MANIPULATE Festival 2023 returns to the capital with one of its most ambitious programmes to date – with shows at the Traverse Theatre, Summerhall, The Studio at Festival Theatre, Fruitmarket, online and outside across the city.
Edinburgh’s international festival of visual theatre and animated film, MANIPULATE, is a celebration of visually stunning work, with a focus on artworks which breathe life into the inanimate or tell stories primarily through imagery.
The 16th edition of the festival will offer audiences a rich palette of events across a range of visual artforms, including large-scale illuminated hands which will roam across the city; intricate live micro-cinema featuring over 2000 miniature animals; an aerial work inspired by lobster fishing; and theatre simultaneously performed and livestreamed between Scotland and Argentina.
There are an array of themes and ideas to uncover, with much of this year’s programme speaking to the stories that we tell ourselves, and one another, about who we are. Further themes of the programme include migration, the resilience of the human spirit, memory, celebrations of life and of death, and our relationship with a changing climate.
MANIPULATE Festival 2023 will run from Thursday 2 – Sunday 12 February, presenting a dynamic programme of live performances, installations, workshops, and film screenings – taking place in person and online, with shows at Summerhall, The Studio @ Festival Theatre, Traverse Theatre and, for the first time, Fruitmarket. The Festival will also see outdoor installations take to the streets of Edinburgh. Acclaimed international artists will share work alongside Scotland’s own leading artists, including the return of MANIPULATE favourites and brand-new companies.
Alongside a diverse programme of brand-new work for MANIPULATE Festival 2023, some elements of the programme are finally coming to the stage after being rescheduled from 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dawn Taylor, Artistic Director and CEO of Puppet Animation Scotland, says:
“We are thrilled that 2023 will see the return of a full MANIPULATE Festival programme for the first time in three years. By expanding across Edinburgh into new venues, the city streets and online, we can reach and connect with new audiences and spark new conversations. We are looking forward to celebrating the sheer magic that puppetry, visual theatre and animation can offer during these challenging times; a spark of hope and light that MANIPULATE has come to represent in the dark of the Scottish winter.
With a more varied palette of artforms than ever, and featuring work which is playful, bold, interrogative and joyful from a dynamic group of visually-driven artists, 2023 promises to be one of our most ambitious programmes to date. We can’t wait to share it with you!”
Jaine Lumsden, Creative Scotland’s Theatre Officer, says:
“MANIPULATE is all about bringing together Scottish and international visual theatre and animation of the highest quality and artistic ambition. The Festival plays a central role in the physical performance sector and we’re so glad to be behind its return to full programming next year.”
The 2023 Programme includes:
MANIPULATE Festival 2023 will open with a roaming performance on the streets of Edinburgh, created by Fergus Dunnet and Ronan McMahom. The Dab Hands are large-scale illuminated puppets specially commissioned by MANIPULATE Festival to usher in the 2023 Festival and welcome all those they come to pass. Following this will be an exuberant Opening Night Party in celebration of their first full festival in three years, offering exclusive pop-up performances, music and sneak peeks into highlights across the festival, and a visit from specially commissioned giant illuminated puppets for all to enjoy.
Raw Material & Vanishing Point present the World Premiere of Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance), by renowned theatre artist Ramesh Meyyappan. This tender and visually creative new show is a love story that follows Harry, who has dementia and uses sign language. Events from the past and present intertwine as Harry moves into a new home. Just as his nurse begins to learn his language, Harry begins to forget, leaving him in a unique world alone with only himself.
Also exploring distorted memory are Vision Mechanics, who will present The Fantastic Life of Minnie Rubinski. Part installation and part filmed puppetry show, this intimate experience is a funny, moving and sometimes nonsensical journey through the title character’s life, synapses and fragmented memories.
Relationships and their complex dynamics are the forefront for Scottish aerial theatre company Paper Doll Militia, who return to MANIPULATE with the World Premiere of Arthropoda – gripping aerial circus theatre that unpacks the unravelling of a relationship through aerial performance. The piece is told through the visual analogy of lobster fishing, and a lobster stuck in a creel who can leave but chooses not to.
Scotland-based Shotput question Hollywood norms in Ferguson and Barton, as they awake in a filmic dream world exploring the power dynamics of their own relationship. Inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the show explores communication and miscommunication, voyeurism, gender roles, and sensuality.
Also inspired by Hitchcock are festival returnees Agrupación Señor Serrano’s with their show Birdie. The Spanish masters of micro-cinema explore migration through multimedia performance – thousands of migrating birds draw impossible shapes in the sky in between two mirages; one with wars, droughts and deforestation, the other with safe streets, stability and renewable energies.
