Not the kids' cartoon...turn away now!
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
My first play, a bittersweet lovely thing that made me a lot of money, had me worrying that I would be typecast as a certain kind of writer. My second was, as a result, a provocative, controversial thing that probably wouldn't have made me a cent but for one review. (More on that in a bit.)
When the play was done in English it was a fairly careful affair with only the required amount of full-frontal nudity (male and female). However, when the rights were snapped up for a French production and rehearsals were on, things took a fairly different turn. The central set-piece of the play was a bed. In the bed a lot o' sex took place, but most of the dialogue and drama was pre- or post-coital. In the French production the male and female lead actors, rather than taking the tack common to actors in depictions of post-coitus in art, decided that two people who had just had eye-opening fucking would NOT have the covers drawn up to their necks. So for all the dialogue they were naked as jaybirds and - into the bargain - were two gorgeous people at the peak of their gorgeousness. The actor, if you'll permit a flight of Queerosity for a moment, was especially beautiful and hung...well...very well.
nudity can be that thing that is fundamental to all the arts: transgressive
The reviews for both English and French productions were a chorus of disapproval. But one big-time French-language reviewer finished his op with, "I'd like to review the costumes but there weren't any." We sold out for the whole run within hours.
Simply: nudity in theatre sells.
Am I advocating it be used more often? Absolutely! But there is a proviso. I once wrote of another show that its nudity - bracing as it was - was sexist. All the women had boobs to the four winds, the guys were merely shirtless - and not near as often as the women. That kind of sexist nudity reigns - as many have noted - on HBO where every second series has female boobs, asses and bushes on full display but where you're lucky if you see a flash of male ass. (Even on the so-called breakthrough Gay series, Looking, there ain't a lot of dick going on.)
Yes, this all reads as profoundly sophomoric but there is a point to be made here - a more intellectual one.
Theatre - from time immemorial - has always walked hand in hand with the erotic. From the satyr plays, to revenge tragedies, to Romeo and Juliet's post-coital kvelling onto Oh! Calcutta, it's always been there. It's one reason the churches, Puritans and censors hated theatre, why polite women weren't allowed to be in it and why it continues to live. Erotic, now, should mean nudity.
At its best, nudity can be that thing that is fundamental to all the arts: transgressive.
So transgressive that it can be stripped of its Eros. It can beautiful; geometric or curvaceous and purely esthetic as can be seen in more and more dance works. Or it can be hard and hideous like the explicit sex scenes in a Catherine Breillat movie. It can be all that's wrong with sex, or even all that's funny about it. It can also be a luscious combo of both Eros and Pornos - as I witnessed in one unforgettable production called Deus Meus which found links between Gay brotherhood and Catholic male and apostolic fraternity in the age of AIDS. I suspect a production of any play by Joe Orton would be even more perfectly outlandish with a rich dollop of nudity.
What tires me is when nudity is cute, coy or "naughty" (Lord! save me from the very word). I don't like it with the covers pulled up to the neck. I don't like nudity presented as something crass, dirty or wrong (a sex farce with a gratuitous set of hooters thrown in can drive me over the edge).
What never tires me is an ongoing discussion of nudity because it is also a discussion of men and women, Gay and straight, Eros and Pornos, and, ultimately, art itself.