National Pastime Theater • June 28-July 27 • 773-327-7077

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rave Reviews for "Kill Your Boyfriends"

The new play titled Kill Your Boyfriends is one of the featured shows at Naked July 2013 at the National Pastime Theater, and it is getting very strong reviews in many of the local newspapers and theater blogs. The show is directed by Derek Van Barham and is produced by Pride Films and Plays. Marya Hornbacher at the Chicago Reader gives the show a "Recommended" designation, and other writers are effusive in their praise for this compelling and erotic drama. Here is a sampling of the recent reviews:

Chicago Theater Beat (Lawrence Bommer)
“Doing most of the dancing, James Nedrud and Erik Strebig transform their passions into contortions symbolizing repeated sex and the exhaustion that follows. Their approach-avoidance movements translate equally well into passive aggression. Mainly, however, their supple bodies speak for themselves, advertising their youth as much as anything in the action. As they use each other’s bodies like props for their lust, they suggest the literal trust that comes from balancing on your boyfriend. The territoriality of ardor is never more blatant than when competing partners try to pull each other through a picture frame separating their clashing egos. Indulging in appropriate or merely distracting soliloquies, the other four dancer-players are caught up in the lovers’ quarrels or observe the fray from a safe distance. Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but it’s the death of love.” Click here to read the entire review.

Windy City Times (Scott C. Morgan)
“The various texts, spoken largely by Carmen Molina and Christopher Young as a universal bickering couple, serve as a non-linear framing device for the pure dance pieces featuring the fine movement ensemble of Sarah Goldberg, James Nedrud, Erik Strebig and Karen Vance. So amid the largely petty spoken snipes about bedding, privacy, sleep disorders and bed times, there are some incisively silent and powerful dance pieces that can interpretively communicate relationship issues about loneliness, trust, abuse (both physical and mental) and love all along the sexuality spectrum…Particularly good is the amazingly limber and heart-wrenching dance work by Strebig and Goldberg. Though paired mostly in same-sex dance formations, Strebig and Goldberg combine to do a show-stopping dance involving an empty frame that suggests how one partner can manipulate the other by controlling the perceptions self-image and self-worth.”  Here is a link to the entire review.

CenterStage (Colin Douglas)
“Around the dimly lit stage, six young, athletic men and women strip, dress and strip again while performing Van Barham’s steamy, often erotic choreography. Using only a mattress, a stool and a chair, the sextet create couples who seduce, caress, fear their relationships and strain to make it through one more night. The entire company is superb. Expressive and agile, two company members give voice to the text while individuals, pairs and sometimes the entire ensemble physicalize to music what is being verbally expressed. Erik Strebig, however, is a stand-out demonstrating the greatest versatility and athletic prowess. Often paired with Jeff nominee James Nedrud, the couple takes Van Barham’s choreography to new levels, often seeming to defy gravity. This scintillating production is bound to contribute greatly to the summer’s heat.” Click here to read the complete review on the CenterStage site:

There are only three remaining performances of Kill Your Boyfriends, so be sure to get your tickets now before the show closes at the end of July. There is a special midnight performance on Friday, July 26, a performance at 8:00 pm on Saturday, July 27, and a 3:00 performance on Sunday, July 28. You can purchase tickets at the door or use the secure Brown Paper Tickets site to purchase tickets online.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Naked People 2013

If you are looking for something new and inspiring to do on a Friday night in the heart of the Uptown neighborhood, why not make your way over to the National Pastime Theater in the historic Preston Bradley Center to take part in a special program titled Naked People 2013. Gary Schirmer will moderate this special art event that runs from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm on Friday, July 12, and he will showcase many examples of his outstanding nude figure drawings as well as conduct some short demonstrations on figure drawing techniques. The best news is that this is a free event and it is also a BYOB affair. Just stop on by with your favorite beverage and enjoy the casual atmosphere and fine art.

The chances are good that you will enjoy Naked People 2013 so much that you will want to purchase a ticket for the event that follows—Le Chat Noir. Gary Schirmer will continue to lead informal drawing sessions with a variety of nude models. Ticket holders can choose to sit back and watch the activities, but most choose to walk around the studio space to observe the models more closely or take up pastels or pencils themselves to sketch the models. Some even choose to experience what it is like to be a figure model and pose for friends or others in the studio. You can buy tickets at the door or purchase them online using the Brown Paper Tickets web site. 

Vaudezilla: Urban Jungle
Once you are settled in for these Naked July events, you may want to stay on even longer to see the bold and entertaining burlesque show called Urban Jungle performed by the talented members of the Vaudezilla ensemble. Where else can you find beautiful people dressed in NASA space suits, clowns, fan dancers, belly dancers, and other amazing performers all wearing little or nothing in the spirit of Naked July. There are only three Vaudezilla performances left this summer (July 12, 19, and 26), so be sure to get your tickets now before the show closes at the end of the month. More details are available at the Naked July web site. Thanks to Cozzie and Pea Photography for graciously sharing these images of the Vaudezilla performers!

Kill Your Boyfriends
As noted in a previous story, a powerful and intense new drama titled Kill Your Boyfriends opened last Saturday and performances are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday through the end of the month.  The script is taken from selected passages from several noted writers and poets, but it is the erotic and athletic dance numbers that really heat up the stage. The show marks the second year that Pride Films and Plays has collaborated with National Pastime Theater as part of the Naked July Festival, and the bold and fearless performances by all of the actors mesh perfectly with the spirit of the Naked July concept.

