On May Day as the sun starts to set, between 50 and 200 people painted in vibrant colors will freeze in expressive poses, creating a living sculpture garden alongside the Strip.
“We’re trying to bring people together to make a splashy thing,” says Peter Valentino, who co-owns Neon Venus Theater with his wife, Lissette Napoleoni. Valentino and Napoleoni are organizing the human sculpture experiment, which will take place in the small park adjacent to the theatre where Las Vegas Boulevard and 4th Street intersect. “We’re working towards having tourists become more aware of the Arts District and First Friday. We want them to think of the Arts District as another Las Vegas attraction.”
Valentino sees the potential for Vegas to be more like Rome or Paris, where the main tourist destinations include art galleries and museums as well as dining and shopping. But in Las Vegas arts offerings have to compete with the siren calls of clanking slots, glittering neon, the drama of Rehab and Le Reve and T&A lining the Boulevard.
The multitalented couple is taking on the challenge. At every First Friday arts festival in 2009 they are staging elaborate, multifaceted live art installations that incorporate theater, fashion and music and invite everyone to join in the celebration of aesthetics and humanism.
This past First Friday on April 3rd, renowned costume designer Kit Rogers—known for artistic window displays of live mannequins—dressed models in innovative couture, styling their hair and makeup on stage, so they could strut down the runway to the beats of a live drum circle and a couple of guitarists. The fashion was followed by contortion acts and improv comedy.
“We consider fashion to be a part of the arts, because we’re more holistic,” says Valentino. “What is art? It is creative and it is artistic.”
Neon Venus Theater will soon offer fashion photography classes for children and adults, teaching hair and makeup styling and costume design, and the theater already offers acting, singing, voice classes and painting classes, taught by Valentino and others. It’s also home to a children’s theater program, which recently debuted The Chronicles of Narnia and will soon feature a cast of 22 in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“We’re constantly trying to do things that bring more attention to the arts and to get the kids to be part of it,” says Valentino.
June’s First Friday will revolve around dance, but next month’s, which falls on May 1, will be Valentino’s largest yet. A culmination of weeks of preparation involving around 200 people, he promises it will be “very springy, very extravagant.”
A recruiter for the arts, Valentino wants you. He is spending the next few weeks “getting in league with as many people as possible,” and loves fresh faces who are interested in being models, percussionists or who just want to get dressed up and get out on the street to be a part of the live sculpture garden.
Friday afternoon will be spent getting into costume, then everyone will move to the outdoor park where at promptly 7 p.m. they will freeze in position as photographers, videographers and painters capture the moment in all its audacious splendor. A drum circle will lend rhythm to the display, which will all be over by 7:30 p.m., coinciding with sunset.
“We’re trying to make a lively thing for people on the Strip,” Valentino explains, “To get as many people out there as we can in a short period of time to create a traffic-stopping, attention-getting thing.”
The living sculpture garden is also a tribute to Mayor Oscar Goodman to thank him for his support of the arts. Valentino and Napoleani proposed a permanent sculpture garden to Goodman and he put them in touch with people who could make it happen. Says Valentino, “It’s a demonstration of love more than anything of an anti-thing.”
Napoleani is also directing and filming a documentary with the working title Making Art in Sin City, which will be filmed over the course of the year and will capture all 12 First Friday live art installations. If they receive the required funding, Napoleani hopes to make it into a feature film.
“The main thing is to follow people and how they develop and how they evolve due to the influence of the [Neon Venus] Theatre, which is also a gallery,” Valentino explains. “We’ll be following people for a year and following their progress and how they’re making an impact. We will show the changes that take place in the Arts District, the changes people have gone through and what we’re trying to create.”
Despite the fact that similar ventures have died young, Valentino and Napeoleoni entertain grand visions. They are currently working on obtaining a 5013c permit, which would grant the operation non-profit status. With financial assistance from grants, they would like to renovate the theater for increased capacity and institute art exhibits and film festivals.
Valentino would also like to turn a couple spaces around town into all-ages entertainment venues. “All-ages venues get shot down really fast because of drugs,” says Valentino. “We’re looking for something that’s more clean and educational.”
After the live sculpture garden and drum circle at 8:30 p.m. on May 1, the theater will perform a teaser scene of its first adult production, The Shape of Things, directed by Valentino, originally a Broadway play that was made into a movie. Tickets are free, but $1 donation is requested. Later, live bands will come on, including Rubicks Hotel and Neon Venus. Valentino plays guitar in the latter and his wife is the singer; the band has produced three CDs and has appeared on MTV.
Late-night comedy extravaganza Feed the Monkey, now a resident at the Neon Venus, will participate in the installation, the Neon Venus sketch group the Sketchofrenics will perform and Free Hugs Campaigners will be there giving out free hugs.
During the evening’s events the Neon Venus gallery will also be open, showcasing paintings by local artists as well as photographs of the fashion shows and live art from past First Fridays.
“It’s like being in a cave filled with cave paintings or a church, with art all around you,” explains Valentino. “You have all this beauty around you and it takes you into a different way of looking at things.
“When you come in here you know you are in some place different. We view art in the way of Joseph Campbell: We want to have a mythological space. When you come in here it connects you to the arts and the unconscious.”