Mike Guymon Plays with Fire

Peoria, Illinois object manipulation performer Mike Guymon

By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks

Not many people can say that they’ve played with fire and didn’t get burned, but object manipulation performer Mike Guymon can say just that.

Mike, a massage therapist, was brought into the art of object manipulation by one of his friends. “My friend, Joe, picked it up at a yoga retreat that he went to,” Mike explained.  “I immediately fell in love with it.  I went from having a slight introduction to it to where I would come home from work at 11:00 at night and practice until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.” Mike continued to practice four or five times a week, usually before or after work.

As he worked with poi, Mike began learning about other forms of object manipulation, such as hooping, contact juggling, fire breathing, and so on. They are all different styles under the same umbrella genre of object manipulation.

Mike continued expanding his skills by going to different retreats throughout the country. They go on for several days, starting early in the morning and continue all day, or for as long as their supplies last. “Around 10:00 we’ll bring out the fire equipment and we’ll just keep going,” Mike said. “We can go until anywhere from midnight to 5:00 in the morning.”

The retreats and festivals aren’t what you would usually expect. “They’re definitely catered to people who are interested in object manipulation and learning more.” So while the retreats are not just a show for people, there are always demonstrations and performances going on. Along with performances, the retreats have workshops with guest instructors who teach from their areas of expertise.

Mike himself has taught at a few of the retreats. This past year Mike taught at Fire Drums, an event that brings artists from around the world to perform using different methods of fire performance.

Hundreds of people gather at retreats all across the country, but despite its popularity, it remains mostly hidden. “It’s very much an underground community,” Mike commented on the lack of knowledge about object manipulation. “I could name several very prominent people who have brought it to certain places, or are masters of it, and no one outside of the group will recognize their names.”

Despite this, Mike has made connections all over, including people in California, Missouri, Kansas, and many east coast states. When asked about his own gathering here in Peoria, Lux Orbis and Heart of Illinois Hoopers, Mike said, “We have around 50 people. We started with about 10 to 15 people and it’s definitely been growing.” The Heart of Illinois Hoopers’ Facebook page has members from Peoria, but also from all over the country.

“Facebook is the best way for everyone to keep in touch, rather than texting all the time.” Mike and his group have friends in Bloomington, St. Louis, and Champaign to name a few, and will all stay connected to see events happening around their areas. “If we see something going on with our friends in Bloomington, we’ll go over and perform there and our friends in Bloomington do the same for us.”

The most difficult thing Mike has found so far in his career with object manipulation is recruitment. Mike and his group will practice regularly in public at parks and this is where he gets to meet some new people with an interest in object manipulation. “A lot of times we’ll be practicing and afterwards, people will come up to me and ask about it.”

But it’s not just making connections within the groups that are difficult in recruitment. “It’s really difficult to get people to start working with fire. It’s very beautiful and amazing to watch but it is also a lot more dangerous.” Like most people using fire, Mike makes sure to take all the necessary precautions when performing and practicing, but even then there are some mishaps. “People in this type of art know that if you mess up with a hoop it’s no big deal, but with fire it’s not so forgiving.”

Like all of the performance arts, fire manipulation takes a lot of time and effort to reach a high level of skill. But Mike absolutely loves fire manipulation, and the reward of the results is worth the effort.

For more information about Mike Guymon and his group Lux Orbis, visit their blog at luxorbis.wordpress.com or their Facebook page. For more information about the Heart of Illinois Hoopers, visit their facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/hoi.hoopers.

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Jessica Ball’s Art Garage has Something for Everybody

Peoria, Illinois artist Jessica Ball in the Art Garage

By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks

Jessica Ball grew up in Peoria, Illinois and for as long as she can remember, she loved to paint. She would paint with watercolor sets and paint-by-numbers oil paints, even before she reached kindergarten. “I remember one time I drew on the walls with an ink pen that never came up,” Jessica said with a smile.