The Living Canvas: For the People
Finally, there are two more chances to see The Living Canvas: For the People. Pete Guither’s captivating multimedia experience has been a favorite at Naked July for the past several years, and once again, audience members have the chance to see a talented ensemble of nude performers move through colorful projected patterns and textures as their bodies are transformed into human canvases.

As in past years, there are opportunities for audience participation at the end of each show, and ticket holders have a unique opportunity this summer to join the cast for a workshop on the day of the show, participate in the collaborative process of developing new performance pieces, and even take the stage during the evening show if they wish. Be sure to visit the Naked July web site for more information about The Living Canvas.

Summer is heating up, and as the artistic team at the National Pastime Theater like to remind us, that is when the clothing starts to fall during the Naked July Festival. There is no other event like this on Chicago stages, and since all of the events are BYOB, it is a great chance to relax with your favorite beverages and be inspired by the beauty of the human body. Don’t miss Salon des Naked July: Art Stripped Down this summer.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"Kill Your Boyfriends" is a Killer Hit

As the audience members take their seats, they see two lovers seated on opposite ends of the stage clad only in skimpy underwear as they listen to classic oldies and observe the action downstage center as the other four characters take turns relaxing on a tattered old mattress. Clothes are strewn across the stage, a bit of foreshadowing for the many informal costume changes that take place during the performance. When the lights come up on the first scene, two lovers played by Carmen Molina and Christopher Young are nude as they begin the first of many conversations about their lives and their relationship. Soon after, the mattress is filled with two men and two women who are trying desperately to make it through one more night. We soon discover that Molina and Young will be the only actors to speak and that their words are artfully crafted distillations of the works of noted writers such as Alex Dimitrov, Richard Siken, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds.

The play is titled Kill Your Boyfriends and is produced by Pride Films and Plays under the direction of Derek Van Barham. During the course of the play, Molina and Young explore their feelings about life and love and sex as they sift through memories and experiences that are at once passionate, erotic, depressing, and frightening. These moments in time are expertly captured by the remaining four actors—Sarah Goldberg, James Nedrud, Erik Strebig, and Karen Vance—as they convey the panic and the obsession and the desperate sexual longing that ultimately consume all lovers at some point in their relationships. The scenes are incredibly powerful and intense, and all of the actors deliver bold performances that are punctuated at times with full nudity that artfully add to the intensity and the eroticism of the story.

The title of the play is a reference to lines from a poem by the same name written by Alex Dimitrov:

Kill your boyfriends—kill your boyfriends, ladies.
While they kiss you, just before they say
"I'm close," just before they can forget to miss you.
When they mouth sweet things,
when they ask once more to see you.
Why not kill what's yours?
Why not make it lethal?
You are so in love with love.
You are carving out another heart,
you are filling it with nothing see-through.
You must kill your boyfriends.
You must kill what wants,
like death, to keep you.

The dialogue is also filled with many references to the dark and often depressing world view of Sylvia Plath and other evocative poetic passages such as this line from a poem by Sharon Olds titled “Sex Without Love” that captures so well the underlying theme of the play:

How do they do it, the ones who make love

without love? Beautiful as dancers,

gliding over each other like ice-skaters

over the ice, fingers hooked

inside each other's bodies, faces

red as steak, wine, wet as the

children at birth whose mothers are going to

give them away.

Kill Your Boyfriends is a complex and thought-provoking story, and the narration built from the works of many noted writers and poets meshes well with the actions onstage. The performances delivered by the six talented actors are intense, athletic, and passionate, and the combined effect is an extremely compelling tableaux that draws us closer into the lives of these troubled lovers.

With its erotic message and tasteful artistic nudity, Kill Your Boyfriends is a very fitting addition to the Naked July schedule this summer, and it is a show you will not want to miss. The show will be presented each Saturday in July at 8:00 p.m. and each Sunday at 3:00 p.m. There will also be a special midnight performance on July 26th. If you want to see this compelling new show, just click here to order tickets from the secure Brown Paper Tickets web site.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Le Chat Noir is a Bold Art Experience

Last Friday, the main stage at the National Pastime Theater was transformed into an art studio as several nude figure models posed for a group of people who spent the evening sketching them with pencils and pastels. The same scene will be re-enacted each Friday evening in July from 8:00 pm-9:30 pm as NPT hosts Le Chat Noir as a part of the Naked July Festival. The sessions are modeled after the famous Toulouse-Lautrec salons in Paris in the Nineteenth Century and are moderated by an experienced figure artist named Gary Schirmer.

On this evening, some of the models were posing nude for the first time, and several of the artists were people from the audience who were invited to participate, even though they had no drawing experience. Gary Schirmer provides the easels and the materials for the Le Chat Noir sessions, and he also offers some quick introductory lessons to those who are attempting to do figure studies for the first time. In the spirit of Naked July, some of the artists also chose to be nude including one of the female models who decided to try her hand at sketching after her stint on the modeling platform.

Relaxing Music and a Convivial Atmosphere
From the moment you step into the NPT performance space, you feel that all of the barriers of a traditional art studio have been lifted. Since it is a BYOB event, you are free to bring your favorite beverages and just sit back, relax, observe, or participate as you wish. Zhenia Koval offered live music throughout the evening on June 28, and the dimmed lights created a comfortable environment for those who chose to participate.

