance, classical music, comedy, digital experience, and outreach over the next two years. Audiences will play, participate, and create with cross-genre experiences and world premieres seen nowhere else.
Highlights in Mo’s residency include the world premiere of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical); the world premiere orchestral rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (a Symphonic Spectacular) with music composed by Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor Ben Folds for the National Symphony Orchestra; Mo Willems & the Storytime All-Stars present: Don’t Let the Pigeon Do Storytime!, a comedic celebration of reading; an interactive Jazz Doodle Jam! in partnership with Jazz Programming and Jason Moran; and more.
With a career spanning television, theater, books, and exhibits plus a ten-year association with the Kennedy Center, Mo is an exciting choice for this inaugural Artist-in-Residence. “I am thrilled by this opportunity,” says Mr. Willems. “I can’t wait to play and explore with the incredible talent available to the Kennedy Center while hopefully encouraging kids and the grown-ups in their lives to join in the fun.”
Behind the Scenes