Growing up, Jessica wanted to absorb everything about art as much as possible but when she reached her sophomore year in high school she found that she had taken all of the art classes her school offered. “I was panicking, because I didn’t want to stop.” During this time, the Waterfront Gallery had opened where artists were gathering. One of the artists was holding an art class and Jessica decide to take the figure drawing class at age 16.

Jessica was the youngest one in the class and she wasn’t sure if perhaps she was too young, but having that experience helped fuel her passion for art. “Being in that environment, with artists and getting invited to opening art shows was really life changing.”

But after high school, Jessica stopped painting and doing art continuously. Despite not completing a college degree, Jessica continued to make art on her own time. It wasn’t until about three years ago that Jessica started getting back into painting. She began doing murals and commissions for people. “For about two years straight I wasn’t doing art for myself.”

During this time Jessica had been dreaming about a place where she could have “people who didn’t have the support or felt that they needed improvement” come in and create art on their own terms. “I wanted to let people know that you didn’t have to cross that finish line of a degree to create art.” Jessica and her husband began looking for places to make her dream a reality, but had no luck.

“We decided to wait a year and then check again,” Jessica said, “to see if something opened up and if I was serious about my idea.” In response, Jessica wrote down everything she wanted. “Sort of like a mission statement.” A little bit later, Jessica and her husband found a space in the Studios at Sheridan. “It was more than I ever asked for. I even have a space for my own studio.” And thus the Art Garage was created.

Jessica is very glad she found this place and loves the ability to be “plugged right into the art community” as well as the ability to create her own art. “I can really concentrate on me and my art, though I do still have commissions.”

She is also grateful for the location. “We are in an area where we don’t have to promote art, and the artists here are very willing to encourage and to teach others and learn themselves.”

Her daughter, Olivia, is also very involved with Art Garage. Since the beginning of this summer, Olivia has been helping her mother during the workshops and keeping the area clean. “She loves and wants to help out. It also keeps her from using all the supplies.” Like her mother, Olivia loves to create art and likes to work in all sorts of mediums. “I encourage Olivia to go whatever direction she wants with art.”

Jessica also likes to allow the people that come in to create their own works of art. The Art Garage is very much community based. Jessica likes to keep the structure very organic, basing the classes that are taught and special events like Ladies Night, Toddler Time, and Date Night by the community input. “If we put in a watercolor class, it’s because people have been asking for it. I like to try to listen and have a balance between the craftier side of art and the finer arts.”

As it turns out, Jessica has found this to be a rather difficult task. “The only problem is to keep everyone happy,” which is why Jessica likes to switch up classes. “This week we learned about monoprinting and last week we did air dry clay.” Jessica’s goal is not to make money with the Art Garage, but rather to create a supportive place where people can make art and do so with encouragement and assistance.

“We have guest artists come in and teach classes and I even teach classes.” Jessica doesn’t want to tell people what to do however. “I try to give them the basics and the tools to do so and let them take their own stand on it.” And it’s been very successful; people of all ages ranging from elderly to toddlers have shown up to participate in classes and workshops the Art Garage provides.

To learn more about the Art Garage, visit the Art Garage’s Facebook page or art-garage-studio.com. To learn more about Jessica Ball and her artwork, visit http://jessica-ball.squarespace.com/gallery-3-jessica-ball-art-studio/. To contact Jessica, call (309) 231-2511.

What’s on Chip Joyce’s Hit List?

Peoria, Illinois actor and director Chip Joyce

By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks

It’s not necessarily about playing the most roles, or directing the most productions; for Chip Joyce it’s about doing those few special ones that make his “hit list.”

Chip, 31, grew up in Peoria, graduated from Woodruff High School, and didn’t leave home for long before he was back in town. He studied film at Columbia College in Chicago for two and a half years before transferring to Illinois State University in Bloomington. He commuted there from Peoria and studied theatre with a concentration in cinema studies.

