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'Terrible monster' teaches kids about friendship

Manual Cinema, a multi-media artist collective, presents Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster at Interntional Children's Festival of the Arts
Lily Emerson, Leah Casey, Sarah Fornace and Anney Fresh star in Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster playing at the International Children's Festival of the Arts from June 1 to 4. REBECCA J MICHELSON

It used to be that Chicago was considered the second city of theatre, compared with New York City's Broadway. But in the last decade or so, the Windy City has developed a wealth of cultural goodies. One of those is Manual Cinema, arriving at the International Children's Festival of the Arts from June 1-4. 

The Emmy Award-winning company presents Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster. Directed by co-founder Sarah Fornace, the multimedia artist collective combines two stories by children's author Mo Willems: The Terrible Monster & Sam as well as Sam, The Most Scaredy-cat Kid in the Whole World. 

"When we first meet Leonardo, he wants to be scary, but he just can't seem to scare anyone. He's small and cute, and bullies make fun of him. He equates scariness with being cool. So, he goes on a mission to find the most scared kid in the world," said Fornace.  

Leonardo meets Sam, a nervous kid who frightens easily. But scaring people isn't as much fun as Leonardo thought. Leonardo realizes that although he might be a terrible monster, he could also be a really good friend.  

"It's a story about empathy and friendship. It's about letting go of fear and making new friends," said Fornace. In directing this hybrid theatrical-cinematic production, she uses hundreds of illustrated paper puppets, fuzzy Muppet-style puppets, video projections, green-screen techniques, live actors on live cameras, voice-overs, and a live music soundtrack. 

The computerized design is simple. It fuses modern technology with old-time backstage theatre standards. The backstage is brought to the front, whereby an audience can see the performers and crew working together to complete a show. The audience can either look on the stage for live action or on a screen that projects action in real time. 

"There's no wrong way to watch the show. There are puppets, cameras, and a screen. The audience might miss something, but they'll catch something else, and they get to edit it in their own imagination." 

Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter composed the show's music, lyrics and sound design, sandwiching various genres including rock, indie, pop, electronica and new wave rhythms. 

Manual Cinema has toured Leonardo across the United States, spending two months off Broadway and travelling to the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Leonardo makes its Canadian touring debut at the festival. 

"I hope the audience takes away how important it is seeing and listening to people around them. Leonardo is seen going on a quest, but when he meets Sam, he makes an unexpected decision. I hope people will see persons for who they are and what they need, and I hope everyone enjoys the songs and not get mad when they get stuck in your head." 

A short Q & A will follow the show. The 45-minute production is appropriate for children three years and older. 

Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster runs at the Arden Theatre, 5 St. Anne Street. Ticket prices are $16 plus fees. Call 780-459-1542 or online at 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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