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–Steve Martin

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January 12, 2014

Take It Off

The NY Times has an article today, about the fitness regimens of the actors playing Spike in various productions of Chris Durang’s wonderful play Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike. These young guys have to appear in very skimpy underwear, which has started me thinking about the nudity in a batch of my plays. Here are some observations:

1. I would never ask an actor to remove his or her clothing during an audition, and there are most likely union rules and procedures about this. But sometimes actors have just begun taking off pretty much everything,
all by themselves.This can be fun to watch but also unnerving, because I can start to feel like the producer of a burlesque show, ogling the chorus cuties. I suddenly picture myself smoking a cigar.

2. My play The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told begins in the Garden of Eden, and in some productions the two male leads, Adam and Steve, are naked and sometimes they wear jockstraps; both options work. It’s interesting that so many Christian fundamentalists can be so prudish, when their favorite book starts with attractive, unmarried naked people having a good time.

3. During rehearsals, actors rarely take off their clothes. They usually get naked during the final technical and dress, or undress rehearsals. Everyone else involved in the production pretends not to notice this eventual nudity. There’s a kind of gracious nonchalance, as if the rest of us are saying, “Oh right, of course, there’s your penis. Very nice.”

4. As a playwright, I can use nudity for a simple sense of reality, or for a more oh-my-God-he’s-naked effect. There’s a locker room scene in Valhalla where the nudity is supposed to be shocking. Nudity is like swearing or singing; these devices will always get an audience’s often grateful attention.

5. Jeffrey is a play about sex and love, but it doesn’t include any full nudity. However, before each performance, one actor does have to get his pretty much naked body encased entirely in Saran Wrap. I truly believe that actors never get paid enough.

6. My play The New Century was produced at Lincoln Center. On the days that we were auditioning handsome actors for the role of Shane, a good-natured stripper, right across the hall the theater was auditioning singers and dancers to play sailors in a superb production of South Pacific. So for a period of time, the halls of Lincoln Center were filled with some of the best-looking, most in-shape guys I’ve ever seen in my life. I love my job.

7. My play The Naked Eye begins with one of the main characters, a deliberately provocative, Mapplethorpe-esque photographer, hanging naked on a cross. When this play was produced at the ART Theater at Harvard, we rehearsed in the basement of the divinity school, using our full-size, plywood rehearsal cross, but no one seemed to mind.
As the photographer was hanging on the cross, he delivered a five minute monologue, although as I told Neal Maffin, the terrific actor involved, “I don’t think anyone’s going to be paying attention to what you’re saying.”

8. I once saw a now-legendary play at the Public Theater, called Salonika. It featured a young and very well-built Maxwell Caulfield, whose character died naked on a sandy beach. Two truly great American actresses, Jessica Tandy and Elizabeth Wilson, had to clean Maxwell’s nude body with sponges, to ready it for burial. There might have been dialogue during this scene, but I certainly don’t remember it.
A gorgeous naked actor always wins.

I haven’t included any illustrations with this post, for a very good reason. And you should be ashamed of yourself.