“How naked, is naked audience participation, really?” I asked myself while gently perusing this year’s Fringe Festival program. The answer, found in the Southern California Naturists Association’s Production of Naked Shorts, was in no complex terms: very, very naked.
Idling outside the Underground was a smattering of people looking busy with their phones. No one seemed willing to talk as 4pm chimed and we were ushered into a separate theater space, complete with a glittery, already nude woman. Our hostess was warm and bubbly, clearly comfortable in her birthday suit. She was security for our things. We wouldn’t be needing them.
I will admit, I gingerly placed my purse down and reflected on all my life decisions. I dropped out of college. I work a stressful, time consuming job. I like cats and cat accessories too much. And now, here I was, getting naked with a bunch of complete, absolute strangers for the sake of theater. I don’t know the rules of naturism. No photography went without saying. Do you stare? Staring seems rude. Is anxiety expected? No one else seems anxious. Should I fold my clothes? What if they think I’m a slob.
Once naked and afraid, I did look up. The audience age and body types were vast and not a negative thing was said. People chatted casually in the lobby catching up with old friends. I shrunk behind my folded towel, feeling more naked without my phone than factually naked. In the theater, the polite etiquette is to lay your towel down upon the theater seats for sanitary reasons. I picked the furthest corner in the front row, in a seating of forty or fifty. Quickly, the theater filled with numerous naked bodies, until no seats were left.
I made a friend. His name was Rory, the sixty-year-old professor who enjoys the SCNA’s naked bike ride every year. Once naked, everyone was very friendly. Now, what did we have to hide? Who was there to impress? We were just all in our Sunday best, enjoying the art and culture of Los Angeles. The whole environment created by Naked Shorts was inclusive, judgement free and safe.
Rory asked me, leaning over politely: “So do you feel comfortable or just naked?” I laughed and finally, brazenly, uncrossed my arms and sat in a theater chair like a normal person. Normal-ish? Normal-like? Having my bare chest out hardly seemed unremarkable. Though, it is an awesome chest.
The show itself started haphazardly: opening into a skit of online dating, where two emotional train wrecks are true star-crossed lovers. Then it was over. It quickly segued into a short comedy routine. Then it was over. Then another idea. Then it was over. Then another idea. Then it was over. The experience was a series of raw, unrefined situations, threaded together only by time. This shortcoming, flanked by an inconsistent balance of humor and seriousness, made the show difficult to appreciate. In reflection, I wish this show had one over-arching narrative voice, to abate my feeling of confusion.
My eyes would dart back and forth from actor to actor, looking to read the room. Some scenarios were nearly structure-less. In the whirlwind, I forgot about my nakedness, crossed my legs and tilted my head, unable to hide my confused body language. When I look at crossword puzzles, it’s the same pose.
“What do you think so far?” Rory asked, loudly. I burned my eyes forward, refusing to answer or look at him, unsure of what to say. But I did see he’d uncrossed his legs in my peripheral. I kept my eyes forward. Rory was my friend now. I didn’t want to see and inadvertently, judge his penis.
However, two skits stood out to me as both creative and meaningful.
The first was a funny, clever idea: What if the world’s norm is nudist, and you must admit your secret fetish for clothes? “My father will never accept you as a…a…Textile.” Also paired with the phrase, “…I just can’t be clothed minded!” This piece, I wanted to explore further: the concept could be adapted into an entire three act show.
Secondly. Brian, the president of SCNA, did an excellent reading of what nudism and naturism is and what it means in a modern world. This was followed by a two-person confessional about what being naked means to them: empowerment, and loving themselves. I would have watched an entire show dedicated to the honest and personal journeys of these members. Only at that point, did I feel like someone else understood how I feel, nude, in the comfort of my own home. Some, felt shame free. Some, felt connected to their bodies, others just preferred it! My connection to this production was strongest here. Regretfully, the segment was quickly and unceremoniously ended.
I clapped loudly.
Finally, due to poor time maintenance or sheer bad luck (theater style), the entire thing ended on an original, yet seemingly nonsensical musical number. Yes. A nudist musical number. It was heartfelt, but wandered deep into naked interpretative dance, which I was just not ready for. To make matters worse, the Underground exhausted our time while we were still there, as the next production was due for theater time. Somewhere, somehow, our nudists had exhausted their allotted time, leaving guests and actors, to spring up and rush to get dressed and exit.
I bee-lined past Rory who had a face of ‘I want to talk some more’. No Rory, no. What we had then was beautiful, but now it was over. We’ll always have the Underground, my nude friend.
Naked Shorts, is a production for enthusiasts by enthusiasts. Supporting local art is important, or else all we will have is the same exhausted stories time and time again. I have a love hate relationship with black box theater. While it is a true theater of the community, it takes a savant mind to fill a completely dark, (bare) tall square. This incarnation of Naked Shorts isn’t perfect, but they are not missing their passion, they are not missing the drive to create a naked safe space, they are not missing the love of art. They are simply coal awaiting to become diamonds.
And, let’s be honest, the best diamonds are naked.
Tickets for Naked Shorts are available through the Fringe Festival’s official website.
For even more Fringe Festival recommendations, check out Haunting’s interviews with the creators of upcoming 2017 Fringe shows like Narcissus and Echo and Dark Arts, reviews of shows like The Rise and Fall of Dracula and Normal, or a full listing of notable experiences on our events page.