Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Better and Between

I heard through the grapevine – well, actually from one particularly wonderful grape – that Derome Scott Smith of African-American Rep Theatre had suffered a seizure earlier this week. This source assures me that Derome is fine and recovering at home and also that the rehearsals of “Jitney,” due to open at Pine Camp on Feb. 5th are proceeding. Please join me in sending out healing and restorative thoughts and prayers to Derome.

Just because we’re in a “between” period when many shows have recently closed and others are prepping to open and so there are no theater reviews, don’t think there’s no reason to pick up a Style. In fact, the Arts coverage in this week’s issue is dominated by a piece by former critic/still theater gadabout Mary Burruss on nudity on stage and still-critical Rich Griset on an upcoming production of “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski.” Be sure to check them out.

I really appreciate Ms. Burruss’s article on nudity because it is one of those subjects that I think, at this point in our cultural development, wouldn’t be such a big deal but continues to be. However, even if you don’t have any problem with the actual nudity, there are interesting questions that arise with its inclusion in a production. There are the legal issues that are touched on in the article, some specific to our own wonderfully backward state. But then there are the myriad artistic issues: is the nudity called for? Does it serve the piece? Does it distract an audience more than it engrosses it? And particularly in this economy, there is even the cynical mercantalist slant: will it bring in a bigger audience?

On a basic level, I think theater is a celebration (and sometimes a condemnation) of everything that makes us human and certainly our naked bodies are a fundamental part of what makes us human. But then, why do some people still get so shaken up when actors are naked on stage? Is it just another version of the discomfort people feel at extreme emotions – overwhelming fury, hysterical grief – or physical violence portrayed on stage? What do you think?


Frank Creasy said...

Geez, it's a good question Dave, wish I had a really good answer. Seems to me it's different with live theatre than TV/movies; with theatre, unless you're ready for it and know it's coming, it's always kind of a surprise when an actor is naked. Not a shock so much as a surprise. And I guess there's a level of discomfort because of what I'd call "naked inequity". That is, it's one thing if I'm naked and the other person is naked (the locker room, privacy of home), but it's a different feeling when another person in the room is naked and I've still got on my chinos and polo shirt. Just kind of seems unfair, ya know?

Okay, that probably added little value, but hoping it gets the ball rolling. (Uh oh- poor choice of phrasing given the subject?)

Andrew Hamm said...

Great piece by Mary.

Nudity onstage, especially in a small market with more intimate theater spaces, is quite different than nudity on film or television. There is something very striking about suddenly being in the same room as a real live naked person. For me, it almost always takes me out (so to speak) of the moment as an audience member; the nude figure ceases being a character and instantly becomes a person with no clothes on.

That said, Take Me Out didn't bother me, though brief nudity in VCU's Metamorphoses did. And I have actually skipped seeing a show because I didn't want to see a friend nude in it. I just felt funny about it.