All who attend are invited to walk around and talk to the artists and models, but last Friday, nearly everyone decided to do more than merely observe the proceedings. Every easel was in use at one point, and some people tried their hand at both sketching and posing during the evening. The members of the artistic team at National Pastime Theater are striving to create as many opportunities as possible this summer to involve audience members in all phases of the creative process, and the success of the first Le Chat Noir session demonstrates their efforts are bearing fruit.

Naked People 2013
NPT has scheduled a companion piece titled Naked People 2013 on Friday, July 12, to go with Le Chat Noir later that same evening. Naked People 2013 will be held from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm and is billed as an art opening that will showcase the figure work of Gary Schirmer. It is a free event, so interested people may want to come to see Schirmer’s fine work and the NPT performance space during this event. Once they see the art and the inviting environment, they are likely to want to purchase tickets for Le Chat Noir and stay for the evening to become a part of the experience.

After tonight, there are only three remaining Le Chat Noir sessions (July 12, 19, and 26), so time is running out if you want to be a part of the fun. You can find more information about all of the Naked July performances and events by visiting the Naked July web site. You can click here to purchase tickets for any of the remaining Le Chat Noir evenings. You might want to go with a group of friends and make beautiful art together!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Don't Miss Your Chance to Be a Living Canvas!

The Living Canvas returns to Naked July in 2013 with a new format and a name that suggests the true intent of this year’s offering: “For the People.” For the first time, Pete Guither and his talented artistic team have invited people who have purchased tickets to any of the shows this summer to attend a workshop during the day at no additional charge, collaborate with the ensemble as they prepare the evening show, and even join some veteran cast members as performers in some of the pieces. Audience participation has always been an important part of all Living Canvas shows, but this is a unique new opportunity for much greater involvement that is not to be missed!

Warming Up and Improvising
Each Saturday morning, the workshop begins at 10:00 am as veteran cast members and ticket holders who have requested admission meet for introductions and some warm-up activities. Workshop participants are encouraged to join all activities as they wish, but they may also choose to sit out if they prefer and simply observe the process. The warm-ups are designed to help the performers loosen up physically, but this session also includes some improvisational exercises to help foster an environment of collaboration in which all ideas and movements may eventually become the foundations for performance pieces. Director Lisa Adams and Artistic Director Pete Guither watch these improvisational exercises carefully as they assess the ways that the performers interact with each other. This entire session is informal and spirited, and the emphasis is on relaxation and bonding.

Individual Performance Segments are Developed
One of the intriguing qualities of Living Canvas 2013: For the People is the fact that each show will be unique. There will be different performers and different performance pieces offered each night, and many of the pieces will be completely new and original—the products of the workshops held during the day of each show. The process is fascinating to watch. Since music is integral to most every performance piece, the cast members start by listening to a musical selection for the express purpose of imagining the kinds of movements, characters, and projected images that best fit the tone and the content of the music. Cast members discuss ideas and then begin to bring their characters to life as they walk through a first “draft” of the performance piece. Lisa Adams and Pete Guither are masterful as they watch the cast members develop their roles, and they offer suggestions that help to tie the movements on stage together and help the performers to evoke all of the energy and emotion that each piece demands. Adams and Guither also do an amazing job of seamless integrating all workshop participants into the performances and find the best spots for those people who have no previous Living Canvas experience. In all, it is a collaborative and creative effort that involves every person in the process.

Final Preparations and the “Undress” Rehearsal
Throughout most of the day, the performers rehearse in comfortable clothes as they develop and refine each segment of the show. During this time, Pete Guither begins to draw from his incredible library of digital images and projects some of them on the stage so that the performers can begin to get a sense of the visual elements and make suggestions for additional patterns or textures. By the time the workshop draws to a close, Guither has assembled enough images to stage a final rehearsal, the first chance to see what the projections will look like on the nude performers in what they jokingly refer to as the “undress rehearsal.” The lights go down, the performers undress, and within minutes, they are “playing in the lights” as they make final revisions on each segment of the show. This may sound daunting to some people, but since the rehearsals have all been predicated on the notions of support and trust and acceptance, the performers all agree that undressing and performing nude is not at all intimidating. To the contrary, they all agree that the experience provides a joyful sense of physical and emotional freedom that is unlike anything they have ever done in their lives.

Preparing the Digital Images
After the performers break for dinner and some rest before the evening show, Pete Guither now faces the rather formidable task of selecting and editing the final digital images for each segment of the show, organizing them to match the movements of the performers and the content of the music, and then preparing a slideshow to project the images on stage. Most images are projected from a stationary LCD projector at the rear of the auditorium, but some will come from small hand-held projectors that create special lighting scenarios that are much closer to the performers. In other pieces, the performers are illuminated only by subdued stage lighting that creates artistic light and shadow effects.

Don’t Miss this Unique Opportunity
There are three remaining Living Canvas shows (July 6, 13, and 20) and therefore only three remaining opportunities to immerse yourself in the Living Canvas experience. It’s easy to be a part of the fun. Just click here to purchase a ticket for any of the shows and wait for the prompt that lets you request a spot in the workshop. If you don’t see that prompt on the screen, just send a quick message to this e-mail address and include your ticket confirmation number: For even more fun, why not sign up with some good friends or significant other?  That way, you can share this unique opportunity together.

