They shuffled their feet and glanced at one another nervously. “Should I mention what we talked about?”
“Um, no. We’re not going to do that.”
“I think we should ask.”
In the end, the question came out: The artists wanted to know if it was OK to be nude or partially nude on stage. Would the venue approve of that choice? Were there any restrictions prohibiting nudity? How would audiences feel about this direction?
Patrons of the Wortham Center know that this organization does not shy away from challenging material when it is utilized to enhance or support artistic purpose. Several years ago, I distinctly remember my pre-teen daughter turning to me while watching a Pilobolus performance and asking why the women were topless. My short answer was, “It’s art.” My husband leaned over with a smile and whispered, “You know that’s going to come back and haunt you when she’s in college, don’t you?”
Programming is a delicate balancing act of art, entertainment, education, audience and finance. There is a time for grandeur, for lighting tricks, for astonishing combinations of flashy sets, costuming, technicality and physicality.
There is also power in the moments where the art is stripped down, devoid of stage stunts and frills, distilled to its pure essence — the sound of an a cappella voice ringing through the theatre, a monologue delivered to the audience, a dancer in a solitary pool of light, a musician breaking the fourth wall to sit on the edge of the stage and play directly to the crowd.
The pandemic has forced all of us to unclothe in a way — not just trading our dress slacks for pajama pants — but losing the layers of noise and spectacle that crowded our pre-COVID lives. By removing these brightly colored wrappings, we discover what is at the heart of our humanity and of our organizations.
Despite the pandemic rendering impossible business as we know it, resigning ourselves to a world without art is inconceivable. So we adapt. We adjust. We surge forward, undressed and vulnerable to the other realities.
2021 will bring unique opportunities to explore how we connect with art, artists and each other. My hope is that we arrive at the new year without our layers, ready for the possibility of engaging in imaginative ways, transcending the cold separateness of digital platforms and reaching a new level of understanding and connection by uncovering the essence of each work of art and seeing ourselves reflected within it.
Is it OK to be naked? Absolutely.
Wortham Center for the Performing Arts
Published in the December issue of SHIFT