by Stephen Sachs
Every Monday night at the Fountain Theatre is Pay What You Want Night. One night each week, ticket payment is optional. We launched it last year as an offering to our community to make theatre accessible for everyone. We believe theatre should be affordable for all. We didn’t want the ticket price to keep anyone from experiencing live theatre at the Fountain. Our Pay What You Want Night has become popular and extremely successful. But what would be the public reaction if, for one night, the price of admission wasn’t the only thing optional? What if clothing was also not required?
I was jarred into contemplating this unexpected question because of an article in today’s New York Times. A contemporary art museum in Paris conducted its first-ever tour of its galleries given only for nudists. For one night in the museum, the art wasn’t the only handiwork on exhibit. The French nudist group, Paris Naturist Association, received interest in the museum tour from 30,000 people on Facebook. “I was imagining about 100 or 200 people might want to come, not 30,000,” said the group president. The event was limited to 160 people.
The tour was enjoyed by all. According to the article, it seemed the only challenge for the flock of nudists wasn’t the contest of keeping their eyes focused only on the artwork. It was keeping their bare bodies warm in the chilly museum halls. Even so, the nudist group president is now organizing future tours at other museums.
Ah, yes. Vive la France. Those artsy, wine-and-cheese-loving, free-living French. Would such an event ever happen in America? In a museum or a theatre? Or is America’s view of the human body too repressed, too puritanical? Would a nation outraged by seeing a First Lady’s bare arms tolerate the sight of The Mark Taper Forum filled with bare bodies? We celebrate when a play is eye-opening, not the audience.
Nudity is still viewed as silly at best or sinful at worst by large segments of the American public. Europe, by comparison, is much more lenient about public display of unclothed bodies.
So, will “Nude Night” one day become a popular American night out at the theatre? American audiences may no longer be astonished to see nudity on stage. But what about seeing it on the patron sitting next to you? Think about the actors. In an intimate theatre like the Fountain, would any costume-wearing actor be able to concentrate on their own performance while playing to a full house of naked people? It’s the classic “actor’s nightmare” coming true, in reverse. I mean, look at the poor man in this photo (above). This dedicated and fully clothed museum tour guide, elucidating on an art piece’s influence, history and visual application techniques, must be having an out-of-body experience.
Comfortable or not, I may need to start preparing our ushers at the Fountain. Social nudism is on the rise in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the country. There are now thousands of nudist groups, resorts and organizations across the United States. Why?
For those who practice it, nudism represents an aspect of life that has been lost, a way to get away from the technology that permeates every aspect of modern life, to feel free in one’s natural state, more alive. When shedding clothing, some of the barriers blocking honest human interaction fall away. Social distinctions disappear. Stereotypes can dissolve. Self-empowerment and awareness arrives. Nudism challenges the conventional beliefs we have about each other, ourselves and our society. It can also just be fun and help us feel good.
“It’s a sense of freedom, a sense of being one with whatever it is,” one nudist describes.
If true, then a theatre, where the soul of man is stripped and laid bare, may be the perfect home after all.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.