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Welcome to The Living Canvas, celebrating the beauty and expressive power of the human form through performance art and photography. Sign up for our mailing list.

Tickets now on sale for [Trans]formation – exploring the naked truth of gender identity

Tickets are now on sale for this incredible collaborative project between The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company.

[Trans]formation is devised entirely from the works of and performed by transgender/genderqueer/intersex/non-binary artists. Designed and directed in the style of The Living Canvas, nude performers embody the expressive power and diversity of the human form under evocative projections to reveal, instead of conceal, every body’s beautiful possibility. [Trans]formation explores the naked truth of gender identity.

Devised by Ronen Kohn, Darling Squire, Avi Roque, Gaby Labotka, and Kevin Sparrow.
Directed by Company Member Gaby Labotka

Production Team
Anna Rose Ii-Epstein – Co-Producer/Co-Artistic Director Nothing Without a Company
Pete Guither – Co-Producer/Artistic Director The Living Canvas
Gaby Labotka – Creator/Director/Devisor
Veronica Bustoz – Stage Manager
Charlie Hano – Assistant to the Director
Hannah Ii-Epstein – Co-Artistic Director
Kaitlin Carver – Casting
Rebecca Kling – Advisor

Design Team
Chris Owens – Projections Designer
Sarah Putts – Sound Designer
Brittany Mayer – Set Designer
Michael J. Sanow – Technical Director
Marisa Allison – Costume Designer

Gabriel Faith Howard, Ronen Kohn, Lily Ryan-Lozon, Chase Nuerge, Ben Polson, Kevin Sparrow, Charlie Baker

Join us at
The Flat Iron Arts Building
1579 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

PREVIEWS: November 15th and 16th 2016
OPENING: Thursday, November 17th 2016
CLOSING: Saturday, December 17th 2016

Purchase tickets


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Sneak peek of [Trans]formation!

Check out this video with interviews of cast members and devisers!


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Living Canvas joins Abbie Fest

Once again this year, the Living Canvas will be part of the annual Abbie Hoffman Died for your Sins Theatre Festival – the 28th and final Abbie Fest. The Festival takes place at the Den Theatre in Chicago August 19-21 with a variety of performances taking place all day and night. The Living Canvas will once again present Gaby Labotka’s short piece “Abbie Hoffman Died for our SKINS” which is scheduled to perform late Saturday night (August 20) at around 1:10 am.

Full schedule here and advance passes available here.


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Express Yourself event October 2

Save the Date! Express Yourself Fashion Show — a fundraiser for [Trans]formation. 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Crystal Ballroom and Lounge 529 Davis Street in Evanston. Presented by The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company.


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[Trans]formation auditions

Nothing Without a Company and The Living Canvas are casting performers for their upcoming collaboration [Trans]formation directed by Gaby Labotka.

We are seeking transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, and intersex performers of all ages and races who move well to be a part of a collaborative ensemble of 5-14 people.

Dance, movement, circus, and/or clowning training or experience is a plus as this is a piece of highly physical theatre in which movement sequences will be partly devised by the group.

[Trans]formation is being devised from submissions we received from the transgender, gender non-conforming community exploring the naked truth of being trans through artwork, poetry, music, essay, and theatre. Our bodies are a constant field of growth, change, warfare, and identity. In our society, we tend to fixate on genitalia instead of the individual. As with its other productions, The Living Canvas as a vehicle provides transcendence of this fixation and sexualization and reveals the human form as more through the combination of nude performance and the brilliant imagery of photographs and artwork projected upon the body in motion. Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, we have the opportunity to explore in a new way what the naked body is in relationship to gender and identity. “Naked” may mean something different to certain performers because of their gender expression and we welcome that. [Trans]formation will be a platform of body revolution and revelation, by helping people see the whole person, and not just parts.

As mentioned, this production will be performed nude, but we are sensitive to gender expression needs. We will accommodate if a performer wants to be considered but requires garments to better represent their gender while nude onstage without triggering traumatic experiences. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Material to Prepare: Please prepare a 1-2 minute piece that utilizes some text (may be poetry, song, monologue etc). There will also be a group movement section which will feature a small piece of choreography and an exploration/improvisation to music. Please wear clothes that allow you to move.

Audition Dates/Times: Saturday, May 21st and Sunday, May 22nd.