“I’ve basically lived here my whole life. I like it,” said Chip, whose parents still live in town. He also has a sister in the MFA graduate program at Johns Hopkins University.

For the last year, Chip has been working at Cumulus Radio in Peoria as an account representative in sales and advertising. “You have to be a great people person for the job, and I think my theatre abilities are what really help me with it. With acting, obviously, it’s being comfortable with other people one-on-one, and I always have been.”

At nine years old, Chip was in his first show, “A Christmas Carol.”  Soon afterward he preformed in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was his first show at Corn Stock Theatre.

“I grew up preforming, and I always wanted to be a director,” said Chip. “I kind of had to wait around until I was old enough. I started directing and have been kept really busy with that.”

Instead of limiting himself to one place, Chip enjoys preforming and directing at different venues in Peoria. “Every theatre provides great, excellent opportunities… You get better, well rounded experiences by going to different places,” said Chip. “Each venue has its own unique characteristics and space, and, to some degree, audiences… why not spread the love?”

Some of the most notable shows Chip has directed are “Hair” at Corn Stock Theatre and “RENT” at Eastlight Theatre.

In June, he will be directing his first horror show, “Jekyll and Hyde,” at Eastlight Theatre, and in the fall, his first non-musical stage show, “The Graduate,” at Corn Stock Theatre.

His most recent role as Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Corn Stock Theatre was his first time being on stage in two years. He has been directing an average of two shows a year for about six years, mostly at Eastlight Theatre and Corn Stock Theatre.

A few years ago, Chip even did a one-man-show at Peoria Cabaret Theatre. “Just me playing multiple characters, doing all of them… I did a lot of speech and stuff in high school where I had to do that, so it was just old hat for me really.”

Scenic designer is yet another hat Chip wears around the theater, designing sets for other directors and some of his own shows. “I like to be a planner,” Chip said. “As soon as I know that I have a show… I love to just start thinking about it, conceptualizing… and the best way to do that is to design my own set. It’s hard to picture what the show is going to look like if you don’t have it in your mind.”

While Chip keeps himself busy in the theatre scene, he says it is good to take some time off once in a while to “recharge the creative battery.  I love going to see other theatre, going to museums, reading books, and watching movies because we draw our creativity from all sorts of places.”

Always looking for new challenges in directing and acting, Chip has a “hit list” of shows and roles he wants to do. “I’ve been really fortunate,” said Chip, “a lot of the roles I’ve wanted to play through the years I’ve gotten to play… I feel like I need to start finding new things.”

Recently, Chip also had the opportunity to serve on the board of directors for Corn Stock Theatre’s Winter Playhouse. “It’s really rewarding to be able to creatively steer organizations a little bit,” he said. “When you get to have a hand in making big decisions like what shows they are going to do… that’s great as well”

Whether it’s acting, directing, or designing sets, Chip has a lot more to accomplish off of his “hit list” before he sets down his various hats.

Peoria Artist Ryan Dowell

Peoria, Illinois artist Ryan Dowell

By Jayme Eng / Photography by Jayme Eng

For some mothers, having an artsy child can be exciting, as long as they keep their artwork on paper or canvas. But Peoria artist Ryan Dowell enjoyed drawing on anything, including walls and sidewalks as well as on paper.

Ryan grew up in London Mills, Illinois where he was excited about art as a child. “My art teacher in grade school was really adamant about art and really helped to manifest my passion for art.” Though Ryan was taught about realism first, he always gravitated to a style that resembled the line-work of his childhood, which he continues to use in his art today.

When he graduated from high school, Ryan first attended Spoon River College in Canton, Illinois before attending Bradley University. There he’s currently working hard on achieving a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus in painting and sculpture. “At first I thought I was going to go into politics,” Ryan said, but art has always been something he enjoyed and realized he could make statements with his art.

