Art

Neon of a different kind

Theatre encourages DIY approach across the arts spectrum

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Neon Venus Arts Theatre’s Valentino (left) and Napoleoni reflect on the state of Las Vegas’ arts scene.
Photo: Richard Brian
Jacob Coakley

It started as a band’s rehearsal space. Well, technically it started as a laundromat, but when Peter Valentino and Lissette Napoleoni, the duo behind the alternative Latin-rock band Neon Venus, signed a lease at 1404 S. Third St., at the south end of the arts district, the idea was to change the space into a venue for multiple artists to use and grow from. Drawing on Valentino’s work as a vocal coach and acting teacher, the two decided to combine the band space with a theater.

“Then we were like, ‘Oh, if we’re gonna combine it with theater, let’s open it up to other visual arts,’” says Napoleoni, who has worked as a photographer and documentary filmmaker. “‘So let’s do some photography, and we’re in the arts district, so let’s bring art to the walls.’ And we were looking for a name, [so] we figured we’ll put the name of our band and theater and art, because it’s a combination of different arts.”

They cleaned the space and built the stage, and the Neon Venus Art Theatre was born.

Valentino immediately began offering acting classes and reaching out to the local artistic community. But because both Valentino and Napoleoni share a very DIY, punk aesthetic, the emphasis has always been on actualizing your own art—going out and doing, not waiting to be discovered. The classes quickly turned into full-length productions for students to direct and act in. Neon Venus recently presented a production of Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things, directed by Valentino and starring students from the classes. “We want to have our students do productions, and then also we’re pulling from the general public for certain auditions, too,” Valentino explains.

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“Nothing compares to the realistic practice of actually doing something live,” Napoleoni adds. “Otherwise ... you’re studying, you’re studying, you’re studying, but you never get anywhere.”

Kids’ classes and productions were another natural outgrowth. Neon Venus Art Theatre started offering classes in several arts disciplines for kids—part of the nonprofit arm—and two teachers, Emily Donn and Dany Meyer, began heading up kids’ productions. The Theatre offers a full schedule of kids’ camps and classes throughout the summer. “We had 18 kids in our production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” says Valentino, a little proudly.

Valentino and Napoleoni are trying to leverage the synergy—they’d never use the word—among Downtown arts groups to create a scene that reaches across disciplines and empowers artists to get their work done by doing it themselves. Atlas Theatre’s Feed the Monkey, a performer-written show, takes place at Neon Venus the last Saturday of every month, and Valentino is exploring a possible partnership with Asylum Theatre to help that company relaunch as a haven for writers of new work.

“We’re engendering writers,” says Valentino, but it’s more than that. Neon Venus pushes local artists to take the reins of their creativity and produce their work. Through their space, classes and partnerships with established artists, Valentino and Napoleoni are trying to create a fertile performance- and art-based scene.

“Our ultimate vision is to aggrandize the arts district and the arts so that it gets on the map,” Valentino says, leaning in to be heard over auditions that have just begun onstage, “So that all the tourists coming here will say, ‘Oh there’s also this arts thing happening here that Las Vegas is known for.’”

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