“Short Cuts: An Anthology of Scary Stories” brings spooky shadow puppetry to screens everywhere

The Cornell College Theatre and Dance Department is starting its season off on a creepy note with its first production, “Short Cuts: An Anthology of Scary Stories.”

This original production, developed by Professor of Theatre and Dance Scott Olinger and 15 Cornell College students, will stream online Nov. 5–14, right after Halloween. 

The film presents an anthology of scary tales gathered from cultures all over the globe told in its own shadow puppet style.

Two students work to create a spooky face on a projector.
Caleb Alcorn (left) and Elaiah Volin (right) test a prototype puppet face to see how well it expresses emotion.

“The show was largely inspired by the work of Chicago-based Manual Cinema, a company that tells stories in a cinematic way, but with shadow puppets,” said Olinger, who is directing the show. “They work in real-time, moving back and forth from multiple overhead projectors, using paper cutouts in combination with live actors in silhouette to tell amazing visual stories. Our work is inspired by their work, but will be in a pre-recorded form rather than live.”

Viewing is free but registration is required to get the link for the show. Audience members may register in advance by filling out the online registration form at crnl.co/watch to receive the link on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m., and they have until Nov. 14 at 11:59 p.m. CDT to watch the show.

For Olinger, this project was inspired by a “few threads in my life.” First, the work of Manual Cinema and puppet cinema in general, which became more visible in the past year due to the 2021 movie release of “Candyman” that used shadow puppetry.

“We also had been talking about projects that were pandemic safe, and students brought up the idea of an Edgar Allan Poe project,” Olinger said. “At the same time as all that, we were looking carefully into issues of diversity and representation, which led us to eschew Poe for stories we gathered all around the world. ‘Short Cuts’ was born of all those intersections.”

This will be the first production at Cornell that uses shadow puppetry throughout the entire show and is sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. While the show uses puppetry, it is not intended for children.