Chicago’s Manual Cinema: ‘Edinburgh Fringe feels like an important cultural exchange’

Julia Miller, artistic director of Chicago’s Manual Cinema. Photo: D Star Photography Julia Miller, artistic director of Chicago’s Manual Cinema. Photo: D Star Photography

Julia Miller, artistic director of Chicago’s Manual Cinema, tells Nick Awde about taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe…

Edinburgh veteran or first-timer?

Last year Manual Cinema performed Ada/Ava at Underbelly Topside. We had an amazing run with great audiences and sold out almost all our shows. The word of mouth was amazing. We were also seen by presenters who then booked Ada/Ava in the US and abroad. We decided it would be great to bring Lula Del Ray and invest in it touring more as well. We’re being produced by Underbelly so they found the venue for us.

Short run vs long run?

I don’t know if I can say since we’ve only done a month-long run at Edinburgh to date. Doing as many shows as possible was our goal so we could be seen by as many people as possible. It is a pretty gruelling schedule and you do have to keep the show fresh when you are performing it every day for a month. But by the end of the run everyone knows the show so well it’s basically locked in our bodies, which feels really good.

How is Edinburgh different from US fringes?

There isn’t really a comparison in terms of scale. All fringes in the US are much more local to the city they are hosted in as far as audience and performers. Not many US fringes can bring artists from all over the world, let alone have audiences from all over the world attend them. We also don’t have anything near the density of shows. Edinburgh is totally its own thing.

How do fringes compare with a ‘normal’ theatre run?

The majority of Manual Cinema tour dates are single performances. We usually unload the show at the venue, tech, perform, then pack it all up and head to the next show. It is such a pleasure to be able to ‘sit down’ for this festival run and do the show in the same space every day.

What do you gain professionally from the fringe?

We have just arrived from a four-week run of Ada/Ava at the Avignon Festival, a direct result of our 2016 debut in Edinburgh. A lot of the North American programmers also travel to Edinburgh to see work and performing here is a surprisingly efficient way to reach them. It was also great to have reviews published about our work outside of the US. It has broadened our audience and recognition.

So is Edinburgh worth the investment?

Absolutely. Manual Cinema has booked quite a bit of touring in the US and abroad because of our run at Edinburgh. We did have to plan carefully to make it happen, and I think there is definitely risk involved.

What’s the most value to you of doing Edinburgh?

Obviously the reviews and bookings are great but it also feels like an important cultural exchange. We are exposed to so much amazing work here from around the world that we just don’t have access to in Chicago, let alone most of the US. It’s really stimulating and inspires our own new work as well.

Manual Cinema – Lula del Ray, August 2-27, Underbelly Med Quad