11:00AM, 1:00PM, 3:00PM, 5:00PM

Audition Location: The Theatre School at DePaul University – 2350 N. Racine Ave. Chicago, IL 60614

ROOM 302

Time Commitment:

Rehearsals: September 24th – November 6th

Tech: November 7th – November 13th

Previews: November 15th, 16th

Performances: November 17th – December 18th Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm,Sundays at 7pm*** at The Vault at Collaboraction Studios in The Flat Iron Arts Building

***Thanksgiving Week performances will be November 21st, 25th, and 26th at 8pm, and November 27th at 7pm.

Please submit your headshot and resume to casting.nothingwithoutacompany@gmail.com along with your preferred audition date and times.


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A mention of Living Canvas’ “Cathedrals”

From the Chicago Reader, referring to the “Skin in the Game” one-act festival at Stage 773 in Chicago:

“And while the night isn’t a competition, if it were, the Living Canvas’s gorgeous, sensuous color-projection piece Cathedrals would win handily.”

You can get tickets here.


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Very Much Alive – A Living Canvas production

Very Much Alive — April 28, 29, 30 at 7 p.m. on the Illinois State University campus in Normal, Illinois at the Center for Visual Arts, room 110. Free. This is a student-devised and created Living Canvas piece loosely based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Limited Seating. Directed by Dominique Jackson.


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Living Canvas “Cathedrals”

Join us at Stage 773 in Chicago for “Cathedrals” as part of their one-act festival “Skin in the Game.” Fridays at 10:30 p.m. from April 29 – May 27. Tickets available now


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Dear Transgender, Intersex, Genderqueer, and Non-Binary persons,

The Living Canvas in partnership with Nothing Without a Company (NWaC) is developing a new work of theatre created and devised by trans voices titled [Trans]formation. As such, we are reaching out to the trans community for submissions; we are looking for stories, paintings, poems, allegories, songs, or any work of art that explores the naked truth of being trans. These works may be happy, heartbreaking, funny, tragic, uplifting, or any other kind of story so long as it is honest and explores transformation.

Trans stories told by trans voices. None of that Dallas Buyers Club, About Ray, or The Danish Girl BS. We want your story, told by you, at the level of participation you feel most comfortable with. Join us as a contributor, an advisor, a performer, or any/all of the above.

The Living Canvas is an exploration of the expressive power of the human form. We make works of theatre actualized by nude performers under projections of photographs, paintings, or beautiful light. Our venture is to highlight the beauty in every body and tell stories that encourage body acceptance and love. For this particular project, we are adjusting our performance model to be better inclusive of trans/intersex/genderqueer performers: our definition of “nude” will be adjusted to prevent potential instances of gender dysphoria.

Nothing Without a Company is planting theatre around Chicago with all forms of media to empower self and community through immersive and revolutionary acts of art in site-specific and reclaimed environments.

Pieces should not exceed three (3) minutes or five (5) pages in length. If you are submitting a video or song, please do not exceed five (5) minutes in length. Attach written works as a Word Document or PDF, visual art and photography as .jpeg, and for videos please include a link to an Unlisted YouTube video link.

If your work is selected as a part of the final production, we will notify you and discuss casting preferences for your piece. We want to collaborate with you, and tell your story in an honest and respectful way.

If you would like to be considered as a performer, please attach your Headshot and Resume and include “PERFORMER” in the title of your e-mail, along with your name.
Please e-mail your submission to thelivingcanvas.nwac@gmail.com no later than March 31st, 2016.
Questions may be addressed to our Literary Manager, Kevin Sparrow at this address, though other members of our selection committee may review and respond to your e-mail.

Although we would love to use every submission, we are only given a limited amount of stage time to perform [Trans]formation. We hope to use every submission as a part of the larger discussion we hope this production will inspire: anything that does not end up on our stage will be included in our dramaturgy/lobby display and/or be featured in our program booklet.

Submissions will be reviewed and selected by Kevin Sparrow (NWaC Literary Manager and Company Member), Gaby Labotka (Director/Deviser, The Living Canvas Company Member, and NWaC Company Member), Ronen Kohn (Lead Deviser, The Living Canvas Company Member), and Romeo Green (Dramaturg, NWaC Company Member).

We look forward to receiving and reviewing your work; we are very excited for this mass collaboration in storytelling!

Thank you,
Gaby Labotka & Ronen Kohn
Director and Devisers for [Trans]formation


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Assorted Images

The Living Canvas celebrates the beauty and expressive power of the human form through performance art and photography, nurturing a sense of body acceptance for performer and audience. It is spectacle and storytelling, utilizing creative lighting, sound, and multi-media imagery that interact with the human canvas.


