As an intermittent stage performer, I am sometimes asked by people I meet if I have ever been naked on stage. No matter how many times I hear it, I am always taken aback by this. I guess I expect questions like, “What shows have you done?” or “What’s your favorite role you’ve ever played?” But instead, there are evidently some that are curious if I’ve ever co-starred with Bullwinkle.
I’m not sure what drives someone to ask a borderline inappropriate question that I find irrelevant to my stage experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offended. It’s just that if we’re going to talk about me (my favorite subject), I’d rather mention how I was once nominated for an Ostrander (just…once) or about I worked with my first professional theater group at the age of 11. To me, asking an actor if they’ve ever slung schlong on stage is like asking an office admin if they ever photocopied their ass or if a cop ever killed anyone in the line of duty. They treat it like it’s taboo, a dirty little secret side of performing that you’re not really supposed to talk about.
I can’t help but wonder if my response to this question is an attempt to indirectly gauge my personal character, assuming I’m a hedonist, exhibitionist, or pervert if I’m willing to bear my balls to strangers for the price of admission. Or do they believe that wagging my wanger under hot stage lighting makes me a more dedicated artist?
Despite their reason, I always answer, “No.” The most nude I have ever been on stage is a jockstrap in one production and a pair of nearly (okay, almost completely) see-through, pink bikini briefs in another (both for the same theater company). Did I hesitate to strut about wearing so little? Absolutely not. Walking around in your underwear (or jockstrap) in a controlled environment where you pretend to be somebody else is much different than, say, walking around in your underwear (or jockstrap) during Southern Decadence being yourself. Being unclothed on stage is a perfect way to force yourself into character, in my opinion. Desperate to forget you are standing in front of hundreds of people without clothes will certainly force your mind into focusing on your character and the story you are telling.
However, I have been completely nude in film. I was 28. A director saw my performance in BENT and asked if I would be interested in bringing a small role to life in his movie (the working title was Matchmaker). It was my first little, local, indie film in which I had ever participated so of course I said, “Yes.” So I asked for a copy of the script and told him I would be in touch.
About a week later, I called Director and said, “I want to play Dog Man.”
There was a moment of silence that I believe can be described as stunned. He replied, “What? Are you sure? I was thinking of you more in the role of Michael.”
“No. I want to do Dog Man. It’s a much better character.”
“But…you do realize this character is completely naked, right? I mean, completely.”
“Yeah. You made that pretty clear in your script.”
“I wasn’t going to ask ANYBODY to do that role. I figured I would just do it myself.” He almost sounded relieved.
“Now you don’t have to,” I said, and as simple as that, the role was mine.
On the day of the shoot, I sat in a makeshift dressing room near the closed set dressed in a white terrycloth robe. My chin was tilted up towards the light to allow the makeup lady a chance to provide final touches. When they called me to the set about an hour later, I walked on with my oversized stuffed lamb and dropped my robe. The stuffed animal was a personal touch inspired by my mother’s shih tzu that had a penchant for dry humping a small (and eventually crusty) stuffed elephant during any occasion (when conducted during dinner, it was almost like a free floor show – a dirty dinner theater, if you will).
The shoot lasted maybe six hours. That’s six hours of complete nudity in front of one director, five crew members, and one other actor (all straight men), and not once did I feel uncomfortable. The nudity involved in the character I played was not intimate or sexual. It was just…nude.
Matchmaker never saw the light of day (rumor has it that the leading actor from Nashville and the director had a falling out), so I never saw the footage in context to the story. But I have never regretted it. As a matter of fact, I keep a framed photo from the set over my office desk at home as a reminder of what you can accomplish when you don’t allow silly hindrances such as modesty or shame to get in your way.
Would I ever accept a role that requires full-frontal nudity on stage? I’m not sure. I’ve never considered it, really. I guess if the role is right, I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I would certainly want to ensure that Partner is okay with it (he wasn’t a part of my life during Dog Man), and no close family or co-workers would be allowed to see the show, and I would have to trust and respect the director/theatre company. Just be sure to give me at least six months to get into shape again. My 41-year-old body doesn’t rebound like it used to.
How far would you strip down for art? Do you think it’s more challenging for a woman to be naked on stage than a man? Are you more apt to attend live theater if the show contains nudity?
by Cary Vaughn (2014)