Whether you have an interest in attending a workshop or simply want to come and enjoy the final performances each Saturday evening, you only have three more opportunities. Tickets for Living Canvas shows often sell quickly,  so be sure to reserve your seats for an experience that is visually stimulating and thought-provoking.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vaudezilla Will Sizzle on the NPT Stage

The main stage at the National Pastime Theater is going to sizzle this Friday night when the highly acclaimed Chicago burlesque troupe known as Vaudezilla steps into the spotlight for the most daring and provocative show they have ever done. This new and original show created just for Naked July is called Urban Jungle, and it is a fast-paced journey into the hot world of the Windy City at night. In this stunning combination of burlesque and performance art, the talented and fearless Vaudezilla performers take us on an adventure filled with missed connections, public transportation foibles, and unforgettable experiences that befall a starving artist in the big city.

An Incredible and Unique Experience

Red Hot Annie is the director and producer of Urban Jungle, and she has given us a rare glimpse behind-the-scenes as she works with her cast on this bold new production. After a recent rehearsal, she reflected, “Last night, as I sat back and took in most of the 60 minute show,  I found myself so enveloped in the process each performer was using to build their act that afterward, I had to marvel at how incredible the universe is that each of these unique performers with their own special experiences, training, and vision had found their way into my studio to build something like this, and how lucky I am that I get to touch their lives in some way.” It is clear from her words that Urban Jungle is a special show—one that will take each performer to new heights and challenge each cast member to re-define the concept of burlesque with daring new performances. The full text of Red Hot Annie’s reflection on this experience as director can be found on her web site.

Help Vaudezilla Get Some New Mirrors
In addition to supporting these great Chicago burlesque performers by coming out to see their shows during the Naked July Festival, you can also help them in an important campaign they are now running to purchase new mirrors for their studio space where they rehearse and offer workshops.  They have posted a creative and satirical video on their web site to explain the need for these new mirrors, and their invitation to help includes this written explanation as well—“Because the primary goal of the space was (and is) to create a space where artists can flourish, we originally purchased the mirrors so the Vaudezilla ensemble would have something to reflect back their movement, so we could hone our movement & dance skills as necessary. Having more mirrors would allow us to not only fill our classes more effectively, but also build more extensive and developed group dance routines.” If you would like to contribute a little or a lot to this endeavor, just go to this secure web site and help the Vaudezilla cast members reach their goal!

There are five performances of the Urban Jungle scheduled for the next five Fridays at 10:00 pm. They highly recommend that you purchase tickets in advance to be sure that you have a seat—bring some friends and settle in for what is sure to be a sizzling and provocative evening of entertainment. Click here to go directly to the secure Brown Paper Tickets online site.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Immerse Yourself in the "Le Chat Noir" Experience

Unlike some of the other offerings at the National Pastime Theater during Naked July 2013, Le Chat Noir is not a performance, but rather, an interactive art experience in which patrons can immerse themselves at any level they find comfortable. It is an open and inviting art salon in the Toulouse-Lautrec tradition that includes a nude figure drawing seminar, live music, and full audience participation if desired—all in an enjoyable, safe, and relaxing atmosphere in the historic National Pastime main performance space. It is a celebration of the beauty of the nude human form and, in that sense, it is the perfect embodiment of the spirit and the mission of the Naked July Festival.

A Relaxing and Inspiring Evening

There will be five Le Chat Noir sessions offered on Fridays at 8:00 pm during the Naked July Festival, and even though the format will be the same each night, each session will be different as new models and musical performances are featured. The event is BYOB, so bring your favorite beverages and get ready for a relaxing evening. Art supplies and easels will be provided for those who want to try their hand at sketching nude figure models, but audience members are also free to just walk around the space and observe the artists and models as they work. Expert figure artist Gary Schirmer will moderate the sessions and offer quick lessons and demonstrations for those who want to learn more about sketching the nude human form. 

Audience Participation
Veteran Naked July patrons who attended the popular “Shades” event last August will recognize the format of Le Chat Noir immediately since this year’s offering is designed to emulate that event that inspired so many patrons to become a part of the experience. As noted above, all patrons are free to sketch any of the available models, but they are also free to pose as figure models for their friends, spouses,  or others in the room. Due to the subdued lighting and live music, the environment is extremely relaxing and conducive to active participation—at last year’s event, many of the audience members experienced the simple joy of being a figure model for the first time in their lives. You may see artists sketching nude models or even nude artists sketching clothed models. The whole idea is to dissolve the barriers and invite patrons to completely immerse themselves in the artistic process or simply observe others creating art.

Gary Schirmer is a working artist and educator who has worked from the human form his entire artistic career. He experiments with multiple media such as chalk pastel, oil paint and oil pastel, ink and watercolor, and mixtures of those media. He combines portraiture and anatomical study with formal considerations of composition and surface treatment. He has been the curator of the Naked July fine art gallery in the theater lobby for the past several summers, and he has been actively involved with other aspects of the Naked July Festival during those years. Last year he painted the backdrop for one of the featured productions and did all of the bodypainting for several of the characters in that show.

Le Chat Noir is a unique experience that you will not want to miss. Many people admire paintings, sculptures, sketches, and fine art photographs featuring nude models, but few ever have the opportunity to observe or participate in the process of creating these works of art for themselves. The experience will be different every Friday night, so you may be tempted to come back more than once.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tickets Are On Sale For Naked July 2013

Opening Night for Naked July 2013: Art Stripped Down is just a little over a week away, and the Naked July web site is filled with information about all of the shows and special events that are scheduled for this year’s festival. Along with brief descriptions of each show, the web site also contains links to the Brown Paper Tickets secure online ticketing service  to make it easy for you to purchase tickets for any or all of the shows that you want to see. Some performances are likely to sell out quickly, so it is best to order early to be assured of getting tickets this summer.