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What is The Living Canvas? It’s visual art. It’s performance art. It’s…

“a formally ingenious technique that confounds the traditional relationship between subject and backdrop”
— Brian Nemtusak, Chicago Reader

Photographer Pete Guither has specialized in photography of the body as canvas since the mid 1980s, using the texture of projected images, along with light and shadow, to capture the intricacies and expressiveness of the nude form. His award-winning work has been featured online and presented in various galleries and publications, as well as a United Nations presentation (“Furrows and Deltas: The Erogenous Zones of Mother Earth”). Currently serving as Assistant to the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University, Guither’s extensive background includes theatre, dance, visual arts, arts technology, and music.

It was the second night of the very first Living Canvas performance. A woman came up to me and said:

“I saw your show last night. I went home, took off my clothes, stood in front of a mirror and felt better about myself. Thank you.”

That is the essence of The Living Canvas

In 2001, the photography evolved into a concept that united the images in live performance, integrating richly textured movement and self-discovery with a once-immobile canvas. “The Living Canvas” (2001), using symphonic-like movements, performed at Illinois State University and for a seven week run at Strawdog Theatre in Chicago. In 2002, “The Living Canvas: An Odyssey” at Chicago Actors’ Studio took the concept a different direction with a theatrical storyline (based loosely on “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). “Ascent of the Living Canvas (2004) and “The Living Canvas 2005″ followed a free-form theatrical vignette structure that ranged from serious social statement to abstract silliness, and incorporated digital projection and multiple levels to the work. “Unsex Me Here – a Living Canvas production” deconstructed the world of Macbeth in 2008. “Nocturne” (2009) effectively explored the dark and playful children’s fairy tales that haunt our dreamscape. Each year brought additional levels of exploration (as well as changes in technology). In 2012, "Living Canvas: For the People" allowed audience members to come earlier in the day and help create the piece for that evening. IMGP1085Often controversial, Living Canvas productions always daringly explore themes of self-esteem, body acceptance and beauty, repression, and the breaking down of societal barriers regarding the human form, regardless of the structure of story of the work.

We don’t mind that some audience members come to the show in order to “see naked people.” Inevitably, they leave having experienced something much more profound.

Integral to each performance is an open discussion period after the show with the audience, often with opportunity for audience members to take the plunge onstage themselves, playing in projections.

Living Canvas performers (as well as those who “pose” for photography) are all collaborators in the artistic process. That is an essential part of making the canvas live.


The Living Canvas celebrates the beauty and expressive power of the human form through performance art and photography, nurturing a sense of body acceptance for performer and audience. It is spectacle and storytelling, utilizing creative lighting, sound, and multi-media imagery that interact with the human canvas.

Some reviews:

“… sensual and visceral performance art piece done with craft and good taste… For the brave who dare stimulating late night entertainment, “Unsex Me Here” is a visual treat that dares you to join them.” — Chicago Critic.com


“Pete Guither’s high-def projections of intricate patterns across naked actors is eye candy on the order of a laser-light show…” — Time Out Chicago

“I didn’t know what I attended, but it was definitely one of the most courageous, most creatively uninhibited, most theatrical boundary-pushing events that I saw this year in the city. … I admired and was very, very impressed, by the risk-taking that the actors, the director, Vanessa Passini, and Artistic Director Guither took. It was a unique, breathtaking production.” — From the Ledge

“Guither, joined by director/choreographer Vanessa Passini and The Living Canvas have brought to the National Pastime Theater a one-of-a-kind theatrical performance powerful enough to make even Shakespeare red in the cheeks.” — Newcity Chicago

“… the only Shakespeare in town where the costume budget was zilch." — UR Chicago

"Stoners, Dali fans, sensualists of every stripe, this show’s for you. Sober or otherwise, you’ll find the visual pleasures of Guither’s idiom considerable, the kinetic sculpture consistently engrossing as choreographer Mark Hackman makes the most of the cast’s varying backgrounds in movement and dance." — Brian Nemtusak, Chicago Reader

"intriguing and fanciful… feast for the eyes… RECOMMENDED" — Hedy Weiss, Sun-Times

"…intensely peculiar and mesmerizing… It’s riveting." — Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune

A brief history, from the photographer

I was living in Brooklyn in the 1980s, studying theatre. My roommate at the time owed me a large phone bill when he moved out, and he paid with an old Pentax K1000 camera. It was the first camera of any kind I had owned and I was instantly obsessed. When I started to take pictures around the neighborhood and showed them to my downstairs landlady, she threatened to increase my rent — clearly I was living in a much more beautiful area than she had realized. I was on the right track.

I knew I would work with the human body. From my work in theatre and my interest in dance, I understood that while a flower can have exquisite beauty, the body has that beauty while also conveying the complexities of intelligence and passion. However, I could not ask anyone to pose for me. The notion of finding a good way to phrase “Hey, you wanna come back to my place and take off your clothes while I take pictures of you?” was beyond me. I never have asked that question. The scores of artistic partners who have worked with me in still photography and in performance have all approached me and asked to be involved.

