Berkeley Talks: How Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ took on a life of its own


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Manual Cinema presents Frankenstein as part of Cal Performances at Home. (Photo by Drew Dir)

In this special Halloween-inspired episode of Berkeley Talks, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ joins Manual Cinema’s co-artistic director Drew Dir to discuss the collective’s presentation of Frankenstein, a Cal Performances co-commission, in a talk moderated by Cal Performances’ executive and artistic director Jeremy Geffen.

“Frankenstein has proven to be an enormously resonant text today,” said Christ, a Victorian literature scholar who is teaching a freshman seminar — Frankenstein and Its Rewritings — this semester. “There are a number of contemporary writers who have been rewriting Frankenstein: Ian McEwan in Machines Like Me or Jeanette Winterson in Frankissstein, which is a double narrative — one of Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein, the other of a kind of parallel story of artificial intelligence. There was even a Frankenstein in Baghdad, which was a really chilling book. So, I think it’s a narrative for our time with the incredible capability through genetic technology, through artificial intelligence that [hu]mankind has obtained.”

In Manual Cinema’s presentation of Frankenstein, part of the Cal Performances at Home streaming series, performers manipulate hundreds of paper puppets to create a silent animated film in real time with live actors and a score performed on stage by four musicians.

“We’ve created a technique called cinematic shadow puppetry, which uses old-school overhead projectors, the same kind that you might’ve used in math class when you were a kid,” said Dir. “We use a whole bank of overhead projectors to use slides, shadow puppets and create something that doesn’t look like a traditional children’s shadow puppet play, but something that resembles an animated film made live in front of you.”

The live performance will premiere on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. and will be available to stream through Jan. 27, 2021. Learn more about Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein and buy tickets on Cal Performances’ website.

This talk and performance are part of Cal Performances’ Illuminations: Fact or Fiction series.