Nudity: From Pariah to Political Gesture

0 Posted by - February 15, 2007 - Blog

“Does stage nudity, even in our enlightened age, still have the power to shock?”

In today's issue of The Guardian, Michael Billington provides an answer to this question and follows up with an insightful history of nudity on stage.

Billington begins with the dark days of British theatre, where on stage nudity was occasionally tolerated only as long as any exposed women (the thought of a phallus flopping about on stage was totally out of the question) remained motionless.

“Everything radically changed in 1968,” he explains, “the 'year of revolutions' that saw the passing of the Theatres Act, ending the Lord Chamberlain's historic powers of censorship. Suddenly, nudity became both a defiant political gesture and a symbol of sexual liberation.

In the first act of unclothed mobility, a “Vaseline-smeared” Maggie Wright played Helen of Troy in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus. That September, the rock musical Hair took it a step further, treating the Shaftesbury audience to a grandiose strip show, with the actors disrobing en masse to draw the first act to a close.

Billington argues that the two styles of nudity offered by Dr. Faustus and Hair created a nudity dichotomy that continues to thrive today. “In the subsidised theatre, nudity is a dramatic device; in the commercial theatre, it is all too often a marketing tool. You want to sell tickets? Offer a flash of flesh.”

To read the complete article, visit The Guardian.

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