So how did I start? A dark basement. Myself as the model. Simple equipment including a film camera on a tripod with no timer and only a short shutter release. Try this some time. You set up the “shoot.” Turn off all the lights. In complete blackness, open the shutter on the camera, then feel your way to where you need to stand. With one hand outside the frame turn a light on and off thereby registering the image on the film. Then find your way in blackness to the camera (sometimes knocking it over) and close the shutter. One frame done.

Eventually, I had enough images that reflected my vision to show others, and partners joined in. Everyone I’ve worked with has been an artistic partner, not a model (OK, there was one person who thought he was a model, but when we got the photos back and he looked like he belonged in a JC Penney catalogue, he realized his mistake and became a partner). Partnership and collaboration is the essential nature of this work, because the person in the shot is speaking volumes — even if there’s only a shoulder in the frame.

Corroded grate on a rooftop pipe

Corroded grate on a rooftop pipe

Corroded grate on a rooftop pipe[/caption]

At one point I tired of the two scoop lights I had purchased at the hardware store (I couldn’t afford “photography” lights) and looked for some other light source. There was an old slide projector in the basement. “Ah,” I thought, “a beam of light might be interesting,” as I aimed it at a friend, not realizing that it was loaded. The scrub trees on the side of the mountain in the old vacation slide left in the projector wrapped around and became part of my friend’s body. After quickly rifling through and using any slides I already owned, finding and photographing the images and textures that communicated with the body became my next challenge. Not all images work; some overwhelm the body, others are overwhelmed. Some work well in movement but not in still photography.

For some years, I enjoyed the notion that the Living Canvas photography could exist fully as a framed work, but I also preferred it to be more interactive and communicative with an audience — even if it was just presenting the work as a slide show with music and text. At some point, I also noticed that when people moved through the images, a new effect was created that didn’t show up in still photographs. I worked with some of my friends and we created a short live performance piece at Theatre of Ted at Illinois State University. Live performance brought a host of new dimensions. That provided the groundwork and inspiration for all subsequent performance events.

Underlying all the Living Canvas work is the basic belief that the human body is inherently beautiful and expressive. Even in those images that provoke a disturbed response due to specific projected content, the underlying beauty is still there. The Living Canvas brings new insight to the human body, through viewing it in a different way (emphasizing and separating muscles and lines through light and shadow) or through its interaction with other media (images projected on the body)

The work is not in any way about sexuality. Since sexuality is an intrinsic element of the human being, its influence cannot be ignored, but the Living Canvas also attempts to dispel the oft-held belief that the naked human body’s only meaning is sexual.

Finally, The Living Canvas is about humor. We all need to laugh, and since the body is so expressive, why not hear some one-liners from our bodies? Interestingly, this often the hardest barrier for our audiences to cross — accepting that it’s OK to laugh when naked people do something funny.

It is.

Production History

Caterpillar and Tree, from Living Canvas: Nocturne

Caterpillar and Tree, from Living Canvas: Nocturne

  • Spring, 2001: Living and Breathing Canvas. The Studio Theatre at Illinois State University in Normal, IL
  • Summer, 2001: The Living Canvas. Strawdog Theatre, Chicago
  • Summer, 2002: The Living Canvas: An Odyssey. Actor's Studio Theatre, Chicago
  • Summer, 2004: Ascent of the Living Canvas. Boxer Rebellion Theatre
  • Summer, 2005: The Living Canvas 2005. Victory Gardens Theatre
  • Summer, 2008: Unsex Me Here - A Living Canvas Production. National Pastime Theater
  • Summer, 2009: The Living Canvas: Nocturne. National Pastime Theater
  • Summer, 2010: The Living Canvas: Demons. National Pastime Theater
  • Summer, 2011: The Living Canvas: Rain. National Pastime Theater
  • Summer, 2012: The Living Canvas: Eureka, National Pastime Theater, Chicago and Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, Rochester, NY.
  • Summer, 2013: The Living Canvas: For the People, National Pastime Theater, Chicago.
  • August, 2013: Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Skins, Abbie Hoffman Theatre Festival, Chicago
  • Summer, 2014: The Living Canvas: Rx, The Den Theatre, Chicago

There have also been a number of shorter productions (Living Canvas Demo et al) performed at Illinois State University as part of Theatre of Ted and various performance art festivals.


Contact Pete Guither, Artistic Director at pete@thelivingcanvas.com

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