If you are planning to attend more than one of the Naked July 2013 performances, the best value is to purchase a Festival Pass since it gives you one paid admission to each of the different shows as well as full access to all of the special events that are scheduled during the festival. Just click here for more information and to purchase a 2013 Naked July Festival Pass.

Individual Show Tickets are Available
If you prefer to purchase tickets for individual shows this summer, here is a listing of all of the shows and show dates along with links to the online ticket service:

Le Chat Noir (Interactive Figure Study Salons)
Friday, June 28: 8:00 pm

Friday, July 5: 8:00 pm
Friday, July 12: 8:00 pm
Friday, July 19: 8:00 pm
Friday, July 26: 8:00 pm
Click here to purchase tickets for Le Chat Noir.

The Living Canvas

Saturday, June 29: 10:00 pm

Saturday, July 6: 10:00 pm
Saturday, July 13: 10:00 pm
Saturday, July 20: 10:00 pm
Click here to purchase tickets for The Living Canvas

Urban Jungle (Vaudezilla)

Friday, June 28: 10:00 pm

Friday, July 5: 10:00 pm
Friday, July 12: 10:00 pm
Friday, July 19: 10:00 pm
Friday, July 26: 10:00 pm
Click here to purchase tickets for Urban Jungle.

Kill Your Boyfriends (Pride Films and Plays)
Saturday, July 6: 8:00 pm
Sunday, July 7: 3:00 pm
Saturday, July 13: 8:00 pm
Sunday, July 14: 3:00 pm
Saturday, July 20: 8:00 pm
Sunday, July 21: 3:00 pm
Saturday, July 27: 8:00 pm
Sunday, July 28: 3:00 pm
Click here to purchase tickets for Kill Your Boyfriends.

Convenient Parking Near the Theater
Unlike many other Chicago theater venues that are located in areas where street parking is difficult to find, the National Pastime Theater location on Lawrence Avenue is just a short walk from the public parking garage at Weiss Memorial Hospital--4650 N. Clarendon Avenue. You may be able to find street parking along Lawrence Avenue, but if not, the clean and well-lit parking garage is a great option. When you get to the theater, just ask for a $5 parking voucher that will cover the full cost of parking for the whole evening.

There is no other theater event quite like the Naked July Festival at National Pastime Theater. The shows only run for a month, so you will have to act quickly if you want to see the many bold and daring performances that will heat up the NPT stage this summer. Don't miss Naked July 2013!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Vaudezilla Comes to Naked July!

As you make your preparations to attend Naked July 2013 at the National Pastime Theater, one show you will surely want to see is the fast-paced Urban Jungle that has been created specially for the NJ festival by the amazing and talented performers that make up the Vaudezilla ensemble. Throughout the show, you'll see the performers transform themselves from disconnected city dwellers into their inner spirit animals as you follow a variety of cabaret performers on a journey through missed connections, public transportation foibles, and other familiar aspects of the urban experience. It's a sexy, fun show about the ways we interact as city folk and the challenges of being a starving artist in the big city.

Vaudezilla is one of the premier vaudeville/burlesque ensembles in the Chicago area, and some of the performers have already graced the National Pastime stage in past Naked July performances. The performers include Vaudezilla's own Mister Junior, Lilly Rascal, Zara Estelle and Raven Gemini, and the show will also feature other variety performers including Noel Williams, Samantha Lee, & Moxie.  Special guest performers will include Po’ Chop as well as producer and director Red Hot Annie.

A recent photo of some of the talented Vaudezilla performers

Sizzling and Provocative Performances
When Red Hot Annie was asked how the Vaudezilla performance concept will mesh with the spirit of the Naked July Festival, she replied “I love the idea of using my body to create art - not just through dance or burlesque, but performance art and creating a piece that really resonates with people.  Vaudezilla likes to create sexy, funny, artful burlesque pieces that really showcase a concept, and a show like Naked July really allows us to push ourselves creatively.  The performers I've selected for this show are fearless creatives who will not be afraid to really interact and connect with the audience.  We are glad to be a part of Naked July because it pushes the envelope locally - it's nice to see more provocative performance in Chicago!”

Redefining the Burlesque Concept
Many readers have already attended the popular Vaudezilla shows over the past few years and are already familiar with the amazing and diverse talents of the ensemble members, but none of that will prepare them for what the bold Vaudezilla performers have planned for Naked July. As Red Hot Annie explained, “For most burlesque shows, a performer might go down to pasties/g-string, but would seldom, if ever, go completely nude.  I feel that because several of us will be daring to show the "Full Monty", we have the power to broaden the local definition of burlesque and really make a splash!  We're also hoping to make some additional appearances at other shows during the festival, so keep your eyes peeled.  We think our unique brand of curated, precision burlesque will really knock the socks (and anything else!) off our audience!”

