"The Vagina Monologues" has gotten scores of famous actresses to discuss their sex organs with total strangers lately, but these days male actors are increasingly called upon to do more than talk about theirs. More and more plays are requiring them to exhibit their privates publicly, including "Kit Marlowe" at the Public Theater, "The Full Monty" on Broadway, and "Naked Boys Singing!" at the Actors' Playhouse.
The phenomenon is not completely restricted to males: "The Blue Room" and "Wit" featured some female nudity, as did a stage adaptation of "The Graduate" that played in London earlier this year (and may yet make it to New York). However, it is a sign of the times that in each of those shows, one woman was naked. "Marlowe" has two naked men, "Monty" has six, and "Naked Boys" has eight, plus two others who, to use the technical term, swing.
Multiply that by the various past, present, and future "Naked Boys" companies—in Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Portland, St. Louis, Rome, Oslo, Sydney, and Capetown—and it works out to more than 100 jobs for actors who don't mind putting the "show" in "showtime." A dozen more men who are willing to demonstrate their cojones onstage will be hired if "The Full Monty" producers put together a national tour, as is now under consideration. In addition to the six hired to ungird their loins eight times a week, six more will cover the parts of the guys who uncover their parts.
With the market for beefcake constantly expanding, Actors' Equity has nudity explicitly covered in its collective bargaining agreements. Rules prohibit the naked exploitation of performers in all Equity-approved shows, from showcases to regional theatre to Broadway. In the current Broadway production contract, for instance (language varies slightly in different rulebooks), Equity forbids nudity at auditions except under certain conditions: performers must be auditioned as a principal actor or chorus singer or dancer before being required to disrobe (even "in part"), and then only in front of people whose "direct professional and artistic capacity [is] attested to by the producer." Also, an official Equity representative or Equity stage manager must be present.
Whether required to audition nude or not, actors must be informed of the need to perform nude (or "perform acts of a sexual nature," for that matter) "by the time of the actor's signing the contract." In addition, "the script must be submitted for review if [the performer] so requests."
Once the show opens, the producers must also ensure that nude actors never physically come in contact with audience members. One actor in "Naked Boys" has a moment where he interacts with the audience while he is (as the cast dryly puts it) "in costume," but the performer is strictly forbidden to shake audience members' hands.
Naturally, as with all Equity shows, the use of recording equipment or cameras is prohibited. In addition, the union limits production photography, and has an official consent form that the producers must have the actors sign before they can set up nude photographs, motion picture filming, videotaping, or other forms of visual recording. Photos, tapes, and the like must be shown to the actors who appear in them, for their approval and an officially sanctioned "Equity Nude Photograph/Video Release form." Finally, as Al Hirschfeld has no doubt discovered by now, even artists' renderings require the actors' prior written consent.
Producers must be scrupulous about following those rules, or Equity will fine them at least one week's contractual salary per violation, per actor. Tom Gualitieri, an actor who has been with "Naked Boys Singing" since it opened in New York 18 months ago, said his producers are more than happy to follow those instructions, and probably would do so even if there were no such requirements.
"It's a marketing thing," he pointed out. "We're not going to give that much to the public for free! They have to pay to see it."
Two Stories from the Naked City
Gualitieri was not submitted for "Naked Boys" by an agent, but saw the casting notice while poring over Back Stage one week. He had auditioned for the show's casting director, Alan Filderman, for other projects, and was able to speak to him directly about "Naked Boys" before trying out. "I wondered if I should even audition," he said in an interview last week. "I though, 'Oh, a naked show'—so I asked Alan, who said he thought it was worth doing, and I trusted his opinion.
"The first call was pretty standard; they asked me to come in with an uptempo number and a ballad, and we were all fully clothed." Only later, when he made it to callbacks, was he put to the test. "After we learned the dance combination, and had done it a couple of times, they had us do it nude once so they could see how comfortable we were with it," he told Back Stage.
"Fortunately, the heat was turned up."
The experience was a little different for Jimmy Smagula, a "Full Monty" cast member who understudies the part of Dave, the huskier of the strippers, normally played by John Ellison Conlee. Smagula auditioned long after Conlee was hired, and never had to strip at the audition, possibly because when he came in for his final call, there were no other auditioners. "It was just me and [choreographer] Jerry Mitchell," he told Back Stage, "and I guess he felt odd about asking me to take my clothes off.
"I would have, though. It's a magnificent role."
So far he has only played Dave three times, when Conlee took time off to attend a wedding during the show's pre-Broadway run at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, but when the time came, he called friends to tell them. "Then, after I hung up from the tenth phone call, it suddenly hit me: What am I doing? Do I really want everyone to see me standing around in my boxer shorts for 10 minutes, or Saran Wrapping my belly? And then I thought, 'Yeah, for this role, in this show, I do.' "
Smagula, who is 6'2" and about 240 pounds, said it helps that "I'm really comfortable in my skin. I have friends who say, 'How can you do that? I couldn't ever do that,' but it's such a wonderful role I'd love to be able to do it all the time." Now he says he can't wait to play Dave in New York, and hopes he'll be called upon to get naked for theatregoers across America when the producers put the national tour together. "I want that tour," he said. "You can put that in capital letters. It's such a wonderful role, and the audience really connects with the character."
As for the famous flash of flesh that gives the show its name and notoriety, he added, it really isn't that difficult to do. "Everyone else on stage is doing it at the same time," he pointed out, "and you know you have to do it, so you just do it." It also helps that "this is the most supportive group I've ever been with, from the rest of the cast all the way to the producers, the writers—everybody. I couldn't ask for more for my Broadway debut."