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 and Sam 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
Mo Willems has a knack for both writing and drawing images. He started drawing cartoons when he was a child and never quit. When it was time to start college, Willems decided on pursuing a degree in animation at New York University. He became successful with a few smalltime films while in still a student. Upon graduating, Mo Willems took a job with Children’s Television Workshop in the research department. This later led to him working as a writer for the hit show, Sesame Street. Doing so gained him six Emmy awards. Willems continued working there from 1994 to 2002. During this time, he was also credited with creating Sheep in the Big City and Codename: Kids Next Door.
In the library world, Mo Willems is better known for his children’s books. In 2003, Willems released his first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Due to the popularity and writing, the book was given a Caldecott Honor. Now, the book is backbone of several other Pigeon books. Not only are his Pigeon books successful, but Willems has been awarded honors and medals for other books. Included in this list is a series of “Easy Readers.” There is also an illustrated memoir available for older readers to enjoy reading about his trip exploring different parts of the world.
Currently, Willems lives in Massachusetts with his family. He is no longer involved with television, but he is still drawing and writing.
(photo by Trix Willems)
Behind the Scenes