By constantly looking at other artists and researching different topics, Ryan uses his own works of art to criticize social issues. “I want to entice my audience through humorous images but also get them thinking about the social issues I’m presenting.” Using humor, according to Ryan, rather than merely stating the social issue creates a different response. “Just saying it would make people sad, so I found that humor was a way to lightheartedly get people interested.”

Ryan also uses mixed media in his art, such as newspaper clippings that pertain to the issue he’s discussing in his art. “I can use acrylics, oil, pastel, and spray paint all on the same surface.” But before he even gets to his canvas, Ryan likes to research to help answer his question, “How do I get to the idea in my head?” Though he never sketches the ideas he has, Ryan likes to have a good idea on how to go about his ideas. He visits galleries in Chicago and St. Louis regularly to look at works by other artists while researching different techniques and ways to improve his own style.

As for influences, Ryan likes to look at street artists from the 80’s as well as classical painters to set up a painting. “I also like to look at Pop Art, but mostly for composition.”

For Ryan, executing his pieces is the most difficult for him, rather than researching. “I have an idea in my head, but my art and research can take me so many different directions.” To help solidify what he’s going to paint, Ryan outlines his work in chalk and adjusts as he continues.

Most of his canvases are also made by himself. “At Bradley, one of my art professors taught me to stretch canvases and I just ran with it.” Ryan also still draws on walls, only this time they aren’t limited to his house as they are in much more public places. “They get painted over a lot, but I’ve been taking photos of them when I realized I could put them in a gallery.” These pieces are also central around social commentary.

Though Ryan’s work isn’t in any galleries at the present, his work was featured in the 2012 Ciao & Friends Opening Art Exhibition at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

When asked about his aspirations, Ryan stated that he wanted to go to graduate school to study art education. When asked why, he replied, “I had a lot of great art teachers growing up and I realized that fueled my desire to not only create but to teach art as well.”

For more information, visit Ryan’s website at ryandowellart.weebly.com or visit his Facebook page on Facebook.

Peoria Artist Barb Unes Finds Inspiration Everywhere

Peoria, Illinois artist Barb Unes

By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks

“I don’t like painting flowers because everyone’s done it,” says Peoria, Illinois artist Barbara Unes. An avid watercolor painter, Barb enjoys branching out from her usual medium of choice and works to create art for herself and what she enjoys.

Barbara Unes is a native of Illinois and grew up in the Chicago area before finally settling back in Peoria in 2003. Barb taught in District 150 before retirement. During that time, she created art and painted. “When I was a child, I was always interested in doing creative things with my hands.” Barb recalls.

She credits most of her growing passion for art throughout her high school and college years to the teachers and professors she had. Barb refers to her professors at Western Illinois University as “inspiring and constantly encouraging creativity.”

What made her go into teaching art came during college as well? “I’m a very nurturing person, and to me teaching is a way of giving back to students as I was with my professors in college.” Barb taught for 27 years as a watercolor teacher before retiring, and continues to teach one or two classes at ICC.

During her teaching career she worked in District 150, which Barb said was “the most personally meaningful teaching experience” in all her 27 years of teaching. At Roosevelt Magnet School, Barb felt that she was truly making a difference teaching art to students. Both teacher and student have to participate when learning, especially art. “The teacher has to love children, and the students have to want to learn,” both of which Barb feels happened at Roosevelt Magnet School.

Barb’s time as a teacher was very fulfilling, but as a result, she didn’t have as much time dedicated to herself. According to Barb, teaching is very time consuming. “I would paint, but only in the summer,” but since her retirement, she has been able to paint throughout the year. She particularly likes to paint when it rains and will go into her basement where her studio is and work on different projects.

Through her love of watercolors, Barb has begun to dabble with other forms of paints such as acrylic paint. She enjoys and loves watercolors very much but finds acrylics a much more pliable paint to work with. “Watercolor is very unforgiving,” Barb says. She has also begun to work in mixed media such as gathering sand from beaches and rubbing it into paint to create a different texture. Barb hopes to start working on large scale and contemporary canvases in the near future as well.

