nytheatre mike au naturel (almost)

Some more thoughts about nudity on stage with a firsthand story of my own.

Several months ago, a friend of mine asked me to audition for a show she was producing. The role she had in mind for me required the full monty. At first I was surprised, then flattered, then intrigued. I didn’t know if I had the guts to do it, but was fascinated by the potential challenge. I imagine that wearing one’s birthday suit in front of a theatre full of people requires some serious concentration and composure. Not to mention how the audience’s reaction to such an event colors one’s performance from night to night. And then there’s the whole vulnerability factor. In a word: eek.

It turned out to be a moot point, however, because I ended up not auditioning: a scheduling conflict I knew I had during the show’s run prevented me from accepting my friend’s invitation.

Here’s the thing, though: before declining the invite, I told several friends about this opportunity, and they all said the same thing: “Yeah, Mike, that’s great. I hope you get it. But, if you do, I’m not coming to the show.” It seems they were uncomfortable with the thought of seeing their platonic buddy au naturel in person.

To which I thought to myself: what’s the point of doing a show you know no one will come see?

So, here’s my question: how do you feel about the idea of seeing people you know on stage in the buff? With the increase of onstage nudity here in Gotham, I suspect it’s a growing concern for some, while for others I imagine it’s no big deal. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

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3 Responses to nytheatre mike au naturel (almost)

  1. Hi Michael,

    Interesting post.

    I have seen one colleague in the buff onstage and while it was a little awkward, at the same time I was amazed at my colleague’s bravery. Acting in front of a live audience can be scary enough…but doing it in the nude? That takes some guts.

    Personally speaking, I have only been offered to do nudity once (a collective sigh of relief from the world). It was for a play that later went up at a theatre in PA. The writer/director was very nice, very professional. He sent me a copy of his script (which was very funny). As I remember, the play started out with a husband and a wife who, after making love, enter their kitchen to get a glass of water and end up having a normal, everyday conversation about wallpaper or something. The stage directions said they were completely nude. Heck of a way to start off a play.

    Well, I didn’t think the nudity was necessary, but the writer/director wanted to keep the nude scene in…for reasons I never bothered to ask. I ended up not doing the play.

    For me, I think that’s what it comes down to. Is it really necessary?

  2. Kim Miller says:

    Nudity in theatre is an interesting phenomenon. I think for the most part nudity tends to be unnecessary; presented specifically for the shock factor (i.e. Kathleen Turner in The Graduate) and it tends to ruin a show unless done in away that does not specifically draw attention to it. Nudity on stage is much harder to portray subtly than it is on film and therefore much more distracting. But that’s just my opinion and not actually a reaction to your post.
    Personally I have no problem seeing friends or acquaintances in the nude. Knowing beforehand that someone will be naked doesn’t deter me from seeing a show, nor has it deterred me from participating in a show. The one time that I have appeared on stage naked I had only one request and that was that my father didn’t come. As open minded as I like to think myself, the idea of having my father in the audience was unsettling.
    I think that as nudity on stage becomes more the norm the less squeamish we will be of watching those that we know walk about in the buff. We’re all still a bit puritanical at heart.

  3. Kim W. says:

    Hmm. It strikes me that these are two separate questions: what does one think of nudity on stage, and what does one think of nudity on stage when someone you KNOW is the one who is nude.

    As for nudity in general, there’s a time and a place; I’m not saying that in the puritanical sense, but more that there’s times when I’ve seen nudity in a show when it made sense, and there was no way you couldn’t not have nudity (for example, in M. BUTTERFLY when Song Liling, standing downstage center, exposes himself to Gallimard; all the audience sees is Liling’s backside, but that’s enough; we just need to know that yes, there was nudity, because this is effectively the show’s CRYING GAME moment, and that’s kind of a crucial plot point); or others when there was a little bit of titillation to it, but it was cleverly handled (the finale of THE FULLY MONTY had the cast actually strip down to Their Full Monty, but at the instant they did, a strobe flashed in the audiences’ faces and then the stage went to black, so at most people saw only enough to register “hey, I think they’re actually…” and that was it). Then, though, there are the shows where you can tell the nudity was for no other purpose but titillation — I was actually a little disappointed to see that each act of the play JUDAS KISS opened with not just nudity, but with sex acts, and then the characters thus engaged dropped out of the action of the play soon after in both instances. It was nudity for its own sake, and…that just felt too much like a play to titillation as a cheap attention-grabber, and it felt like the playwright was cheating. There’s ways to do nudity, and there’s times when it’s not necessary.

    As for if it’s someone you know — this is a trickier question. On the one hand, we don’t ask ourselves if we’d have difficulty seeing our friends as murderers, Venician swordfighters, Scottish dictators, Californian screenwriters, etc.; we’re able to separate “this is my friend” from “this is the part they’re playing”l seeing your college roommate starring in the role as the rapist in EXTREMITIES probably wouldn’t lead you to think he should be locked up. On the other hand — …yeah, seeing someone you know naked has a certain weight to it, and that’s information you ordinarly wouldn’t expect to have except under some very specific circumstances. …Maybe it comes down to how good an actor your friends are — if they’re really good, then it’s possible for you to forget that “hey, I actually know what Sid’s butt looks like now. Weird.”

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