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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.

Chicago Critic recommends Living Canvas Rx

“Fearless performers… celebrating the inherent beauty of all sorts of human forms. Interesting projection designs… exquisite use of lighting… a polished performance art piece. Recommended.”

– Chicago Critic

 

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Meet the cast – Laura Elleseg

Laura enjoys devising highly collaborative pieces and especially loves the places where the line between dance and theater gets blurry, so she couldn’t be happier to be working with The Living Canvas. She’s originally from Milwaukee and has been thriving in Chicago for the past eight years. She looks forward to directing Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day at Spartan Theatre in the fall. When not making plays Laura brews beer and dotes on her dog.

[This is part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago. Tickets and details.]

 

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Meet the cast – Cassandra Hannan

If you told me three years ago that I would end up performing nude using viewpoints to create a movement piece based on drug addiction, I would have died laughing. And here I am creating raw art, that not only excites me but reminds me why I even got involved with theatre to begin with. Working with The Living Canvas has shown me the power a group of people can have to tell a story. By using our whole bodies, we are “exposing” all experiences related to drugs. The concentration on ensemble work, drew me to audition for this company. By trusting and collaborating together we have the ability to create stunning and thought provoking art. By being nude, we have the means to take the audience to various levels by being actual living and breathing canvases. Using your body can be a powerful tool to create art. Currently I am also a member of Gorilla Tango Theatre, that produces parody plays that incorporate burlesque. Within this company we also use the raw body as a means to communicate art. When not performing with Living Canvas Rx, you can find me Friday nights at 10:30pm performing on Milwaukee and Western in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Boobs!

[This is part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago. Tickets and details.]

 

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Meet the cast – Kelly Steik

Kelly has one more semester left at Illinois State University where she will continue playing in the Improv Mafia. Hopefully this semester will be jam-packed with theatrical endeavors and lasting memories of beautiful friends and colleagues. Then she’ll move to a city (Chicago? Los Angeles? Who really knows!) and continue to act and grow as a human. “The process of working on this show has been very collaborative, exploratory, and honest. Outside of improv, I am very proud to say that this is my first acting experience in Chicago. The fact that we’re all super naked the whole time just makes it all the better. Go big or go home, yes?”

[This is part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago. Tickets and details.]

 

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Meet the cast – Hope Barnes

I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work on this challenging and brave piece, and to collaborate with such a bold, joyful ensemble. I’m constantly inspired by playing and devising with a group, and am amazed every day at how much wiser my body can be than the rest of me. In the fall, I will be working on Red Death, an original adaptation of the book Phantom of the Opera, with The Runaways Lab Theater.

[This is part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago. Tickets and details.]

 

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Meet the cast – Isaac Samuelson

Isaac Samuelson is super excited to show you what he thinks about the color red. Also about drugs and how they relate to the color red. Also about naked bodies and how they relate to drugs and the color red. This bio has been brought to you by the color red. And drugs. And naked bodies. Thank you for indulging me and also thank you for indulging yourself. The process of the living canvas has been full of movement and fun, and of the nagging thought “how will gravity affect me differently when I’m naked.”

[This is part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago. Tickets and details.]

 

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Meet the cast – Sarah Smith

A student at Columbia College Chicago with an expected graduation of spring 2016 with a B.F.A. in musical theatre, Sarah Smith is the jack-of-all-trades: dancer, biker, singer, and chef — she’ll try anything once. The DIY spirit is alive in her and taking hold of projects from modern art involving mannequins, juggling, building her own stilts, and repairs around the house, to song-writing, teaching herself a myriad instruments, and trying, but failing, to teach her cat that 6 a.m. is NOT an appropriate wake-up time.

Sarah is excited to be a part of the Living Canvas ensemble because of its unique take on the body. A long-time body positive advocate, Sarah believes strongly in the importance of teaching separation of nudity and sexuality, and the focus on the body as a vessel of beauty, and not something to be ashamed of. The Living Canvas explores movement and storytelling in a way that’s never been done before, and she hopes that the relief of bodies, maintained in a pattern of gorgeous art, will fuse the two in the audience’s minds, forever etching the possibility of beauty, strength, and play in the human body.

Sarah will be seen next in Chicago at Columbia College Chicago playing Jack’s Mother in the upcoming production of Into The Woods: directed by world renowned theater director Sheldon Patinkin.

[This is part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago. Tickets and details.]

 

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Meet the cast – Ben Schlotfelt

[Part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago]

Growing up I was never a very active person — happily sedentary and such. It wasn’t until studying theatre in college and being forced to use my body more that I began to really appreciate the emotional depths we as actors, and audience members, can enjoy when both mind and body are engaged. I often have to remind myself that the mind is part of the body. I suppose that’s what has captivated me about this piece; it’s emotional and physically thought-provoking. You may feel things watching it and you may not be able to explain or articulate why, and that is lovely and all too rare these days.

If my naked body bugs you but you still like my face, come see The Most Ado: A party play remounted at Theatre Wit Aug 15-24 or wait until October 9-November 9th to see me in Frozen on the Square, 1982 at the Den Theatre.

[Tickets and details available at Brown Paper Tickets]

 

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Meet the cast – Nicole Jordan

[Part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago]

Nicole is a newly inaugurated Chi-towner, having just moved here in May after completing her Master’s in physical theatre at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy. She will be teaching a Commedia dell’Arte workshop in September and hopes to find more teaching opportunities in her new city.

In her spare time, Nicole likes to fosse in the style of velociraptor, take too many photos of her cats, and is an avid consumer of Cuban food. While she is honored to work with the Living Canvas on this production, nothing this good can last forever and, needing to eat, Nicole finds herself in desperate need of a J-O-B. (Theatre professionals – please see attached resume.)

Nicole is thrilled to work with a company that promotes body acceptance and is excited to be devising movement with such a creative ensemble. As every experience with this show is sure to be personal, she hopes you enjoy your own journey through Rx.

[Tickets and details available at Brown Paper Tickets]

 

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Meet the Cast – Miles Barrett

[Part of a series of posts introducing the cast of Living Canvas Rx, opening August 1 at the Den Theatre in Chicago]

Living Canvas made my dream of performing movement-based theatre a reality, in the nude no less. I’m passionate about the human form and using my own form express the deepest emotions through movement. Ask anyone who knows me well; I’m constantly advocating the acceptance and indulgence of every individual’s unique form. Playing the role of Orange in Rx provides me with a stage to showcase my often practiced–in the mirror, in my kitchen and any other solitary space—popping, locking, and waving that no one has ever seen me do. As a sophomore acting major at Columbia College Chicago not enough thanks can be given to the wonderful cast and crew that make Rx possible. When the audience [you all reading this] sits to watch our performance unfold they won’t focus on the lack of clothing, but the beautiful movement displayed as we expose our subject. I love you all, thank you.

 

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About

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.

Mission

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

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“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

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

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