The discussion of on-stage Nudity never disappoints to flare emotions. There are those who think it enhances realism in a production; conversely, there are those that believe it pulls the spectator out of the world of the play and brings them crashing back down to reality. Even our beloved teachers and performers can’t seem to agree on the subject…
Uta Hagen: “Nudity isn’t useful, or realistic. When I see a nude scene, I don’t think about the character or the play. I think, ‘Aren’t her nipples big?’ not the character’s, the actress’s.”
Alexandre Pavloff: “We used to hide our bodies but they are a part of us and we cannot exclude them from art. … As we reveal our bodies, we reveal our souls.”
Shelley Winters: “I think on-stage nudity is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic, and a progressive religious experience.”
While some actors may never consider disrobing on stage, others may be all too hasty to undress. Before taking it all off, here’s 6 things to “bare” in mind…
1. Am I comfortable enough to be nude in front of an audience of strangers?
Perhaps nudity in front of your fellow thespians doesn’t unhinge you, but how will you feel opening night when your neighbor or your first-grade teacher is in the front row? How about hundreds of strangers? If you are comfortable enough to bear all in front of the general public then maybe you’re ready to disrobe during that Hairspray number.
2. Does the script actually call for it?
It’s unfortunate but it happens, sometimes directors want to spice up a production by adding nudity that doesn’t belong. Promoting a show that has nudity might get more butts in the seats, heck; it might even bump up the ticket price. So ask yourself if you’re okay with nudity for the sake of ticket sales.
3. Is it pertinent to the story line?
Often nudity is written into the storyline and to remove it would be a disservice to the production. Without nudity, would the poignancy of Mrs. Kendall baring her breasts to John Merrick be lost? Or would the imagery be sacrificed if Alan Strang didn’t ride his horse bareback and buck-naked? This is really the director’s call; so make sure you know their point of view before signing up.
4. Does the director make you feel safe?
Ask yourself if you feel comfortable with the cast and crew and their professionalism. Did you get any funny feelings during the audition process? Were things run in a professional manner? Did the director do everything they could to make you feel safe and respected? If anything struck you as odd or rubbed you the wrong way at the very start you may be on your way down a very bumpy road.
5. Is this a professional production that will be running things by Equity standards?
There are contracts put into place for this very reason to protect your safety. If it’s not Equity ask how things will be regulated. Will there be someone there to make sure the wings are empty of actors/crew not necessary to that scene? What about photography? Ask questions!
6. Are you comfortable having a nude role on your résumé?
Unlike film and television, theatre is a live experience that unless recorded, will probably not live on forever. Because of this, it may not follow you around. That said, if you find yourself being asked to do more nudity in plays that don’t need it simply because you’ve done it before, be sure to put your foot down and set those boundaries so that you’re not taken advantage of. There are many types of actors in this world and nudity may be for some and not for others; it doesn’t dictate success or failure. Turning down a role because it requires your birthday suit most likely won’t alter the course of your career. Actors turn down roles during their careers for various reasons- but when you are young and eager it may feel like the hardest thing to do- especially when all you want is to work. The work will come. Don’t compromise yourself for a role that your heart isn’t in. Remember that there is a lot of power in the word ‘no.’
Nevertheless, if you decide to go for it and play a nude role do it in a way that works for you- talk with the director about your comfort level, know your boundaries and define them early on. Choosing to do a role with nudity can be exceptionally liberating. It may even drastically alter your performance, and bring a rawness to your acting you’ve not yet felt before. Perhaps you’ll decide to embrace the nude role because it creates discomfort and that’s a challenge you’re ready to welcome.
In summation, it’s up to you the individual. It’s not your agent’s, your parent’s or your partner’s decision. Look inside yourself to see if it’s something that feels right for you~