Susan Simpson, founder of the Manual Archives, is an experimental theater artist and filmmaker whose work involves intricate marionettes and hand manipulated projection. She is on the faculty of the CalArts School of Theater and is the co-founder and co-director of AUTOMATA, an organization devoted to the advancement of puppet theater, pre-cinema, and other forgotten or neglected forms. Her puppet plays have been presented in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles including numerous times at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and the Velaslavasay Panorama. She is a member of a performance collective, The Little Fakers, creators of the marionette serial, Sunset Chronicles, which has appeared at venues across Los Angeles. Her most recent film, Boll Weevil Days, was shown at film festivals nationally and internationally and was nominated for a Tiger Award at The Rotterdam International Film Festival. She has received grants from the Durfee Foundation, California Community Foundation, Creative Capital Foundation, and is the recipient of the 2002 Center Theater Group’s Richard E. Sherwood Award.

Past work:

Lead Feet and Nothing Upstairs : A History of the Lifelike

Written and Directed and Designed by Susan Simpson 2007


"Lead Feet and Nothing Upstairs: A History of the Lifelike, a piece that radicalizes and reinvents the notion of puppet theater" F. Kathleen Foley read
Los Angeles Times

An original puppet play by Susan Simpson tracing the footsteps of The Ditto Sisters, identical triplet troubadors who enter the city of Los Angeles and set off a wave of architectural and perhaps human replication. A creation myth for our city, in which characters multiply and contract, and generations of artificial bodies mimic and interact with one another.

Written and Directed by Susan Simpson

Puppet Design: Susan Simpson

Original Music by Emily Lacy and Eric Lindley

Costume Design by Sarah Brown

Lighting Design by Kristy Baltezore

Scenic Design by Susan Simpson with Alison Heimstead

Performed by Marsian De Lellis, Jackie Kay, Katie Shook, Kendra Ware. and Anne Yatco


Boll Weevil Days


16mm film, Directed by Susan Simpson

Music by :The Carter Family, Vera Ward Hall, Roscoe Holcomb

Boll Weevil Days is an investigation of the intersection of personal and public disaster narratives. The film was inspired by a series of touching first-aid photos and television coverage of several search and rescue operations.An amalgamation of real and imagined Southern California disasters cause modernists houses to grow mold, stucco bungalows to blow away, and palm trees to lose their tops and fall to the ground. The moments of destruction loop and repeat. Over and over again the safety and intimacy of home gives way to the heighten sensations of devastation. Men take turns rescuing and treating one another with great care and tenderness, playing and replaying moments of charged intimacy in the face of a sun drenched oblivion.
Boll Weevil Days has played at

The 2006 Rotterdam International Festival (nominated for Tiger Award)

The Seattle International Film Festival,


Mad Cat Film Festival and tour

The Moving Word Los Angeles 2006


Frankenstein: Mortal Toys


Written By Eric Ehn
Directed and designed by by Susan Simpson and Janie Geiser

Part 1 performed at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in May 2004
Part 2 Performed at the Velaslavasay Panorama in June 2005
Full Version performed at the Velaslavasay Panorama in October 2006, December 2007
and HERE Art Center, New York, NY January 2008

Frankenstein: Mortal Toys is a toy theater* production of Eric Ehn’s contemplative and abstracted adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, told with the visual vocabulary of 19th century landscape painting, and portraiture. It is accompanied by the music of Severin Behnen. The voice of Frankenstein played by Chris Payne.

*Toy Theater was originally a parlour entertainment of 19th Century Europe in which miniature paper stages sets and actors were used to recreate popular stage shows of the day. The form has been taken up by experimental puppet theater artists in the past 15 years . You can now see dozens of Toy Theater pieces biennially at The Great Small Works International Toy Theater Festival in New York.


Sunset Chronicles



All cities are geological. You can't take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends.
Ivan Chtcheglov (Gilles Ivain), Formulary for a New Urbanism

Sunset Chronicles is a serial drama set on Sunset Boulevard east of Hollywood, with a cast consisting entirely of handmade marionettes. It takes place in an alternate Los Angeles located in the cracks of the city’s faulty memory, an LA of abandoned buildings, forgotten histories and real and surreal possibilities. avid L.A.viewers follow this band of hardy souls from episode to episode, as they cultivate the margins and cobble together a patchwork future out of the remnants of the hidden past.
Sunset Chronicles has been seen at several venues in and around Los Angeles, including The Noah Purifoy Foundation in Joshua Tree, C-Level, Il Corral and the Velaslavasay Panorama

Sunset Chronicles is created by a collective of writers, sound artists, visual artists and puppeteers known as THE LITTLE FAKERS.
Members of the collective include Kristy Baltezore, Andrew Choate, Cat Cooper, Alison Heimstead, Jen Hofer, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Julianna (JP) Parr, Beth Peterson, Janet Sarbanes and Susan Simpson. Each show includes the contributions of many more talented artists.

