Thirsty Thursday: Nudity on Stage

Do you want to see naked actors? Does nudity help or hinder art? Here are some views on the subject from NYC Playwrights. My personal opinion?  If the shoe fits …

Nude is Good for Broadway Box Office

That Radcliffe did the play in London last year and opened last week on Broadway in a transfer of that production would be news enough insofar as the star of one of the most successful franchises in film history is performing live on stage, in the flesh. But here, the phrase “in the flesh” is especially appropriate: Equus famously includes a full-frontal nude scene for Radcliffe in the role of the psychosexually tormented youth Alan Strang, who develops an erotic fixation with horses and then blinds a stable-full of them with a metal spike when his attempt to lose his virginity with a local girl fails miserably.
It’s scarcely an exaggeration to say that Radcliffe’s nude scene has caused as much excitement as would be engendered if Ethel Merman could be brought back to life and signed to star in new Broadway musical. (Of course, that’s not the same situation, since presumably few would want to see her naked.)
Throughout his journey in Equus, from the media circus surrounding the London run to the slightly less breathless coverage of the Broadway engagement, Radcliffe has maintained his equanimity and a great sense of humor about exposing his private parts.
He recently confided in The New York Times that he has been experiencing what he called the “Michelangelo’s David Effect” onstage, explaining: “[David] wasn’t very well endowed, because he was fighting Goliath. There was very much of that effect. You tighten up like a hamster. The first time it happened, I turned around and went, ‘You know, there’s a thousand people here, and I don’t think even one of them would expect you to look your best in this situation.'”


Kidman and ‘Blue Room’ Generate a Red-Hot Buzz

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may have shuttered most of the porn joints around Times Square, but the hottest sex show in quite some time lands on Broadway on Nov. 27.
“The Blue Room” comes with a much better pedigree, of course. David Hare has adapted this sophisticated sex comedy from Arthur Schnitzler’s turn-of-the-century Viennese classic of lust and longing, “La Ronde.” The brilliant young Sam Mendes has directed it.
But, most important, Nicole Kidman in her American stage debut teams up with veteran British actor Iain Glen for this sexual merry-go-round in which they play a quintet of couples coupling across economic and social barriers.
The limited engagement of 111 performances at the Cort Theatre, with previews preceding the official opening on Dec. 13, is already nearly sold out on the strength of rave reviews from its London engagement and breathless reports that Kidman and her hunky co-star appear nude on stage. The show opened there in September, and, by the time it closed on Oct. 31, scalpers were reportedly getting as much as 1,000 pounds–about $1,600–per ticket.


Sex and the theater: An actress bares all about onstage nudity

I’ve been a stage actor for 10 years, but this summer was the first time I’ve ever really considered taking a role with two explicit sex scenes and nudity. Despite my apprehensions — how my body would look, how the role would change the way people perceive me, in theater and in real life — my biggest concern was the potential for lameness. Sex delivered badly onstage is just as depressing as sex done badly in real life, exponentiated by the presence of an audience.
I really wanted the part, the lead in a sexy comedic romance between two brainy people more comfortable quipping than feeling, just like everyone I know. The premise was that a woman at her sixth college reunion starts up a relationship with a virginal 18-year-old freshman, and awkwardness ensues. It was called “The Campsite Rule,” after columnist Dan Savage’s advice for older or more experienced persons in sexual relationships with mentees: Leave them better than you found them.


James Masters on being naked on stage

It was so weird. I’d known these guys for five years and they’re just staring at my socks in embarrassment! No, seriously, it was totally cool. I don’t have a big problem with being naked. In fact, I made my professional debut naked, so that burned it right out of me. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. I was strapped naked to a big metal hoop! Trying to retain some shred of dignity in the mire that is serial television is not easy. On stage there’s a codified way of dealing with nudity: you don’t go down to underwear until your technical rehearsal.


Hair: Naked, Hairy And Ready To Sing

Hair is a well-known Broadway musical that originally gained notoriety and fame for it’s power to shock audiences with things never before seen on the Broadway stage. A nude scene, profanity, and the idea of sex and drugs all make the production of Hair what it is.
In fact, despite being a college production, the Department of Theatre and Dance has decided to keep the nude scene intact in the spirit of the show.
“We are doing the nude scene not to be super edgy or anything,” says Dalton, who will be getting fully nude. “It’s supposed to be a celebration of our bodies. Nobody was forced into it, and they’re easing us into it so we can get comfortable.”
Director LaRosa was quick to assure everyone that the department put a lot of thought into why the nude scenes were integral and couldn’t be removed from the show. “There’s two moments of nudity in the show and one is most of the cast is completely naked on stage. The first time we started to rehearse it, we were sort of surprised that people just went for it,” La Rosa said.


Baring It All
What happens—in the minds of both audiences and actors—when performers take their clothes off?

We all know that theatre artists bare their souls for an audience. But often they go so far as to bare their bodies. Nudity on stage can shock, engage, heighten, jar, excite or even delight—responses that artists work tirelessly to garner. But nudity deserves further contemplation. For starters, it seems like a lot to ask of a performer. So what function does it serve? What do playwrights and directors seek to achieve by using nudity? What does it mean for actors to appear in the nude, and what are the conditions under which they agree to do so? How does an actor assess if the use of nudity is necessary or gratuitous? And how does it affect the audience?
Nudity is a tense subject for American audiences. In fact, many theatre companies that I contacted for this article declined to survey their audiences about nudity for fear of alienating their patrons or sending the erroneous message that they should soon anticipate a veritable festival of nudity in the company’s programming.
This tension with audiences dates back to the very founding of the country, when puritanical views held that the theatre was “the devil’s drawing room,” as it was referred to in one of the earliest authentic American plays, 1787’s The Contrast by Royall Tyler. In an effort to improve the public’s perception of theatre, playwright and historian William Dunlap warned audiences in 1832 against being pleased by “glitter, parade, false sentiments, and all that lulls conscience or excites to evil,” and alternatively suggested that the role of theatre is to teach lessons of “patriotism, virtue, morality, religion.”