By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
”I was 40 pounds overweight and terrified at the thought of appearing naked in public. But Brad wanted a broad range of body types, and I agreed. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. Women in the audience responded [to the fact] that I was able to accept myself and be myself onstage. Our objective was to present women as they see themselves, not as men see them. Women are starved for [such] images. Nudity became part and parcel of that . . . It’s not prurient unless it‘s made prurient.“
Head Games director Brian Paul Mendoza shared an experience that underlines the ambiguity of the exploitation issue. As a young actor-director he was asked by a playwright to join in a series of experiments to facilitate the working out of a play. The experiments involved nudity, and some were videotaped. At the time, he regarded it as serious work, and only later began to wonder, and still wonders, if he had been exploited.
Nowadays actors are more conscious of the dangers, and the Actors’ Equity Association has enacted strict nudity stipulations that producers, directors and casting people must follow: In auditions, there shall be no nudity until final callbacks, and an Equity stage manager shall be present at all auditions and rehearsals involving nudity. Then, beyond auditions: no photography of nude scenes without written authorization from actors, no release of those photos without written permission and no mingling with the audience while naked, etc. The trade paper Backstage West publishes its own casting rules and informally polices the local audition scene.
Dillon feels that writers and directors, too, are exploited by producers and promoters who want to make a fast buck by casting porn stars, or using sensational advertising promoting ”full-frontal nudity.“
Derek Charles Livingston, artistic director of the Celebration Theater, takes a more pragmatic line: ”Theater is an economic entity as well as an artistic one. And actors, writers and directors may have to accept a certain amount of exploitation by directors, producers and press people in order to be able to do the work they want to do.“
Those who favor nudity in their work insist that, though onstage nudity may sometimes be used transgressively, working with it is a far cry from the erotic fun and games some laymen imagine. The naked human body is too vulnerable, and too charged with sexuality and symbolism, to be taken lightly.
Nudity, like any other element of theater, can be used well or badly, or even perniciously. If it‘s used boldly, creatively and sensitively, it can make us think and feel, as well as look. Otherwise it will prove merely meretricious, sleazy or boring.
Sensitive directors and writers soon realize that if they are to deal with nudity at all, they must find ways to neutralize and de-eroticize both the body and the workplace. They know that if they are to do their work, they must earn the trust of their actors, and that any hint of prurience might violate that trust. They must deal tactfully and carefully with all the moral, aesthetic and ego issues that may arise, and with the difficulties that accompany emotional as well as physical exposure.