Continuing the theme of refuge and migration, performance maker Tashi Gore, visual theatre expert Ross Mackay, and playwright Will Gore create a hybrid live performance and digital animation with The Yellow Canary an epic true story and leap into the imagination of a young child exploring love, loss and what it means to flee your home.
In a further exploration of migrant identity, Katherina Radeva of award-winning, bold performance art duo, Two Destination Language, presents 40/40 – fresh from its World Premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022. Katherina is a woman, a migrant and now, a dancer. 40/40 is an unapologetic celebration of 40 years of joy and hardship.
In an exciting development for 2023, MANIPULATE will take to the streets of Edinburgh, with the Scottish Premiere of Sandman’s Un-retained. A collaboration between choreographer Sabine Molenaar, multimedia artist Gertjan Jiasion and composer Jochem Baelus, it combines dance, audiovisual production and projection mapping to tell the timeless, weightless story of being human. Un-retained will be projected onto the architecture of Edinburgh (with an exact location to be announced at a later date) for the duration of MANIPULATE 2023.
Free public installation work at the Festival also includes A Rock and a Hard Place, from puppetry and micro cinema theatre expert Gavin Glover. This kinetic sculpture work initially premiered as part of Restless Worlds at MANIPULATE in 2021. A collection of mini dioramas made up of the Earth, Sky, Sea and the Mind, this installation imagines a parallel world, with accompanying audio to be enjoyed by headphones.
Into the Long Green Jaws is another World Premiere presented by Long Green Jaws – artist/musicians Sarah McWhinney and Fergus Hall. Combining experimental, ambient improvised music with installation, puppetry and performance art, Into the Long Green Jaws is a piece of visual gig-theatre which explores the intricacy and balance of coastal environments as multi-layered meso-ecosystems. A free drop-in installation will accompany the piece.
Continuing MANIPULATE’s tradition of presenting high-quality puppetry for adults, festival favourites Ljubljana Puppet Theatre return to MANIPULATE with Moč (The Power), which uses intimate puppet-object theatre to question different motives of power and weakness, the public vs the private.
International puppetry work is also the focus of VOX Muziektheater, who present the UK Premiere of Poor Thing, a soul-stirring performance that combines opera and object theatre as three musical funeral directors try to reconstruct the forgotten life of an anonymous woman through her belongings. It is an ode to melancholy and an embracing of life.
Scotland-based live performance artist Suzi Cunningham performs a double bill of Rules to Live By and Eidos. The first is a celebration of transformation, a requiem for one of Suzi’s teenage idols, Mark E. Smith; a rebellious aspiration to a hero’s punk anarchy. The second, Eidos, is a tribute to Suzi’s punk-in-her-own-right Grandmother.
Pioneer of self-suspension rope performance Kasia Zawadzka explores the idea of the obsessive inner voice that keeps you from being at peace in aerial performance Ill Lit. Returning after a digital work-in-progress as part of MANIPULATE 2021, this full production using the Japanese art of Shibari explores mental health, repetition and the struggle to break out.
Anna Nekrassova presents Before Thumbelina, an everyday fairytale for adults which beautifully unfolds into a touching story about a person’s struggles with infertility. Carried by song and rhythm as well as puppet and object theatre, the solo performance by Nekrassova focuses on the moment before H. C. Andersen’s renowned story of Thumbelina.
Clown Cabaret with Plutot La Vie invites audiences to share a drink as part of an evening of cabaret. Across an hour and a half, four clown performances will lead audiences through the weird, wild and sublime stupidity, with a drink included in your ticket.
In animation, MANIPULATE 2023 will see the return of Animated Womxn: International Shorts, screening the work of extraordinary, award-winning female and non-binary animators from across the globe. Animated Highlights will pack in a dizzying array of animation styles and untold stories, featuring new work from established and emerging talent from around the world, in partnership with Edinburgh Short Film Festival. For the first time, these screenings will take place in-person at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket, as well as being available digitally.
Works in Progress will also continue with SNAPSHOTS, a first look at exciting new visual theatre workshops from six Scottish artists. Sand, from director Daniel Livingston and performer Petre Dobre – is a highly visual performance that uses movement, object manipulation and shadow puppetry to explore our dreams and face our nightmares; also supported by the Surge Bursary Programme, Noah Tomson’s Between Earth and Moon will be performed simultaneously in Argentina and Scotland, taking inspiration from Italo Calvo’s surrealist short story, Distance of the Moon.
Workshops throughout the Festival will give an insight into creating your own work with Conceiving Visual Theatre with Al Seed; Micro Cinema Theatre with Gavin Glover; and developing your own multi-operator puppetry skill with Mervyn Millar in Working as One.
Tickets for the 2023 Festival will be on sale from 5pm, Thursday 10 November: manipulatefestival.org.