I can remember when you couldn’t go to the theatre without seeing naked bodies all over the stage. Some shows, like O Calcutta, seemed to exist merely as an excuse for everyone to strip off and show the world the beauty of the human body. And they all were beautiful — men and women alike. Other shows, like Hair, used nudity to prove a point rather than it being a point in itself.
And of course there were lots of examples of nudity serving a larger dramatic purpose. The final scene in Equus, recently recreated with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead, comes to mind. At the fringe festivals, nudity was much more in your face — quite literally since the stages were often only a few feet away.
Nowadays, we seem to be beyond that — at least in most mainstream theatres. I don’t go as often as I used to and maybe I don’t go to the right theatres but nudity — even when it would serve the purpose of the play — doesn’t seem to be used as one of the ‘tools of the trade.’ Or maybe I need to go to different theatres.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. I do recall though how I felt about all that stuff years ago when I made my one and only naked stage appearance.
It was the early nineties and I’d formed a small company with a friend, Rob Turner, which we so cleverly called Trenholm Turner Underdrive — soon shortened to TTU productions.
For our second effort we produced an evening of one-acts called Dangerous Times produced at the Pumphouse in Calgary. I forget all four titles now but I do recall being in a short Tennessee Williams play about dysfunctional drunks and organ harvesting and in a short piece I wrote which consisted of a six scenes about political oppression.
It was quite experimental and it required three of the four actors to disrobe at one time or another in the 25 minute run. One of my reasons for doing the piece was to show that you didn’t have to be beautiful to be naked on stage — that is to say, it was a natural thing and shouldn’t be used only for titillation.
One of the actors was in fact a beautiful young woman but the other two disrobers were me and a very tall (6’5″) and very thin young man. He wasn’t unpleasant to look at but he wasn’t quite the picture of masculine beauty either. As for me: I was nearly forty and had never been mistaken for gorgeous.
Still, I looked my best that opening night. There is nothing like knowing you have to bare all to motivate you to lose 30 pounds and spend a few hours in the gym.
The critical response? Not much — it was a small theatre and a short run and the local critics didn’t pay much attention to little new companies. But I did hear two older women speaking to Kelly at the reception afterwards. They told him: You certainly gave us something to talk about on the drive home.
And that’s ten minutes.