Nude scene causes student theater strife

by Leah Carliner and Brittany Levine
Hatchet Editors

Claude, a young man who has been drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, stands center stage in the GW production of "Hair" as a bright light shines upon him. The audience is frozen in his thoughts as he waffles between going to war or remaining in a hippie counterculture in New York City. Six of his friends stand behind him shedding layers of their clothes.

The cast and director of "Hair" decided to show this nude scene, which lasts for about 10 to 15 seconds, even though Forbidden Planet Productions, the student-run company that funded the show, forbid the nudity.

FPP approved nudity in the opening scene in which Claude, played by junior Colby Katz-Lapides, lies on-stage in the fetal position with his back to the audience. The nudity at the end of act one, which includes male and female full-frontal, was not approved because of the small size of Lisner Downstage, where the play showed six times this weekend. The group also disapproved of the nudity because of GW TV's presence and parents' attendance at the show, said Sam Dercher, FPP's artistic director.

"If I were a mother I don't think I would want to see my child naked on stage," Dercher said.

Ronnie Solevo, the director, said they would be unable to portray the separation between Claude and his friends, who burn their draft cards before they shed their clothes, without nudity.

"There was no way to portray that as powerfully as we could unless that scene was there," Solevo, a senior, said. "We didn't want to compromise the artistic opportunity we had by worrying about what people were going to think.. 'Hair' means so much more than naked kids on stage."

FPP's executive board, Solevo and other individuals involved had numerous discussions about the artistic direction of the play and the nude scenes. Solevo said everyone involved, including the board and the cast, approved the nudity.

Ben Pollack, FPP's business manager, denied the board had authorized the nude scene but he added that when the actors appeared nude on stage, it was out of the board's control.

"We had a discussion as a board and we decided no, but obviously that has changed," said Pollack, who added that the cast would not be facing repercussions.

Dercher confirmed there would "probably not" be repercussions.

"The show must go on and most of the cast members were not involved," Dercher said.

Katz-Lapides said he thought the rock musical has "nothing to do with nudity at all. It's a commentary on society as a whole."

When "Hair" first showed on Broadway in 1968, it was a shocking response to the war and violence of the time period. It was written between 1965 and 1967 by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and discusses themes such as sex versus love, drugs, free love and the Vietnam War.

The script is not set in stone and each new cast conceptualizes it differently. Solevo and the cast, who he refers to as the tribe, worked together to produce this "intense and in your face" musical that is based on a theme of counter-culture rather than a set script. One example of this in FPP's "Hair" is the opening scene, which does not appear in the original production. The original did include full-frontal nudity, but several recent reproductions have chosen not to include nudity. Solevo said "the tribe felt the art of it" and wanted to include nudity because it empowered the scene.

Last fall, Generic Theatre, another student-run production company, put on the play "W;t," (pronounced Wit)," which included a brief full-frontal scene. The play also showed at Lisner Downstage, which does not have any formal rules forbidding nudity. Jimmy Morgan, Generic's artistic director, said the nudity lasted about a second. Nudity in theater can be used for either artistic or shock value, he said, adding that shock value does not heighten theatrical importance.

Both Pollack and Dercher said they thought despite the cast's disregard for their authority, the nudity in "Hair" was artistic and tasteful. Dercher said she wanted tickets to be sold on the artistic merit of the performance "and not because there was nudity in it."

Solevo said he expected the audience to walk away remembering the themes of hope and change, not nudity.

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