Wiggly-jiggly nakedness has gotten so much stage time of late, that it’s becoming, well, overexposed.
For the record, I’m a big fan of nakedness. And lots of other people are too, judging from the 50 people who lined up on a recent evening for the sold-out performance of Studio L’amour’s “Naked Girls Reading.” The show is pretty much what you would expect; a troupe of five women who are naked and — you guessed it — reading.
In a second-floor dance studio with high ceilings and exposed brick walls, a mixed crowd of couples on dates, fedora-wearing hipsters and three creepy-looking guys (front row, center) gathered to watch as five women — each clad in nothing but a pair of stiletto heels — perched primly on a Victorian-style sofa and read from a selection of erotic stories. I was willing to go along with the gimmick (they’re naked AND they read!) for the first 20 minutes of the show, through the passages by Anais Nin, Anne Sexton and Nancy Friday, but when one young woman, apropos of nothing, pulled out an ice cream churn and began to whip up a batch of coconut ice cream — yes, she was still in the buff, except for a white apron — I began to think that that all this nakedness had gone a tad too far.
So I’m just going to say it: All you naked performers out there, it’s time to put your clothes back on.
As much as everybody might love to see a little skin, full-on, in-your-face, wiggly-jiggly nakedness has gotten so much stage time of late, that it’s becoming, well, overexposed.
Consider for a moment that in recent years, you could barely swing a G-string without hitting some other naked theatrical performance in Chicago. We’ve seen “Naked Boys Singing!” (2001), “Barenaked Lads in the Great Outdoors” (2006), “Barenaked Lads Save Christmas” (2006), “Kama Sutra: The Musical” (2006), “The Fully Monty” (2008) and even — I am not making this up — “Puppetry of the Penis” (2003). Granted, some of these were great — or at least highly amusing — performances.
But now nakedness feels as if it has moved from creative to crutch. Last month brought us “Naked July: Art Stripped Down,” a monthlong festival of nudity at the National Pastime Theater. Next month will bring “Rollin’ Outta Here Naked” at Gorilla Tango Theatre. What’s more, all of those fleshy performances come amid a major resurgence of burlesque.
In Chicago, where few if any striptease and hootchy-kootchy shows were staged for the mainstream crowd a decade ago, you now have your choice among a dozen kinds of locally performed burlesque, including classic, neo, aerial, bump-and-grind, fan dance, fetish, queer and, for Halloween, even vampire.
We’ve been seeing so much skin that even some burlesque dancers are suggesting that it’s time to cover up. “As a performer, I have respect for anyone who is doing it,” said Angela Eve, owner of Eve’s Parlor and a trailblazer on local burlesque scene. “But some people think there is a bit of over-saturation, with not as much quality as before.”
David Zak — famed for staging very naked and very successful performances such as “Naked Boys Singing!" at the Bailiwick Arts Center — said that, in the gay community, naked or near-naked performances have become “sort of passe,” and “sort of been-there-done-that.”
Nevertheless, into this crowded field has stepped “Naked Girls Reading.”
The idea behind the show began about three years ago when the pale-skinned, raven-haired, curvaceous Michelle L’amour, 29, was lying naked on her sofa and reading a book. “I looked over, and I was like, ‘That’s an incredible image,’ ” recalled L’amour’s husband, Franky Vivid, 36. The pose on the sofa, he said, was “sexy but also intelligent.”
At the time, L’amour was teaching burlesque at a dance studio, and Vivid was managing L’amour’s regular burlesque shows. The two talked about the naked reading concept, but they weren’t sure how to make it work.
Fast forward to this spring. L’amour had opened her own dance space, Studio L’amour on West Randolph Street in the Fulton Market neighborhood, when she and Vivid hit on an idea. Why not stage “Naked Girls Reading” as a live performance?
L’amour recruited, from her burlesque classes, a half-dozen women willing to read and asked each to choose a few erotic passages. They are paid $40-$60 per performance.
The first show in March was a hit, so L’amour turned the concept into a monthly event, each with a different theme. (March, courtesans; April, bedtime stories; May, rock ‘n’ roll; June, poetry; July, freedom; August, erotica.)
On a recent Sunday evening, the crowd watched as five confidently naked women in their 20s and 30s who work day jobs such as retail clerk, veterinary tech and paralegal — read passages from BUST magazine, “The Best Women’s Erotica 2007″ and the book “The Sensuous Man” written by “M.” Some of the passages were crude; others were tender. One story about the out-of-the-way places a couple could make love — “the control cabin of a crane,” “on a tour cruiser down the Seine,” “on top of a haystack,” — drew gales of laughter from the audience.
But the Naked Girls were not professional performers and — though earnest and well-meaning — they read as well as you’d expect them to, speaking too quickly, without inflection and, oddly, without much passion. They seemed to put more thought into being naked, than into reading. (One exception: Ginny Fizz, a 35-year-old librarian, who delivered her passages in a seductive purr, giving us an arched eyebrow, a knowing smile and — at just the right moment — a sly wink.)
The titillation of nudity wore off in about 20 minutes, and yet the show went on for more than two hours. A malfunctioning air conditioner left the room hot and stuffy. A man in the front row, who wore his shirt fully unbuttoned (giving us a view of his fat, hairy belly), giggled and growled repeatedly, "Oooohhhh, yeah!" A dozen people headed for the door in the first half hour. By the end, only half the original crowd remained.
Would this concept work if the women weren’t naked? Not even close.
But still, L’amour is thinking of expanding. After the Sunday performance, she said she saw potential in a new concept, “Naked Girls Cooking.”