If you’ve ever been a habitual fan of Seinfeld, you might recall the naked episode where Jerry is dating a woman who likes to be naked in his apartment. He is uncomfortable with this despite the typical male fantasy, because he points out to his friends that there is a “good naked” and “bad naked”; for example, opening a jar of pickles, straining to get the lid off while completely in the buff, is not sexy at all.
This Seinfeld episode came to my mind after seeing the show NAKED PEOPLE at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre the other night in Manhattan. I purchased my ticket (then purchased a five-dollar glass of red wine, thank you) and took my seat not having a clue that I was about to be slapped in the face with one of the most daring, provocative, and hilarious performances that I have ever seen.
Julia Wiedeman stars in this one-woman show about the dynamics and wonderment of nudity. Now, I know what you may be thinking, and no she doesn’t just pounce on the stage and strip. She storms on the stage and makes you think about your life, and why you cover up your body with layers of fabric. The show itself is an eclectic mix of sketches, video interviews, and on-stage exposures that can only be described as “ballsy as hell,” a direct quote from an audience member who was pulled on stage that night by Julia.
After Julia took her final bow, receiving a blend of cheers, claps, dropped jaws, and howls, I knew I had to meet the woman who had just disemboweled me with protruding laughter and shock. As I approach the backstage area of the theatre, I see a slender woman bent over, grabbing her belongings and props. She stands up, slicks back her bright copper and ginger crop and extends her hand as she apologizes for being “a sweaty mess.” I then meet her director and the three of us start chatting about the depths of being naked, comfort levels, and dirty words.
The show started running in December of 2011, and has received critically-acclaimed reactions since. Everyone gets naked. Whether it’s simply to bathe, engage in a sexual act, go to the doctor’s office or populate a nudist community, everyone gets naked. The show embraces this fact and not only pokes fun at nudity, but makes the audience think about being naked.
“Comfort is a personal experience,” says Wiedeman. “There is more going on in the world to get frazzled by than an undressed human body. Nudity is also misconstrued as solely sexual. There are a thousand different ways to be naked and only a handful of them involve sexual acts.”
Here's what I wanted to know about the show — are the women behind it? Julia tells me that she is a naked person, and it’s funny, because Angela [director Angela Dee] is not, at all. This has me thinking about body image and wondering if the show started out as just a humorous outlook on being in the buff, or if there was an educational agenda set forth.
In a world of supermodels and skinny actresses, do you think it’s important to deconstruct body image, or just blow it to smithereens?
First of all, since the advent of time, the human body has been a subject of bizarre scrutiny. From foot binding to corsets to liposuction, the human mind has devised ways to shape/misshape the human body.
So, in 2012
Our world in 2012 is no different from any other time when it was the “pretty young thing” that got all the attention. I think it is important to recognize that there are body-image influences, but equally important to talk about them openly and not cower behind a fear of what we should or shouldn’t look like.
Men and women experience a whole slew of body image insecurities and I believe it is a learned behavior and a bad habit we have acquired from the magazines we read, or the mother’s we grew up with, or the mass of friends we have (or don’t have) that complain about something.
Shame is the only dirty word I know.
For the show, you had a character named Mirando. You asked strangers and passersby questions about being nude and their thoughts. Did you see any common themes or did anything shock you?
I was actually impressed by how many people don’t get naked when they’re by themselves. Some of the people I admittedly know, and I just asked them to be as real as possible. Mirando is an exaggerated version of my grandmother and my mother rolled into one: loud, brassy, and straightforward. I was shocked with how willing and open people were to admit they don’t experience their bodies, especially to my character.
So back to being comfortable, nudity is almost like a state of mind for you?
I’m naked most of the time. I feel that there’s something to explain: I would never tattoo makeup on my face. The time it takes to put on make-up, you get to be up close and spend time with just you, looking in the mirror, and you don’t ever get that time back. When I get naked at the end of the day, to shower or just to look at my body in the mirror, it’s time to check in. And no one can give you that time; you need to take it yourself.
Gosh, whenever I start talking about my show, it starts shifting towards a self-help discussion [laughing'. I guess what I’m saying is "Free it up!"
Here it is: If you can walk, talk, and breathe, there is usually absolutely nothing “wrong” with your body. Whatever you feel insecure about, nobody notices, and they don’t notice because they are in turn are worrying that you are noticing what they feel insecure about. If we just stopped being afraid of being or looking ‘wrong’ and talked openly about our naked bodies, the more comfortable in our bodies we would be. NAKED PEOPLE is a not so veiled attempt to start this conversation.
If you could pick anyone in the world to be naked with, who would it be?
I love this question because it presupposed that it would be absolutely normal to hang out with someone naked outside of the spa situation. Hence, I would love to walk into a sauna and find Helen Mirren. A couple of years ago, I read an interview she did for New York magazine with pictures of her naked in a bath accompanying the article. I would love to further discuss her thoughts on how actors reveal themselves in their work. After all, NAKED PEOPLE is all me, and I cannot imagine doing it any other way. She seems to sort to understand nakedness.
Understanding nakedness is hard, or easy. Either way, you should be free to have a conversation about it, clothes optional.
Naked People is an open-running show, with the next performance scheduled February 22 at 9:30pm at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, 307 W. 26th St. New York, NY 10001