Archives for category: theater

IMG_9039FA few years ago, writer/director Cynthia von Buhler invited us to her immersive theater show Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, and we had a great time. There was a recreation of an old-time Broadway revue, an investigation of a scandalous celebrity death, and the chance to wander around a beautifully appointed space, mixing with the actors and audience members — sort of like Sleep No More, only instead of having to wear masks, Cynthia let us wear nothing at all from the waist up. Can’t do that at Hamilton!

IMG_8846So when Cynthia let us know she had a new new show opening last week, we were there. This show is called Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini, and it’s based on Cynthia’s graphic novel of the same name, about the death of the famous magician, escape artist, and debunker of phony spiritualist mediums. The mystery to be solved this time is: did Houdini die of natural causes on Halloween 1926, or was he a victim of a plot by the spiritualists…?

IMG_8981It’s all very exciting stuff. Along the way the audience gets to attend seances and have their palms read by mystics with swinging pendulums…

IMG_8755IMG_8741…sip bootleg absinthe cocktails (this is during Prohibition, remember)…

IMG_8736…and watch Houdini prepare for and perform (and teach his lovely new assistant to perform) his famous straitjacket and rope tie and Water Torture Cell escapes.

IMG_8924IMG_8805Minky is the private eye hired by Houdini’s wife, Bess, to find out whether Houdini is cheating on her, only to discover there are bigger games afoot. (Speaking of which, Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is in the show too. He and Houdini were friends in real life. For a while. Until they were enemies.)

IMG_8970The show takes place not in a Broadway theater but up and down the three floors of a Prohibition Era speakeasy building.

IMG_8838There is a theater on the ground floor…

IMG_8993…but you’re also transported to hotel rooms, hospital rooms, bedrooms, barrooms, and more.

IMG_8873IMG_8887FOh, and? We were — possibly for the first time in our history — not the nakedest people in the room. Seems the spiritualist mediums of the 1920s sometimes did their stuff completely in the nude. (The adulterers, too. Go figure.)

IMG_8975The chance to participate in a show like this in our customary state of undress was a treat, especially since we also got to combine it with 1920s-style garb and decoration.

IMG_8611We didn’t attract too many stares inside the theater (maybe other audience members thought we were part of the cast?), and even when we found ourselves out on the sidewalk, crossing from one of the building’s entrances to another, passersby took our appearance in stride. It all felt free and fabulous.

IMG_8650IMG_8659IMG_8870The show runs until November 10, so if you’re in NYC, by all means check it out. We can’t promise there will be topless audience members there the night you go — but there always can be, if you’re feeling brave enough! Just tell Cynthia hi, from us.

IMG_9045FAnd tell Houdini to watch his back.

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IMG_2994What to do when it’s cold outside? How about an interactive theater event where eight of us gather in one member’s apartment to play the roles of suspects in a murder mystery? Yes, please.

Thanks to the ingenious and creative folks at 8Players, we had the pleasure of being immersed in a poisonous 1950s film-noir-come-to-life, complete with a (make-believe) dead body and eight, um, players, each with a hidden past rife with secrets and motives for doing dirt to the deceased.

IMG_3099cIMG_3061We were provided with costume suggestions by the director (yes, yes, we know; costume suggestions for a bunch of people who prefer being naked, that was never going to last for long) and told to meet downstairs at 6:53pm. A handy bar on the ground floor supplied liquid courage, and then a masked man led us upstairs, single-file–

IMG_2926IMG_2934–enjoined us not to speak to one another, and firmly escorted us into the darkened apartment, where we were given our starting positions for the drama to come.

IMG_2949IMG_2958IMG_2965Stirring music set the mood, as did dramatic use of shadow and candlelight. We were each given a card to read, supplying some tantalizing bits of information about the nefarious people we were playing, and then–

And then we were set loose to interrogate and accuse one another, in character, for two hours. Who’d seen what? Who knew whom? How many of us were secretly sleeping with each other? And just what happened to the handsome woodsman’s missing axe…?

IMG_2999Fast-forward to Act III: we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder, our costumes strewn in pieces on the floor, and the story is approaching its feverish climax. What seemed to be a crime yarn  ghost-written jointly by Agatha Christie and Orson Welles turns out to have a touch of Rod Serling to it as well. Revelation piles on revelation, until, at last — the killer is revealed!

IMG_3003And then, before we quite know what is happening, the 8Players team silently exits the apartment, no sign of their presence remaining, leaving the eight of us to catch our breaths and giddily discuss what we’d just gone through. It was a treat, a chance to step out of not only our clothing but, for two hours, also our identities. Or, if you prefer, it was the best game of Clue ever, only with Miss Scarlet and Colonel Mustard wearing a bit less than the Brothers Parker ever imagined.

