By Katie E. Hoffman
If you’re paying attention at all to the local art scene, then you already know that Ren Allen is one of the brightest stars in our community. On the 26th of September, at the 2017 Living Art America competition in Winston Salem, NC, Allen’s star shone on the national scene. She competed with colleagues from all over the world, bringing home a big first-place win in the Ultraviolet category and placing 2nd overall in the US. Allen is now ranked 7th overall in North America.
This is not Allen’s first Living Art America experience. She has competed as an emerging artist before, winning recognition and accolades from judges and colleagues. This year, she competed as a full professional, taking a team of models and actors with her. To her great delight, she brought home first place in the UV category. The theme of this year’s competition was “The Face of Change,” and for her winning entry, Allen chose to present a scene from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tiffany Beckler (Season 3 of Skin Wars) served as her assistant, and her team of seasoned models and performers included Brittney Isphording (Titania), Alyx Inman (Oberon), Kat Booth (Peach Blossom), and Jack Regal (Puck). Lyrika Holmes played harp, and was costumed and painted just as intricately as the actors.
Allen waxed poetic about the talent and abilities of her team. “It was so much work,” she said, “but we really pulled it off. Normally, performance isn’t part of the equation, but it’s judged heavily in the UV competition. I chose Midsummer Night’s Dream because it met the theme so well and showed off the talents of my team. In that play, there’s plenty of change. You can’t trust the faces that you see, and there’s trickery and magic everywhere. In the UV category, you earn points for creative interpretation, and Shakespeare’s work is just so open to all kinds of possibilities.”
“In UV,” Allen explained, “you give kind of a mini theater performance without any dialogue. It’s performed in black light, basically a living installation. You’re given a space, and you and your team transform it. When the judges or the public enter, the characters come to life. Our team included acrobatics, [hula] hooping, and juggling. It was very demanding. They had to take several breaks during the day, but their energy was amazing.”
Allen insists that the music played an important role in creating the “weird and wonderful” atmosphere called for in the play: “Lyrika, the harpist, brought a sound system that really helped immerse people in the experience,” she said. “She was playing live, and I think the judges and everyone else were impressed that she was really making music. That harp was not a prop; it was the real thing!”
A great deal of planning and preparation were required for this effort. “Once I decided to focus on Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Allen explained, “there was all kinds of detail work to attend to. I knew that the play would translate well for painting, because there are all kinds of great symbols in it—sun and moon, birds and butterflies—and, of course, the donkey ears. All of these natural symbols really lend themselves to UV. All of my performers were painted to some degree, even around their costumes. The category also requires that at least one of them be in full body paint, head to toe, and we had that. So the painting we did that day was really important, but so was the work that led up to the big event. The costumes had to be right so that we could concentrate on the painting when we got there. ”
Recounting the steps that led to her first-place work, Allen said, “My hands were burned and shredded from making headpieces and costumes. That takes forever, and it all has to be perfect and in place on the day of the competition. My house was a wreck for weeks while I created and painted. The costumes were really detailed—designed for movement and to complement the painting. One skirt even had little LED lights in it. Oh, and there were so many silk flowers! Every single one of them had to be painted with UV paint.”
Asked about her future plans, Allen says that she plans to compete in an international context. Look out world—Ren Allen is ready to take over!
For more information about Create Appalachia member Ren Allen and her artistry, visit www.facesbyren.com. You can visit her studio in downtown Johnson City, where she does both bodypainting and makeup for weddings, photo shoots, and special occasions.