Nudity vs. Nakedness

Nudity vs. Nakedness in the Theatre

Stripping down for audiences has a long history in American theatre, going back at least as far as 1904 and the Ziegfield Follies, the first long-running burlesque. However, nakedness, nudity as something more than just a cheap shot of entertainment and titillation, is much more recent and still one of the most powerful choices a designer can make.

 Nakedness traces its lineage to 1967 and the premier of the musical Hair, in which there is a 20 second scene of a gathering of hippies, men and women, chanting nude around the bonfire in which the men have just burned their draft cards (Kaissar). The most important part was the matter-of-factness about it. There was not an attempt to play it up as sexy or funny, it was just shown as something members of the counter-culture did.

This treatment opened doors for those in the theatre business. They began realizing the power that being naked could hold for establishing a character. That nude characters didn’t have to just be sexy or humorous as they were in burlesques, but that they could be disturbed, frightening, or even just carefree. That they could be realistic characters, paving the way for plays such as Ecstasy, in which a woman is shown after having sex, just waiting for the man to leave so she could drink (Holden), and Killer Joe, where a woman answers her door nude below the waist to show her vulnerability (Kaissar). This is why nakedness works; as actress Claire Wellin put it, “What’s being presented [in theatre] is truth. Nudity is a reminder that this is real, and people are able to connect with that.” (Kaissar)


Holden, Stephen “Theater Review: Ecstasy; Cheer and Economy in Baring the Soul”, The New York Times, April 25 2009. Accessed through The New York Times online Accessed: 10/09/13

Kaissar, Ken “Baring it All” tcg: Theater Communications Group, January 2013. Accessed: 10/09/13



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