We will have more information about Urban Jungle and the Vaudezilla performers in the weeks ahead, but we also invite you to explore the Vaudezilla web site to learn more about the ensemble members and notable past performances. There is also a huge library of video clips on the Vaudezilla Vimeo site. Join us this summer to see Vaudezilla in a bold and daring new style that you have never seen before!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Living Canvas is Back with a Fresh New Format

Those people who have attended Naked July performances over the past four years are most likely aware of the Living Canvas performance concept that has been at the heart of the Naked July Festival since its inception. The concept is simple and the experience is nothing short of amazing—nude performers bathed in a colorful kaleidoscope of projected patterns and textures create thought-provoking vignettes and playful stories as they move through the projections on stage.

An Innovative New Living Canvas Format

In past years, the Living Canvas performances have often been based on a central unifying story or theme, but the new 2013 concept promises new levels of collaboration and a completely new performance each night. On four Saturday nights at National Pastime Theater (June 29, July 6, 13, and 20) at 10:00 pm, each performance will be the culmination of a collaborative workshop session conducted during that day. Patrons will have the opportunity to attend and participate in the workshops on the performance day and have input into that night's performance.

Great Opportunities for Audience Involvement
Here’s how it will work this summer. As soon as patrons purchase tickets for any of the Living Canvas performances, they will also be able to sign up to attend the workshop session during the day. The workshop will run from 10:00 am-1:00 pm and then resume after a lunch break for a second session from 2:00 pm-5:00 pm. Patrons will be able to witness the collaborative planning process, watch the performers develop the movements required for each vignette, view the rehearsal, and even suggest ideas or concepts that may be incorporated in the final performance. Since audience participation has always been an important part of the Living Canvas experience, patrons who have an interest in performing will also have the opportunity to join the cast members on stage and discover the simple joy of creating art by becoming a human canvas.

It is easy to be a part of the Living Canvas experience and play in the lights along with the cast members. Just purchase a ticket to one of the four performances and then send a message with your ticket confirmation number to to indicate your wish to participate in the workshop. There are only a limited number of openings for participants, however, so you should purchase your tickets soon if you want to be assured of a spot.

Superb Opportunity for Local Actors and Performers
Pete Guither and the Living Canvas artistic team are always seeking new performers of all types to join the cast each week, and it is a great opportunity for any local performers who wish to explore new experiences, develop collaborative skills, and take their performing skills to new and possibly untested personal levels in a fun and non-threatening environment. Many previous cast members have indicated that their work with the Living Canvas was the first time that they had performed nude on stage and that the positive spirit of camaraderie and support helped them to become far more confident and dynamic in subsequent performing roles. Actors, dancers, storytellers, and people with other special performing skills are all invited to be a part of the Living Canvas cast this summer and, while movement experience is a plus, it is not required. If interested, take a look at images from past performances on the Living Canvas web site ( or send Pete Guither a message ( to raise questions or inquire about opportunities to participate.

Living Canvas 2013 promises to be very entertaining, and since there will be a new show each week, be sure to make plans to come back several times to experience this unique and amazing performance concept.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Get Ready for Naked July 2013

The creative members of the artistic team at National Pastime Theater are putting the final pieces in place for the 5th annual Naked July Festival, and it is already clear from the preliminary press releases that this year’s event will be more diverse and original than ever before. The title of the 2013 fest is Salon des Naked July: Art stripped Down 2013, and each of the performance pieces and special events will focus on one central mission—“to reveal the human body as beautiful in every shape, size and color. By exposing these physical differences, audiences discover the innate similarities in all human bodies.”

The content and the focus of National Pastime’s Naked July Festival has evolved over its five-year history, and one of the most exciting and innovative aspects of the event is the effort to draw audience members into the experience and encourage them to be participants in the art and not merely passive observers. In past years, many audience members have come onstage during performances of The Living Canvas to experience the simple pleasure of being nude and moving through a kaleidoscope of projected colors and textures. At the culminating “Shades” event last August, audience members mingled with musicians, artists, and figure models during the evening, and many decided to try their hand at drawing or modeling. This is the essence of the Naked July concept—exploring the beauty of the human form and the many ways that this beauty is manifested in music, movement, performance, and art.

The program for Naked July 2013 is more diverse than it has ever been, and there will be even more opportunities for audience participation this summer. Gary Schirmer is back as art curator, and each Friday he will be moderating Le Chat Noir, a 90 minute salon that will feature artists and figure models in a comfortable setting in which audience members can interact with the artists, explore their own drawing and sketching skills, and even experience what it is like to be a figure model if they wish. Pete Guither is back with his popular Living Canvas in 2013, but with a fresh new format. Each performance will be different and all of the content will be developed and rehearsed in a workshop format the same day as the evening performance. All ticket holders will be invited to participate in the workshop process, observe the rehearsal, make suggestions, and even become a part of the cast if they wish. 

Other shows that are scheduled as part of the Naked July 2013 lineup are Kill Your Boyfriends, a play by Pride Films and Plays, and Urban Jungle, performances in the burlesque tradition done by cast members of Vaudezilla. Additional special events and film screenings are being planned, and more information about each of the Naked July shows and events will be available here in the weeks ahead. As the artistic team at National Pastime Theater promise, it is “like nothing you have ever seen.” Don’t miss Naked July 2013.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Looking Back at Naked July 2012

On the last Sunday before Naked July 2012 closed, the artistic team at the National Pastime Theater hosted a special event titled “Shades” that was designed to allow audience members to meet some of the cast members from the shows that were featured this summer and to relax and enjoy the Naked July experience for themselves. There was music and food to sample throughout the evening as well as some short performance pieces, stand-up comedy routines, and figure drawing sessions.

