Why are people so intent on nudity on the theatre?

Convener(s): Kane B.        

Participants: Kate Ward, Frances Grey, Stella Duffy, Lisa S.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:


Throughout the session it became apparent that the rules, feelings and impressions nudity has on people changes with the context. We began by discussing nudity in these different contexts and how that influences the situation.

  • In theatre:
    • Is it in the script?
      • If it is then it would seem that everyone is ok with it upon signing on to do the job. It certainly offers opportunities early on to settle on how it is handled and air any questions that might be raised.
    • Is it being used as a tool to create an effect?
      • It may be used to make the audience feel something or enhance an existing feeling
      • It may be used to shock the audience
      • It could be used to create an aesthetic impact
      • It can be used to recognize the beauty of the human body.
      • More importantly, does it loose its effect after a while? Once the effect is in place, what purpose does sustained nudity hold? It would seem that the audience upon becoming accustomed to the initial effect, they then go on to ignore the nudity.
      • The effect becomes less arresting/shocking if it includes large numbers of people
      • The nudity can in effect become token if employed regularly in peoples work and what does this say to the audience?
      • It can be used for comic effect.
      • It can be used to empower a character
    • In rape or love scenes (unscripted)
      • Members of the session continually raised examples of plays they had been in or seen that contained this context for nudity
    • In Performance Art:
      • In particular, often used to celebrate the beauty (or otherwise) of the human body.
    • In Film and TV
      • The difference between live and recorded media is considerable. The legalities of nudity clauses were raised for this type of media and the control that empowers for the person signing.
      • There was also an issue raised around outside pressure to put nudity into films (e.g. requesting a film is ‘sexed-up’ to give it a better chance of being sold or put into festivals etc.)
      • Documenting real events (as per one of the members’ own experiences)


In discussing the context, each party involved could have their own issues or concerns. These were raised and collated as follows:

The Actor/Performer:

  • Several members discussed their own experiences and felt like the nudity was wrong instinctively. Some had no problem with it because it was ‘justified’.
  • Some of the performers felt like they were not brave enough to say no to a request to do nudity, because of the need to appear professional as an actor. In this circumstance the actors have not been empowered.
  • The nudity clause only seems to exist in TV and Film and therefore can empower the actor. In live performance, the actor should be empowered in rehearsals or ideally when accepting the part
  • It can be seen as being courageous to be naked
  • Some directors have the opinion: Is the actors comfort even an issue? It would seem up to the individual to empower themselves in this situation if need be.
  • Nudity as a performer can vary from night to night. What if your family is in? It’s bound to affect the way the performer feels about their nudity on stage.
  • It can be about the actors’ ego.
  • Is can be traumatic for the actor. Ideally this should be dealt with before ever attempting it onstage.
  • It can be a type of therapy for the actor, depending on context
  • There was the general wish for a director to look after the actor/s and treat the scene with dignity in rehearsals 

The Director/Tutor

  • Several members raised queries about Tutors and directors forcing or influencing actors to get naked in training/shows. The pressure for performers to succumb is taken advantage of by some in a position of power. Liberties can be taken by Directors and Tutors and the more people are aware of this, the less it should happen.

The audience

  • An audience will react differently depending on a variety of factors:
    • Each generation carry different values and nudity has a different effect on each generation.
    • Prudery
    • Indifference
    • Cultural Identity
    • National Identity 
  • The spell for the audience can also be broken because they no longer see the ‘character’ naked, they see the actor. A specific example was made of Ian McKellen’s cock in that some could no longer see King Lear naked, only Sir Ian.
  • With the development and awareness of feminism, this influences directors and audiences alike. The director’s presentation and the audiences’ acceptable reaction.
  • It is possible that nudity is also added to get the audience in. Bums on seats.


We had great examples of both good use of nudity and misuse of nudity. It would seem that there are various reasons people put nudity in theatre and other media forms and that it fully depends on personal preference. Whether it adds anything depends upon the context, the way it’s handled and the audience member (each individually contributing to the effect of the nudity). In terms of the performers involved, it is suggested that empowering oneself and setting the context and circumstance (either contractually or verbally) is the best way of being sure to control the situation to everyone’s satisfaction.