For More Info visit our website


Spit Shine Glisten


Written and Directed by Susan Simpson

Spit Shine Glisten is a puppet play that portrays a charismatic preacher and the conflicted connection she has to her followers. It explores extreme rhetorical acrobatics and lush religious spectacle. The story is based very loosely on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson, an early twentieth century Los Angeles evangelist who gained celebrity status through the creation of elaborately staged spectacles, phenomenal healing sessions, and a series of fantastic scandals.
There are many unreliable accounts of Aimee Semple Mc Pherson’s life, told by narrators under the spell of a cult of personality that has extended well beyond the grave. Add Spit Shine Glisten to that list. Spit Shine Glisten takes a few select details from McPherson’s life sews them together with conjecture, fantasy, and visceral reaction. Like the stories the preacher told in her lifetime it is a fragile and unreliable tale, in need of constant maintenance, tying down, and hoisting up.
The play is performed with life-sized wooden puppets, human beings and fractured and warped video projection.

California Institute of the Arts

Puppet Design: Susan Simpson

Scenic Design by Tracy Otwell
Music by J Why
Lighting by Benoit Beauchamp




Written and Directed and Designed by Susan Simpson

presented at the Museum of Jurassic Technology

Sound Design and Composition by Sean Rooney
Music performed by Crispus
Lighting Design by Justin Townsend
Presented at The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Pseudoflora combines traditional marionette theater with the aesthetics of natural history dioramas, and architectural models. The story is inspired by the works of Bruno Shulz and transferred to the margins of Los Angeles sprawl. The show creates a portrait of L.A. which encompasses the rundown modernist box and the carefully nurtured gardens of the tropical desert. The setting reflects a story of quietly observed loss and the comfort of the strange, beautifual and artificial natural world. An elliptical narrative follows a family through a hot summer as their business slowly sinks. A father suffers visions and hypersensitivity that send him on a mission to ferret out pockets of the sublime. A mother immerses herself in a routine of fitness and re-hydration. Their son searches for the water his mother seeks and the wonder his father sees.
The performance takes place on a marionette stage built to reflect the cheap architecture of Los Angeles apartment buildings. In the place of curtains there are sliding glass doors. These open toshow anything from sweeping panoramas to small isolated details. The setting moves from a typical heavily stuccoed East Side street to the blank interior of an apartment to a nearly empty warehouse. Periodically the smaller windows open to reveal vivid blow-ups of the subliminal layer of the story.
Characters are hand-carved puppets. The figures are initially move in style imitative of human gesture, but this careful mimicry frequently disintegrates into mechanical loops, strange means of locomotion, or dead stillness. The result is the creation of a netherworld hovering between the animate and the inanimate.
There are words spoken sporadically, but the sound of the performance comes mainly from the band Crispus, who plays live throughout the show. Crispus, lead by composer Sean Rooney, combine instrumental music (clarinet, saxophone, guitar, unusual percussion, and toy piano) with processed sound samples. The resulting score is a collage of melodies and found sound that comes together to create an off beat, slightly abstract melancholia.





Written and Directed and Designed by Susan Simpson

California Institute of the Arts
Written by Kip Lewis and Susan Simpson
Directed and Designed by Susan Simpson
Original score by J Why

The Illuminist is a haunting puppet play about an aging artist who vaporizes before the eyes of her estranged brother and sister. As the siblings gently needle at the ambiguities of the dieing woman’s existence they do subtle violence to her carefully constructed identity. The performance incorporates collage animation, human scale puppetry, live and sampled sound. The voices of all the characters are performed by a single actress speaking through a voice processor. These disembodied artificial voices work with the disjointed melodies and found sound of the score to create an atmosphere of highly agitated nostalgia. The puppets have creaky wooden armatures and clothing and skin made of photocopies. The puppeteers clothed in black surgical scrubs and masks serve as manipulators, nurses, and witnesses. Puppets and puppeteers move through a world of plastic shower chairs, rolling hospital beds, and inadequate privacy screens. The characters cycle through a series of ritualized care giving routines. Animations slip in and out of view illustrating the characters own intermittent awareness of the emotions behind their mechanical gestures. The siblings poke and prod both literally and figuratively at the frail and failing facades that they each of them attempts to maintain.