Music: Music lovers found much to enjoy in the three music segments during the evening. Leading off was a set of original songs and traditional favorites by Elle Casazza, a talented vocalist who recently performed on the NPT stage as a part of the Beast Women ensemble. Next up was an entertaining set of swing jazz selections by Michael O’Toole, one of the stars of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, who was joined by Rick Veras on the violin. Later in the evening, the audience was mesmerized by the unique and creative electronic music performed by Brian Murray Exponential Sound System that included viola collaboration by Johanna.

Performances: The Living Canvas concept has become an established segment of the Naked July Festival, and so it was fitting that a few of the vignettes from this year’s show titled Eureka were played out for the audience. Arielle Basile filled the theater space with her hauntingly beautiful opera voice while moving completely nude through a colorful sea of projected patterns in the true Living Canvas style. Following Arielle’s performance, Sarah Aubry recreated her solo piece from Eureka clothed only in projected patterns of stars and text.

Comedy: Caitlin Bergh did a great solo comic monologue during the evening and, in keeping with the spirit of the "Shades" event, she bravely stripped down during her act to make a poignant statement about the festival and one of the central themes of her comedy routine. Caitlin has a relaxed and natural style that was well received by the audience, and her performance filled with anecdotes about her own life was a nice addition to the other events of the evening.

Figure Drawing: For much of the evening, the center stage area was filled with easels and posing stands as several nude figure models posed for artists. One of the featured models was Felecia who held several different poses for the artists on hand. Audience members were encouraged to mingle with the artists and models onstage, and a few of them got into the Naked July spirit by volunteering to be models themselves. In the end, there were clothed artists sketching nude models and nude artists drawing clothed models.

The Naked July Festival is about body acceptance and the celebration of the beauty of the human body. “Shades” was a great way to cap off a successful festival in 2012 since the relaxed and uninhibited atmosphere encouraged audience members to join in the celebration themselves and not just sit as observers in the seats. Given the success of this event, it is likely that the NPT artistic team will continue the tradition next year and no doubt find many more ways for all who attend to let themselves go and celebrate in true Naked July style. We are all looking for an even bigger and better Naked July Festival in 2013.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Naked July Closes This Weekend

It may be early August, but the Naked July festival is still going strong at the National Pastime Theater. Time is quickly running out, however, so if you have not yet seen the great shows yet or taken time to view the excellent art on display in the NPT lobby, you will have to act quickly because Naked July closes this weekend. Individual tickets are still on sale, and you can use these links to go directly to the Brown Paper Tickets site to purchase tickets for References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot or The Living Canvas: Eureka. There are two performances remaining for each of these two Naked July headline shows. Show times are at 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm on Friday, August 10, and Saturday, August 11.

References To Salvador Dali Make Me Hot
References to Salvador Dali is the 8:00 show each evening and centers around the experiences of a lonely women trapped in an isolated desert existence. The show features a surrealistic set design populated with dreamlike characters who help Gabriela to escape from the grim reality of her life and marriage. She excites the passions of all-seeing Moon, fends off the advances of a teenage admirer, and watches the raw animal sex drives of a Cat and a Coyote who perform nude covered only in body paint. The show is a bold and clever interpretation of Jose Rivera’s play, and the staging fits well with the Naked July concept.

The Living Canvas: Eureka

Eureka is the 10:00 show each evening and is the latest in a long and successful series of Living Canvas productions created by Pete Guither. Come see a large and very talented ensemble of nude performers doing a program of original and creative vignettes clad only in an amazing collection of colorful textures and patterns that are projected on their bodies. Better yet, be sure to join the fun onstage. There is a segment at the midpoint in the show when audience members are invited to shed their clothes and try out the “living canvas” experience for themselves. Very often, people who attended Living Canvas performances early in the festival decide to come back a second or a third time because they are blown away by the spectacle and want to take advantage of this very unique audience participation opportunity. It is great fun and a very liberating experience.

Naked July Gallery

August 11 will also be the last day to view the collection of fine art pieces on display in the NPT lobby and to place a bid on any of the pieces that you may want to purchase. In keeping with the Naked July theme, all of the artwork celebrates the beauty of the naked human form. Each piece on display is available for purchase, so if you see an item that interests you, be sure to ask one of the NPT staff members for more information when you visit the theater.

Naked July 2012 has been a great success in its new home at the Preston Bradley Building on Lawrence Avenue, and the members of the artistic team at the National Pastime Theater are already making plans for an even bigger event next summer. Don’t miss the final performances of these shows before they close on Saturday night!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Come Chill in the "Shade"

As people who have followed the Naked July Festival in past years already know, informal special events are a part of the annual celebration. This year is no exception, and the artistic directors at National Pastime Theater have planned a special evening filled with music, performance pieces, and live figure painting and body painting sessions. They are calling the evening event “Shades,” and it is scheduled to begin at 5:00 pm on Sunday, August 5. Admission cost for the entire evening is $10, and people who hold Festival Passes for 2012 are admitted free of charge.

Music Offerings
Three different musical stylings will be on stage throughout the evening. Elle Casazza, a talented vocalist who recently performed on the NPT stage as a part of the Beast Women ensemble, returns to entertain the audience with some beautiful original solo pieces in the folk/blues/pop tradition. Also on tap are swing jazz selections by Michael O’Toole, one of the stars of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, along with Rick Veras on the violin. The musical lineup for the evening also includes the Brian Murray Exponential Sound System with viola collaboration by Johanna.

