Baring all for art

Oh, dear.  Not content with attending the powerful, moving play Equus simply for the chance to see Daniel Radcliffe in his birthday suit, the great British public is now being alarmed by Sir Ian McKellen ‘s on-stage nudity as King Lear, in a scene which always seems odd when the actor doesn’t take his clothes off.  It doesn’t help that certain other productions in London at the moment are using naked actors for what seems like pure shock value,as neither of these instances should be titillating or shocking as such, but are a small part of the wonderful plays being performed.  When Equus first opened, I became quite angry with the endless tabloid press stories on the play, which were mostly getting worked up about ‘Harry Potter getting his kit off’.  If they knew the play, they’d be much more concerned by the fact that ‘Harry Potter’ blinds some horses, and, by the way, that’s not Harry Potter (who, I hate to say it, doesn’t exist) on the stage at the Gielgud, that’s Daniel Radcliffe, an actor who will have to play more than one part if he wants to have a career.  Hmph.

Having criticised public and press for getting terribly worked up about dangly bits on stage, I have to confess that I can’t ever see myself going for a role which required me to bare all.  For a start, I think there are very few theatrical situations that truly justify it.  But mostly, I’d just be too embarrassed, though I’d probably use the excuse that I was sparing the audience from nightmares.  It’s strange, as going on stage at all means shedding a whole host of inhibitions, and both acting and blogging could be compared to baring your soul.  I have no qualms about making a fool of myself (as long as I’m playing a role) or taking on a completely ridiculous part.  And on a related note, when the time inevitably comes that I find myself in a stage kiss, I suspect that this will be more problematic in rehearsals than in performance.  I sometimes wonder what other lines I may draw in the sand when it comes to on stage performance, but I know that being a naked librarian is a step too far. 

There have been several occasions when I’ve had to go a short way down the route to baring all for my art, and going outside your comfort zone is generally a good idea for a performer.   During my sixth form years, I played Roger in Grease, a hapless young man best described as the Cowardly Lion.  He brags about being a champion mooner, and in one scene, the other characters pull his pants down (American pants, that is).  One night my obligatory comedy boxer shorts decided to join my jeans in their downward journey, but I had anticipated this horrible possibility and had some tight underpants on beneath them which weren’t going anywhere.  Goodness knows what the audience thought, though!  Years later in Dido and Aeneas, the chorus had to stumble on to stage in a state of dishabille in the scene where the sailors sing their farewell to the ladies of the town.  Thus the audience had the dubious pleasure of viewing my pale, naked torso for a brief while, plus the silly sight of a singing librarian with only one of his socks on.  And most recently in Kiss Me, Kate, we had the joys of ‘Too Darn Hot’.  Those people playing members of the on-stage cast were in their undies and robes, or their stage trousers and vests, while most of those playing backstage crew members got away quite lightly.  It was decided (for a variety of reasons best left unstated), however, that my character, Ralph, really was exceedingly hot and thus the extent to which my shirt was unbuttoned was greatly increased between dress rehearsal and performance from ‘slightly’ to ‘almost completely’.  This didn’t worry me at first, but when I started dancing, I realised just how much of an interesting view the audience was getting.  Ah, well.  It provided much amusement in the cast, and softened the blow for a few of the other cast members who were a little embarrassed by the brevity of their own costumes.

My chest would never normally come out in public (in fact, it’s quite surprising even to see me in shorts), which proves that I will do things on stage I wouldn’t do in real life, but that’s as far as it’ll go.  Areas normally covered by underwear are unlikely to be making their stage debut in the near future, nor indeed the distant future.  It does mean that the wonderful roles and songs in the musical version of The Full Monty are denied me, but I think I can live with that.  I do admire those who are brave enough to bare all for art, and I hope they understand that I won’t be joining their number.

  1. (=

    Thank you for providing me with several amusing mental images! (Err…please don’t take that the wrong way!)

  2. There’s a right way to take that?

  3. Yes, the right way is ‘I found the situations described in your post amusing, but this does not necessarily mean that I find the idea of you without clothing amusing in a general, ‘the Singing Librarian must look really funny naked’ way’.

    Well, you did ask!

  4. Scrap that last ‘

    Note to self: must learn to type.

    • Treavor
    • April 21st, 2007

    A few years ago a friend of mine did a production of HAIR here in Austin, TX at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center; at the call backs (during the audition process), when it became clear that they were interested in casting him in the ensemble, they asked if he’d be willing to undress and exposee all near the end of act II with the rest of the tribe during the “Where Do I Go?” number. He said, “NO, I just can’t do that.” He thought he ruined his chances of getting cast, but a couple months later they offered him an ensemble role; during that number, he exited while the rest of the cast got naked; they actually were a bit angry that he got to escape that moment. Now the same theatre is staginh TAKE ME OUT, which requires a number of scenes where the male actors shower in locker rooms, nude of course. Although the play communicates an important social message, I’m pretty sure that the theatre is mostly capitolizing on the nudity aspect of the show, and I just don’t think it’s good when the focus on the body overides the larger social message of the play. I saw a production of SOME MEN by Terrence McNally in NYC recently (see my blog at for my response seeing the show). Despite it’s very sexual content, it didn’t have full nudity–actors where in tableaus that concealed, but still communicated intimacy in ways that were I think where much more dramatic and imaginative, which I appreciated.

  5. I agree – you very rarely need full nudity to express what you want to express, whether it be vulnerability, abandon, intimacy or whatever. Sometimes, yes, but not often, and if you have a good play, it should never really be the focus. Hair is an interesting one, as not all productions do the famous nude scene, and it is sometimes optional for the cast members (Elaine Paige tells an amusing story of her time in the cast of Hair in London with regard to that scene). I suspect it’s included in that case because it will inevitably bring in a few more ticket sales. It’s good that your friend didn’t end up being pressured into doing it, though.

    • David
    • May 19th, 2007

    Just got back from seeing Equus tonight from the on-stage seats. You peer at the action from about 15 foot above the stage. It was damned uncomfortable, and whilst you missed out on the acting to the audience, it was interesting to observe the actors when ‘off the line’ and facing away from the main audience and towards ourselves. Perhaps I was expecting far too much, but it is maybe a show that once the shock of seing it for the first time might has been overcome will never match up again. I saw it last year at Medway Little Theatre and felt that production every bit as good, nay possibly better since I didn’t have to get beyond the celebrity of the actors (Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe – only the latter got naked). Interesting experience, but probably couldn’t recommend the on-stage seats over the stalls (the circle seats would be a different proposition), and would not regard it as a definitive production of Equus. Anyway you only have until 9 June if you do want to see it. Nonetheless, Equus itself does warrant being seen. A very powerful piece that when I saw it for the first time left a huge impression on me.

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