Sand isn’t the only thing Barb has been taking from the places she visits. Most of her paintings come from her mind or from photographs rather than physical arrangements she’s created.  To prepare for a painting, Barb likes to have a plan. “Most of the time, I’ll sketch and do studies on paper to figure out shapes and shadows before I actually paint.”  Even then, Barb says, she sometimes changes the layout as she paints.

When asked what inspires Barb and her paintings, her response was simple, “You can get inspiration from anywhere.” Barb is interested in the shapes and shadows of what’s around her and from the photographs she takes.

For Barb, currently all the artwork she’s making is for her own personal use and she does not participate in galleries and shows very often. She has a few shows under her belt, but they are not essential for making her art. “I’ve done commissions and shows, but I don’t actively seek out the business.” For Barb, her artwork is about “her life, her home, herself,” and she enjoys the leisurely pace she is currently on to experiment in different forms and styles of art.

For more information about Barbara Unes and her artwork, visit http://www.peoriacac.org/.

Stephen Heinemann is Passionate about Making Music

Bradley University music professor and jazz musician Stephen Heinemann

By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks

For some, the idea of making a career of the same thing they’ve been doing since they were a child might sound a little boring, but for Stephen Heinemann, it’s been anything but dull. To Stephen, juggling his job as a professor, composing music, and participating in many different ensembles can be difficult at times, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stephen Heinemann has worked for Bradley University as a music professor for 22 years, starting in 1991, and teaches music theory, composition, and clarinet. Music however, has been with him his whole life.

Stephen grew up with parents who were amateur musicians and encouraged him to pursue music. His sister had taken to the piano, and he the clarinet. “I probably wanted to do something different.” Later, Stephen began to play the alto saxophone when he started listening to jazz music and became inspired. He expanded his musical career by receiving the Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts degrees in composition from San Francisco State University. After teaching for several years in Arizona, Stephen received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from the University of Washington in Seattle before moving to Peoria to work at Bradley.

Stephen soon began to perform with a multitude of groups that include the Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra, Todd Kelly Quintet, and the Bradley Jazz Ensemble.  Through the Bradley Jazz Ensemble, Stephen has also played at Jazz festivals around Europe such as the Brienz, Tuscany, and Umbria Jazz Festivals. Recently, Stephen also helped create and debut Peoria Lunaire, a five faculty membered performance group. The first faculty permanent performance group at Bradley, Peoria Lunaire performs once a semester, debuting last November.

Not only does he perform, but Stephen also composes music for his ensembles, both classical as well as jazz. Composition, Stephen has said, is one of the most challenging aspects of his career. “It’s not about going over the same territory over and over again,” Stephen comments on the difficulties of composition in his opinion, “but redefining it.”

According to Stephen, the time it takes to compose music varies from each piece and every one is different. When referring to a recent jazz piece Stephen composed, it took him around two hours to complete it, but with others it can take months. With the longer compositions, Stephen likes to set up a general deadline not to settle, but to make sure he doesn’t overwork his pieces. “When you have a lot of time, it’s easy to keep going over the composition again and again to get it perfect.” Stephen gets his influences from many different forms of classical and jazz music.

When comparing the two, Stephen says that composing classical and jazz music are as expected, different. According to Stephen, orchestral and chamber performances strive toward an “idealized perfection of sound” while jazz is a little bit more lenient when it comes to the barriers of defined principles and the value of the “happy accident.” Despite their differences, both styles also share commonalities. “Both areas require enormous practice, discipline, and dedication” and Stephen enjoys both and the artistic freedom he has been able to pursue.

The Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra plays every first Wednesday of the month at the Fieldhouse. For more information about Stephen Heinemann, visit www.slane.bradley.edu/music. Also visit www.peoriajazz.com for upcoming concerts performed by the Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra as well as Todd Kelly Quintet. For more information about Peoria Lunaire, contact Stephen at (309) 677-2603.