How audiences react to actors stripping down
By Brian P. Sharp
As we start the “nude” year, it’s interesting to think back on how the Dayton theatre audience has been pushed regarding the issue of nudity over the years. You would think this would only apply to the professional stage, but no – in Dayton, theatre audiences have experienced nudity or partial nudity on both the professional and community levels. Is it really about the “art,” or is there something exciting and shocking about seeing someone naked and vulnerable on the stage in front of you? This is not about strippers or dancers … this is about an actor stripping down and acting with nothing more than their skill to drive home a message. Does the audience get past the nudity … or is there a level of discomfort for the audience?
That being said, we need to first consider The Human Race Theatre Company – our own professional leading edge theatre company that has pushed the issue of nudity on a number of occasions. We have seen the amazing performances of Kay Bosse and Michael Kenwood Lippert in “The Elephant Man.” A story where we hear “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!”
We have been led in “Wit” by Virginia Smith who took us on the journey of a professional woman telling the story of her battle with ovarian cancer. It is a journey that, as we find out in the beginning, ends in her death, a story that you can never forget – it is beyond thought provoking theatre … and the nudity was just part of it.
There was also the two-part production of “Angels in America” and “Perestroika” with Catharine Moore and Bruce Cromer. The Reagans are in the White House and Roy Cohn is moving toward a job in the state department. While the story of Prior Walter, a man living with AIDS, endures life changes from his lover leaving him, to his death. The nudity again, is part of the story – a doctor’s exam, a stripping of everything for the character – yet he must endure.
Then we got to experience “Take Me Out” – the story of a gay baseball player. Much of the play is set in the “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changeroom” – where plenty of nudity abounds – of a professional baseball team, and as such has an all-male cast and explores themes of homophobia, racism, class and the masculinity of the sport. The play’s main character, Darren Lemming is a popular mixed-race baseball player at the peak of his career when he decides to “come out.” Several of his teammates react strongly. Some are supportive and accepting, and others not so much. The drama plays out over the course of the baseball season with sad consequences. This play is the dramatic exploration of what such an event might be like.
Recently on the Victoria Theatre stage, we saw “Spring Awakening,” the winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. It is an electrifying musical. This story of the journey from adolescence to adulthood is told with a passion that you will never forget. It mixes morality, sexuality and tops it with rock and roll. This group of German students tries to navigate through self discovery and rebellion, with one small glimpse of nudity on the stage.
On the community theatre level in Dayton, we have seen full nudity in the Dayton Playhouse production of “Hair,” directed by Doug Lloyd -a show so successful, additional performances had to be added. We saw partial nudity on the Dayton Playhouse stage in the very successful productions of “Cabaret” and “The Producers,” both directed by Chris Harmon. We watched as cast members undressed in the Dayton Playhouse production of “Corpus Christi,” directed by Michael Boyd. Additionally, there have been many productions in the area that have included nudity, such as “The Full Monty.”
So what does all of this mean? It means that the Dayton theatre audience believes in the art! If nudity is part of the story, let it be!
Reach theatre critic Brian P. Sharp by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org