Performance Pieces

Whether you have already seen the two headline shows in the Naked July 2012 lineup or are planning to see them in the final weekend on August 10 or 11, you will be treated to some highlights of each show. References to Salvador Dali Make me Hot is a boldly creative version of the classic tale by Jose Rivera, and The Living Canvas: Eureka is the latest installment of the amazing multimedia experience created by Pete Guither. Come see nude performers moving in a kaleidoscope of projected images on stage—you might have a chance to experience it for yourself.

Figure Drawing
This special evening will also feature live figure painting sessions with nude models and local artists under the direction of Gary Schirmer, the same artist who is the curator of the Naked July gallery. You might even have the chance to see some body painting demonstrations and have a chance to be a model yourself if you are interested.

All this and wonder-comic Caitlin Bergh and some additional surprises await you on Sunday, August 5. Come enjoy the performances and pizza, and feel free to Bring Your Own Bottle so that you can enjoy the libation of your choice. The Naked July Festival is drawing to a close in the coming week, so this will be one of your last chances to participate in this great summer festival. See you at National Pastime Theater.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Beast Women Are Back!

The Beast Women are back by popular demand to take center stage at the 2012 Naked July Festival, and if you saw their performances at last year’s event, you will know why. These talented performers really know how to turn up the heat, and you can be sure that they will add a new dimension to the theme of Naked July 2012—Rise From the Embers.

The Beast Women will perform on the NPT stage only twice this year, so you will have act now in order to get seats for the performances. As you can see by the lists of performers below, each of the two shows features a different group of performers. The acts feature a variety of performance styles, and each ensemble member has been asked to use the “Rise From the Embers” theme as an inspiration for her work. In keeping with the spirit of Naked July, the Beast Women will be taking their acts to exciting new levels of sensuality. To give a sense of what audiences can expect, Jill Erickson, one of the founders of the Beast Women ensemble, suggests, “As always we are going to uncover our ladies in all possible ways--physically, mentally, comically, and erotically.”

Thursday, July 26th At 8:00pm - Hosted By Michelle Power

Alicia Sowisdral - Storyteller/Spoken Word Artist

Diana Carlson - Comedic Burlesque Performer
Marianne Schaefer a.k.a. Gillian Holloroyd - Erotic Poet

Sarah Heston – Modern Dancer

Caitlin Bergh - Standup Comedian
Holliwood Monroe - Singer/Burlesque Artist

Po' Chop - Burlesque Performer

Robin Fine - Poet

Roberta Miles – Monologist

Sunday, July 29th At 8:00pm - Hosted By Michelle Power

Viktoria - Russian Belly Dancer
Kristin Clifford - Standup Comedian

Elle Cassaza - Singer/Guitar Player

Bella Canto - Burlesque Performer

Kamani Raqs - Belly Dancer
Red Hot Annie - Burlesque Performer

Shannon Unick - Poet 

Colleen Lawson - Poet

Marianne a.k.a. Gillian Holoroyd  - Erotic Poet

Sarah Heston – Dancer

The fun starts tonight on the National Pastime Theater stage and continues again on Sunday. Thanks to Hunter Mathews for sharing the photos used in this story.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Art of Naked July

With a headline show whose title includes an allusion to a famous surrealist artist, it is not surprising that art plays a central role in the 2012 Naked July Festival at the National Pastime Theater. There are fine art pieces for sale in the theater lobby, a beautiful large hand-painted backdrop in the main theater space, and performers who are “costumed” in nothing more than make-up and body paint. The person who has been directly involved in all of these endeavors is Gary Schirmer, a local artist who has been involved with the Naked July events for the past several years.

Gary Schirmer, shown here during a pre-show body painting session with actor Michael O’Toole, is a working artist and educator who has worked from the human form his entire artistic career. He experiments with multiple media such as chalk pastel, oil paint and oil pastel, ink and watercolor, and mixtures of those media. He combines portraiture and anatomical study with formal considerations of composition and surface treatment. He is the curator of the Naked July fine art gallery in the theater lobby again this summer, and he has assembled a very diverse and visually striking collections of art pieces.

Gary also plays an integral role in the production of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot since he does the body painting work on four of the actors in the show. His painting work on Virginia Marie (Gabriela) and Michael O’Toole (Moon) supplements the costume designs created by Molly Kral, but his work on Alison Chemers (Cat) and Cameron Peart (Coyote) is even more critical since these two actors perform completely nude except for the painted designs he applies before each performance. In the sequence of photos below showing the painting process on Alison Chemers, Gary uses a series of French curve templates and an airbrush to create the soft and sensual shapes that are fitting for the domestic housecat character that she plays. The pastel colors applied by airbrush and standard paint brush add to the visual effect.

Schirmer uses a different approach and a different set of painting templates when painting Cameron Peart. Her character is the Coyote, a creature of the wild who survives in the harsh desert environment, and so the painted designs here are more angular with a brown palette to suggest the natural colors of the desert. In this sequence of photos, you can see the progress of the painting process from the beginning until the final touches are applied.

When you see the performance of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, you will also see Gary Schirmer’s work on the NPT stage since he painted the large backdrop that is seen throughout the show. It is original work that took many days to complete. The photos below show the painting work in progress.