by James Haro
This post may have been inspired by two shows that I saw in the last month, or maybe it was all the episodes of “Strange Sex” my Noises Off cast mates and I have been watching together, but recently I’ve been thinking about stage nudity (two of my favorite words). I for one like seeing naked bodies. They’re interesting, not one looks anything like another. Men, women, old, young, thin, fat, what have you. Naked is cool by me. I know most theatre goers wouldn’t admit to enjoying a nude scene in a play for its nudity, that wouldn’t be very proper of them, it might even be considered a (dare I say it…) faux pas. To hell with it, be honest. Stage nudity is pretty awesome.
Why? Because its fascinating to think that during a play with stage nudity an actor and an audience must commit to believing that the nude body on stage is NOT that of the actor, it is the nude body of the character that they are portraying. Is this even possible? The clothes come off and my thought is : “That actor must be cold…oh wait, not actor, I’m watching a play, that’s thecharacter.” Because the naked body is typically kept so private it’s difficult not to think wholly about what I’m seeing. Simultaneously it draws me into the play and takes me out of it. What do I mean?
Say actor A.B. Cee plays a character named Brad in a play about marriage. The character Brad, in an effort to stop his wife from calling his mother to ask about a secret of his childhood, threatens to strip naked and run out into the street which he knows would bruise his wife’s unscathed neighborhood reputation of being the matriarch of a very well adjusted family. She picks up the phone anyway, Brad (and A.B. Cee) has no choice. It must come off, all of it. Cee the actor takes off his clothes and there is an adjustment that must be made. We as audience members must decide whether or not we do what is probably more natural, give into our curiosity and stare at his genitals because, hey, there they hang. OR, we decide to give the actor his public privacy and purposely not look because it’s not about the nudity, it’s about the art. Listen, as much as I’d like to admit to subscribing to the latter mindset, I’m much more a victim/proponent of the former. Am I ashamed of this? Hell no.
As an audience member I have every right to examine any aspect of what is presented to me. If there is a crack in the set I’m not going to ignore it if it’s something I notice. In the same vein if I’m given the opportunity to look at a naked body I’m not going to deny myself any part of it, I’m going to seize it, embrace it. Why go to the theatre at all if we aren’t going to see something new or different or out of the ordinary? I don’t know about you but I don’t see very many live naked people in my day to day life. Hence, nudity in theatre is not something to be looked down on, but celebrated! I mean come on, we’re adults, we know what it all looks like under the hood. Still, it doesn’t make it any less engrossing.
So what separates the theatrical experience of nudity from simply attending the local Spearmint Rhino or similar establishment? Nudity can be funny, arousing, uplifting, also uncomfortable, demoralizing, disturbing. Just like a line in a script or a costume, the more important thing is context. Wearing a t-shirt to a party is called being casual. Wearing a t-shirt to a funeral is called being a jerk. Having a character nude on stage before a party might be sexy and fun, showing hopefulness. Having a character nude on stage after a funeral can be heart breaking, showing loss and emptiness. Nudity on stage has to mean something to the play, comment on the circumstances in some manner. Arguably nudity can be placed somewhere in every play ever written. Character’s in their worlds must get undressed at some point in their days. However, the source of the impact of stage nudity doesn’t come solely from the nudity itself, rather how it is used to tell the story onstage.
As an audience member nudity creates a very bizarre experience, one that exercises whatever brain function separates art and, well, sex. Most times I examine naked bodies as I would a costume piece or a lighting effect. To me it’s just part of the show. But there’s something very honest about nudity that makes it more of a plot point than prop piece. It’s reality. Underneath our clothes is more skin, more skin than we’re comfortable with showing. What better place than a stage to examine what happens when that skin is shown.
James Haro is a Los Angeles native currently attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, seeking his BS in Entertainment and Arts Management, Theatre Concentration. He co-operates a blog at www.AngryPatrons.WordPress.com and produces the podcast ANGRY PATRONS RADIO.