Clothing Optional performance for “Theatre Buffs”

The following is an article I wrote for The Stage, but they didn’t choose to report after this event – so here I share it as a blog:

Hair / The Vaults / Sat 11th November 2017

As reported in The Sun this week, the company of Hair at the Vaults invited us to organize a performance of the show where the audience would arrive and enjoy the show (and the bar) clothing optional. I have, for the last two years, been working quietly on a research question “How do we choose to reveal our bodies through life, performance and art?”. I have held two conferences and undertaken a number of workshops which have been, themselves, clothing optional. The topics explored have been rich and powerful around fear, shame, joy, risk, sexualisation, gender, art and the erotic.

We talked with a theatre a year ago where the artists wanted a clothing optional audience, but the management chose not to be ambassadors of this venture. I was delighted when the management of the Vaults, the producers of Hair, and the marketing guru’s Target Live encouraged me in this venture. My role was to plan the safest possible process for the audience, and to reach out quietly and find the audience who would have a great time at the show. Thanks to the amazing network of British Naturist, the festival networks which explore sacred sexuality, colleagues who work with the naked form in art and theatre, we reached out with a single announcement – and within a month it was a sell-out. In fact, by the time the article appeared in the printed BN Magazine and was repeated in the Stage and the Evening Standard the show was virtually full.

The staff were all up for managing a naked crowd, I brought in colleagues to help me where I knew that they would remain alert and aware, whilst welcoming and supportive, as nearly 200 friends and strangers gathered in the beautifully decorated bar foyer, getting a drink, undressing to their comfort level, and then enjoying the hippy atmosphere of the pre-show.

An actor is often taught how to deal with stage fright – just look out at the audience and imagine them naked. Well tonight, with the cast preset on the floor of the auditorium, they had an unexpected viewpoint as 200 pairs of naked legs (and more) passed them at eye level. As the lights dimmed it was a magical and amazing sight to see such a packed house of mixed humanity expectantly waiting to be transported
back to the world of Hair.

I think the best way to sum up the experience is with audience feedback: “It was magical to share the experiment of Naked Hair with you; it was brilliant independent of it being a clothing optional [and] fabulous post show party event. For me it remains as relevant today as 50 years ago with its collage of racism, sexism, ageism, militarism, trans and homophobes, anti nuclear, global warming…. gosh where did the last 50 years go? Progress? What progress? It left me feeling optimistic and pessimistic, angry and uplifted, and desperately in love with my world and humanity. And then there was hanging out with all of you.” CC

Thanks for organising the event last night it was amazing – staff/volunteers, cast, band, bar, dancing all just fab “ WW. “I saw Hair 20 odd years ago in a big production with expensive scenery. Your cast made it easily a better show. The cast were superb and the direction inspired. I spoke to 3 of the cast who all said the audience were fantastic, receptive, warm and the best they had had.”

This was, as far as we know, a first for a commercial theatre show. There is the wonderful charity Naked Cabaret in Edinburgh each festival, and a range of naked yoga, naked movement, naked poetry, specialist art events and even last year the naked restaurant. I hope that this will prove that there is an audience out there for an extraordinary theatre experience given the right show, the right space, and the right welcome. There are lessons to be learned to make it a even more accessible, welcoming, safe, and more sacred a space. This is an invitation into a shared non- sexual environment where objectification by even one person can spoil the experience for many. Being naked is natural, and this is the core mission of BN and its members.

As the show ended the cast invited the audience down onto the stage to dance and there must have been 100 naked people cheering, dancing, and celebrating with the (at this point) fully clothed cast. The atmosphere was wonderful. In the bar afterwards there was a great party atmosphere, with the cast staying to celebrate the audience as much as we were cheering them. Together we had gone through a unique evening, and everyone was reluctant to reclaim their clothes, and wrap up warm for the winter night. Thank goodness for the night tube which made my journey home a simple calm experience.

If anyone has the perfect next event in the planning stage, let me know, because I have an audience, and a series of networks, which will happily gather in a safe clothing optional theatre environment again. I look forward to being a theatre buff again (thanks to Nick of the Sun for this appropriate term).  I look forward to exploring some 2018 ideas for London, Edinburgh and Bristol when I am at D&D13 on 20th January. In the meantime, clothed or unclothed, stay warm.

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