Micha Colombo, 27 January 2013

Person who called session: Micha Colombo

Other contributors: Paul Whitlock, Mark Courtice

I called this session based on a bit of a niggle. There's no related project in the

pipeline, I have no expertise or research and I have never performed naked myself. So

this was more of a loose discussion rather than a fact-finding mission or clearly

structured debate.

A couple of experiences prompted the original niggle that continues to buzz away at

the back of my mind:

1) I saw a show in Edinburgh last summer that featured a teenage girl completely

naked. She looked awkward, I felt uncomfortable, it felt exploitative.

2) Then I saw Complicite's ‘The Master & Margarita’ recently, which features a naked

man and a naked woman. My initial response to both of those moments was that it

took me out of the story for an instant as I, fascinated, looked at each body in turn. But

very quickly, the naked bodies simply became part of the visual fabric of the piece. It

even enhanced certain points about the relative status and state of the characters. It

was the right choice, those characters became luminous.

3) I performed in a play recently where I had an extended scene in my underwear -

this was a big challenge for me - I felt a huge sense of exposure and vulnerability. But

after I'd done it once, it became almost thrilling.

4) I read a great book called ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ that runs through how

nakedness has been used throughout time. It has featured in many religious rituals to

symbolise rebirth, purity, new beginnings. It has been used by religious ascetics to

represent a casting off of worldly ties. It has been used in political processes to

indicate an individual is coming to a position of power in a clean, honest form. It has

been used for political protest (anti-war protest, anti-fur…). It has also been used for

commercial advantage to market products and people. You can be arrested for being

naked in this country. But not always. It is acceptable to show some bits of your body

but not others. The picture is unclear.

This all led me to thinking. Why are we so confused about nakedness? Why is it quite

so shocking? And if in some areas it is being exploited, shouldn't we, as

theatre-makers, reclaim the use of the body for more positive reasons? It is such a

beautiful symbol, such an honest way of being human.

Paul mentioned Nic Green's ‘Trilogy’ featured 100 naked women on stage. Both Paul

and Mark saw this, and spoke of a positive tone, of how the performers looked like

they were having a great time, about a sense of strength in numbers and a diversity of


Another Edinburgh show, ‘La Merda/The Shit’ by Silvia Gallerano, featured a

performer naked, set in a space normally used by the Veterinary School, featuring

rungs in the floor, and heavy with the presence of the animals that normally exist

there. The point of that show was the nakedness in that example wasn't implying

vulnerability, it implied strength and stature.

The naked body strips away some of the ways in which we, consciously or not, assess

other people and try to define them. Without clothes & accessories, isn't it much

harder to guess a person's nationality, economic status, occupation? If theatre can be

about finding common ground between humans that we can share and learn from, isn't

there a place for more naked performance?

Mark raised the point about how costume was a step in the creative process of the

performer. That even though theatre seeks to be truthful, or to find truth through

storytelling, it is still, ultimately, creating something invented, or portraying a fantasy.

So don't we need our performers to take that step away from their real selves in order

for the story to fly? We discussed how irritating it is when performers simply wear their

everyday clothes in some productions and how offputting that can be and how it can

prevent some character development.

I love watching the robing and derobing of characters. I love watching an actor

transform from one character to another in front of me, by picking up a prop or putting

on a hat. It is like getting a glimpse behind the curtain. Isn't nakedness part of that

derobing process?

Mark raised the point about how, in visual arts, the naked body is a common topic.

Why isn't it in theatre so much? In that medium, it is often an exploration of the

perfection of the human form (classical greek statues etc).

Perhaps theatre's role is to convey the reality of the human body? The diversity? The

ageing process? The humour of the body - its sounds and shapes and silly wobbly

movements? How it changes over time. Can't we make it a bit more acceptable to

show, share, smile at and like our bodies? It is another form of common ground for us

to learn from. Perhaps even be disturbed by. Or be comforted by.

Nic Green's show legitimised the naked body on stage. It empowered (why does that

word make me wince?) people through the magical strength of a stage. It was a safe


Nakedness is explored in the dance world fairly frequently. It is explored in dance. We

are all born naked. We're probably all naked a little every day. So why are we not

naked on stage?

Is it inhibition on the part of the performer? Is it too much for audiences? Does it

detract from the tale, will it pull people out of the story? Does that matter? Does it

create a different response in people to see a naked man or woman? Fat or thin? Old

or young? Does a single naked body have a different impact to a crowd of flesh?

Could being naked help the performer to discover new things? How might it affect the


It feels like a huge untapped area to explore. What impact would it have to perform

Shakespeare naked? King Lear? Sometimes it is considered acceptable for young

actors to ‘play old’. Would that even be possible when the body is totally naked? When

age becomes exposed? Could it have a positive impact in terms of access? The

theatre isn't high culture and velvet curtains and flowery language - it can be a group

of people humbly sharing something with another group of people. Wouldn't that be

emphasised with nakedness?

Why does the arbitrary division of youth=beauty and age=wisdom seem to persist?

Can't we shake that up a bit? Turn it on its head? In a world of photoshop and mass

media distorting our view of bodies, focussing on young womens, creating a sense of

perfection, can we, should we rebel against that with theatre? Expose the truth and

subvert the pornification of nakedness?

Frantic Assembly's ‘Love Song’ used 2 pairs of actors to portray a couple in youth and

in age. What if the old actors had portrayed both? If it is acceptable for women to play

male roles (which I totally think is acceptable btw) then can't we explore some of these

age perceptions in the same way? A grey-haired Romeo and Juliet? What would that

to to our interpretation of the text?

We discussed how visual and performance artists often explore nakedness. often their

experiments eventually permeate into the theatrical ‘mainstream’ (if that is even a

thing). Why doesn't nakedness? The naked body is a powerful symbol that I feel we

need to reclaim - it can suggest something holy, something vulnerable, something

powerful, something fragile, something unique, something universal. It can be sex, and

it can be so much more.

Theatre is about telling stories that help us find truth and meaning in our lives. Our

faces tell our stories, our voices tell our stories, our bodies tell our stories. Perhaps

explorations of and use of nakedness is already happening a lot, and perhaps I am

just out of the loop and need to get out a bit more - if so, please tell me! Really

interested in other people's perspectives and references on this. Thanks for an

interesting discussion.

Comments: 1

Chris Grady, 27 January 2013

Sorry not to be there today and explore this topic. As a naturist there is nothing more relaxing for me, with a most imperfect

body, to be around people who are also naked. It makes me free of self-consciousness.

I have not yet taken part in the Naked Bike Ride (because I'm not much of a cyclist) but wouldn't it be fun to add some

theatre along the way to cheer and support this peaceful protest movement across the UK.

I look forward to seeing how your discussions develop

Thanks for raising the topic

Here's to truth