IMG_3096Which goes to show — pulp fiction needn’t be limited to the page, nor toplessness to the summer.

More indoor adventures to come.

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IMG_6346Last summer, we produced an all-female, all-nude staging of Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, outdoors in Central Park, and it was a huge success: hundreds of people came to see the play in person, and millions more — literally — read or heard about it in media coverage ranging from NBC News and Salon to every major newspaper in the U.K. (They love it when Americans experiment with Shakespeare, apparently.)

img_3506One recurring theme in the comment section of online coverage, however, went like this: “They could only do this because it was women — try it with naked men and they’d get arrested!” Well, we all know a challenge when we hear one. So our Tempest directors sat down to plan an all-nude, all-male production of Hamlet. 

IMG_6354That production was staged this summer, first in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and then, just this past week, in Central Park, at the foot of the beautifully appropriate King Jagiello statue. Again hundreds of people came, and — lo and behold, no arrests. Just a marvelous production of a great play.

IMG_6343Audience members ranged from 6 to 66, roughly speaking, and at neither end was offense taken, though the youngest viewers seem to have found the iambic pentameter somewhat hard to follow.

IMG_6326Will there be another production next summer, and if so, with what genders performing? Still to be decided. We like to come up with different things to do each year. But we’re thrilled to have helped establish a new tradition: nude Shakespeare in the park. Enjoyed by all, of harm to none, bringing a fresh view to 400-year-old plays and a glimpse of freedom to the public spaces of New York City. The sight of a bared breast doesn’t cause society’s foundations to crack, nor does the sight of a vulva, nor of a penis.

IMG_6325The beauty of the world, Shakespeare wrote, the paragon of animals…in form and moving, how express and admirable; in action, how like an angel, in apprehension, how like a god! And: There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

We are animals all — and angels all. Our naked bodies are no more than we were born with, the common currency of all humanity, and to hate another’s is to hate yourself.

Or as a playwright once put it, we hold the mirror up to nature. What you see in it is yours to grapple with.

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img_9721What’s that old saw, for public speakers with stage fright or actors with butterflies in the stomach — picture everyone in the audience naked? Or is it “in their underwear”? Well, either way, we got to make a cast of three wonderful actors more comfortable the night after Valentine’s Day when we showed up for the 8pm performance of Kristin Heckler’s new play, EXPOSED, at the Sonnet Theater in Times Square.

img_9635img_9630The play is the story of the so-called “Duke porn star,” Belle Knox, who turned to porn to pay her college tuition and was then called upon to defend the choice after being outed by a classmate. She became world-famous in the process, and though she never wanted to be one, she became a powerful spokesperson for feminism, for body freedom and sexual liberty, and for the simple premise that there’s nothing shameful about a woman choosing to make use of her body as she wishes. What could be a better fit for our group? And what could be a better play to attend…well, exposed?

So that’s what we did, arriving a half hour beforehand for some wine and Schmackary’s

img_9607img_9535then watching the mesmerizing performances, and then engaging the cast and the writer/director for a thorough Q&A.

img_9687img_9675Did we just show up and strip down? No — they not only knew we were coming, they invited us. Kristin has been a supporter of ours for ages and saw the possibilities even before we did. And we have to say we’ve never been made to feel more welcome. The theater was warm (thank goodness!) and the reception even warmer. The actors — Sarah Raimondi as Belle (here renamed “Ariel,” continuing the Disney theme); Pauline Sherrow as all the other female characters, from college roommate to porn co-stars; and Jacob-Sebastian Phillips as all the males, from dad to director to derogatory Duke dudebros — were all fully committed not only to their roles (as you have to be in a show that opens with the main character masturbating on a table) but also to the premise of the play, and of our group: that women are entitled to freedom and to respect, and to be sexual beings, and that possessing a vagina isn’t justification for abuse.

It is a harrowing show — some scenes are hard to get through — but also a powerful one, and ultimately a redemptive one. And there’s something wonderful about a night at the theater where the big nude scene isn’t one that happens on stage.

img_9534img_9517img_9661We may not be the perfect audience for every show, but for one that’s about asserting your independence, defending your right to liberty, and overcoming a sexual scandal? Yes, for that we’re the perfect audience.

We’re looking at you, Hamilton.

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img_6230When we’re not performing Shakespeare naked ourselves, we enjoy watching other groups tackle the works of the bard — naked or clothed, we’re open-minded.

