Beyond the canvas

An imaginary world comes to life

By Shayna V. McConville

Photo: Amy Kollar Anderson’s painting “Madness,” served as an inspiration for her collaboration with Kettering Children’s Theatre for “Alice in Wonderland”

A painter can depict a visual world in infinite new ways, translating their vision onto a canvas often bound for a gallery wall. What happens when these paintings transcend the canvas? A special collaboration between Kettering Children’s Theatre and artist Amy Kollar Anderson will translate her painting technique into a three-dimensional world.

Amy Kollar Anderson is a painter constantly looking for new challenges in her work and finding ways to bring her imagination to the public beyond the boundaries of a traditional canvas. She recently collaborated with Sew Dayton on textile pieces based on her paintings and has created large-scale murals at Garden Station and along East Third Street. A few months ago, Shannon Fent, the director of Kettering Children’s Theatre (KCT), approached her with a question: would she like to see her paintings come to life on stage?

“When I first saw Amy’s artwork, I fell in love with it,” said Fent. After years of following her artwork, Fent saw Anderson’s 2012 painting series based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and knew there was something special to explore. “I had directed “Alice in Wonderland” over a decade ago for KCT, but knew we would come back to it because a lot of kids love the story. I just needed it to be the right time and when I saw Amy’s series, I knew it was coming.”

The Kettering Children’s Theatre has been a program at Rosewood Arts Centre for decades, casting young adults (ages 9 – 15) in a professional community theater production. This March, KCT will present “Alice in Wonderland” using the visual world of Anderson’s paintings as inspiration for its costumes and stage sets. Anderson, who is also the Gallery Coordinator at Rosewood, said, “I have watched many of the KCT productions come to life over the past ten years and I have always been amazed at the level of creativity and quality, considering the limited budget, that each production possesses.”

Anderson’s “Alice in Wonderland” series was initiated when she was a featured artist at Los Angeles’ The Hive Gallery. She discovered that “Alice in Wonderland” was a theme at the gallery, and wanted to create new work based on the story. “The challenge to myself – and what made the project interesting to me – was that I was not going to just illustrate the stories, but rather use the characters and themes from the book as the inspiration to explore themes of curiosity, loss of innocence and identity,” Anderson said. Her series has since been exhibited at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts and 4FRNT Gallery in Dayton in 2012 and at Ohio University Eastern Campus this fall.

The colors, patterns and characters that inhabit the paintings are otherworldly. In the painting “Wanderland,” a zigzagging path leads through a dense forest of striped trees. The foliage is reminiscent of green, marbleized swirls of cotton candy. “My primary contribution to the collaboration has been inspiration and feedback … taking notes of my eclectic mix of vintage and modern themes combined with intense patterning,” said Anderson.

This is what Ayn Wood, the production’s costume designer, noted as being an engaging direction to her work: “The entire design is very modern, including the clothing choices, which is refreshing to not reference the time period of Carroll.” Set designer Bruce Brown said, “I found Amy’s work to be delightful, fun and extremely interesting. This just fired my design process and I found it great to be able to take her ideas and images and try to create a set design that was both functional and true to the vision she put forth in her paintings.”

The young actors are enjoying the collaboration as well. Alex Rabenstein, who is playing the Caterpillar and March Hare said, “Her artwork has a good balance of abstract and realism that blends in a good way. From far away it looks awesome but then you get up close and discover even more.” Taylor Richardson, cast as the White Rabbit and the Gryphon, said, “I love that everyone has a different insight into their characters and how the artwork is being incorporated.”

The idea of collaboration isn’t new between theater and the visual artists; many great names have also created and/or designed stage sets and costumes, including Picasso, Edvard Munch and even contemporary artists Tracy Emin and Theaster Gates. Local multi-media artist Jud Yalkut, whose exhibition Visions and Sur-Realities, on view at the University of Dayton through March 7, collaborated with dancer Trisha Brown in the 1960s, projecting his films onto the dancers and the performance space.

What the audience will take away from this collaboration is a chance to see a reinterpretation of a well-known story that is visually distinct and unique. “I have learned more about what goes into creating a stage production and what elements they have to take into consideration, like set and costume changes, while clearly communicating ideas to the audience,” said Anderson. Seeing her paintings emerge into a three-dimensional world is bound to make this one of the most interesting artistic visualizations of the “Alice in Wonderland” story for years to come.

Amy Kollar Anderson’s painting series Alice in Wonderland is on view in the Kettering Arts Council Gallery at Rosewood Arts Centre from March 15 – 24. The Kettering Children’s Theatre production of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland will be performed on Fridays, March 15 and 22 at 7 p.m., Saturdays, March 16 and 23 at 7 p.m., and Sundays, March 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. Rosewood Arts Centre is located at 2655 Olson Dr. in Kettering.  Learn more by calling 937.296.0294 or visit

Shayna V. McConville is the Cultural Arts Manager for the City of Kettering. Visit her at Rosewood Arts Centre at 2655 Olson Dr. or visit the website at
She can be reached at

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