We especially enjoy a creative, original take on the material. Which made the invitation we received from the Drunk Shakespeare Society irresistible.

img_4393-s-creditThis merry band meets eight times a week in a tiny theater lined with 15,000 books (catnip for book-lovers like us) to perform their own version of one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces…enlivened by the addition of a) improv comedy, and b) one of the actors downing four shots before the performance begins.

img_6103img_6100img_4419-s-creditWe arrived early to get good seats, doffed our tops after our presence was announced to the audience (one of us may have gotten started early…)

img_6024and watched a fine performance of what those in the theater community like to call The Scottish Play — only this time with extra Scotch.

img_6157The male lead was the only one of the actors to join us in going topless, although his mortal enemy, Macduff, did get down to a sports bra. But all the actors did a smashing job (whether smashed or not) of bringing the play to life. The vile concoction the three witches brewed was an alcoholic one, of course, and a waggling sex toy made a brief appearance — but brief appearances were also made by serious performances, startling the audience with moments of emotional depth among all the hilarity. (Okay, not too many. But there were some!)

img_6136After the show we took some photos with the cast,

img_6222-sand with the lucky couple chosen as the king and queen for the evening.

img_6201Then took ourselves off to Shake Shack for some post-theater French fries and shroom burgers. Not topless there, alas — one step at a time.

Today, Shakespeare; tomorrow, the world.

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img_3376For the last three nights, our all-female, fully nude production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest has played to sold-out houses in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. (Well, tickets are free, so maybe “sold out” isn’t precisely the right phrase. But packed houses. Standing room only. Let’s call it that.)

img_3138Tonight — Saturday, September 10, 2016 — is your last chance to see the show. If you’re in New York and at all curious, we encourage you to come.

img_3156The show is different in Brooklyn than it was in Central Park in May. The performance space is less isolated, so random pedestrians walking by are more likely to stumble across a mystifying and magical scene. The bulk of the audience is watching from an elevated pagoda, and the lawn before it is flat, reversing the earlier dynamics (in Central Park, most audience members sat on the ground and the stage had a variety of vertical levels). And two new actresses, one new dancer and a new pair of musicians have  joined the cast, appearing in new costumes and new body paint.

img_2933But the script is the same — the same timeless fable of exile and liberation, of vengeance melting into forgiveness, told in some of the most beautiful verse ever crafted. And once again we celebrate the female body in all its variety and wondrous versatility. Our cast displays tenderness, rage, horror. wonder, despair, elation — the full range of human experience, giving the lie to the premise that a naked women conveys only one thing: sexuality.

img_3210Come join us tonight and see Prospero and Miranda, a sorcerer and his daughter–

img_2970Ariel, spirit queen of the magic isle–

img_2995Ferdinand, boy prince, thought orphaned–

img_3164Alsonso, King of Naples, and his loyal retainer, the good lord Gonzalo–

img_3421Sebastian and Antonio, conniving conspirators–

img_3370img_2952And the other spirits in attendance–

img_2909See love blossom,

img_3070img_3089and ripen

img_3257img_3268See perfidy punished

img_3228and virtue rewarded

img_3452See magic abjured

img_3343and captivity…prolonged?

img_3052See it all, before it vanishes into air — into thin air…

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IMG_4581This past May, we put on an all-female, fully nude production of Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, outdoors in Central Park. It was a huge success, attracting not only an audience of hundreds to the park but also coverage all over the world, from NBC News here in New York (and the New York Post, and the Daily News, and New York Newsday, and many more) to four of the five major newspapers in the UK (Daily MailIndependentGuardian, and Times), and from Jezebel and Salon online to The Huffington Post and The American Spectator. We were covered in Oregon. We were covered in India. We were one of the “photos of the week” chosen by The Atlantic. For an hour or two, we were one of the top 3 trending topics on Facebook.

But despite all that attention, not everyone who wanted to see the show was able to.

Well — now’s your chance. Our Tempest is coming back, this time to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, for four nights only: September 7-10, at 5:30pm each day. You can find information about the show and directions to the location in the park here.

IMG_3732IMG_4750IMG_4856The cast and creative team is mostly the same, though we have a new Miranda and Gonzalo joining us, and a new painter doing the body art for our supernatural characters.

IMG_4814IMG_4936We’ve already started to get attention — CBS News ran this story last night, and local Brooklyn publications have been all over it.

IMG_5027If you’re in the New York area on the dates in question, we hope you’ll join us in Prospect Park for some open-air Shakespeare and to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as New Yorkers. And needless to say, if you do come, you’re welcome to watch the show topless yourself. 🙂

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