Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't put your daughter on the stage...

The ire is roused by the sudden discussion on Adelaide's ABC 891 radio about a student actor turning down a semi-nude scene in a student production.

The girl's mother has come onto the radio to report anonymously under the name of Mary. Not once, but twice now.

She is in some degree of indignation that her first year drama student daughter, who also is to be anonymous, had been asked to perform in any way disrobed. Mother Mary said that the daughter was turning down a "plum role" in refusing to show her flesh. It sounded as if she thought the girl should have had the role regardless. She said her daughter feared she would not get "plum" roles because she had said no to nudity. She went on a bit about "plum roles" for her daughter.

That term, in itself, raises my hackles. Clearly the woman means "lead" or "principal" roles. "Plum" makes me think of casting couches and greed. It is not a term which sings "merit". But this is just me and my mindset.

Mother Mary, outspoken and protective as she is, seems not to be of thespian ilk. If she were, this tempest in a teacup likely would not be happening. A thespian mother would have told her daughter that she was quite right to turn down the nude scene if it made her feel uncomfortable. There are plenty of other roles.

I understand from the radio reports that the role the girl rejected was in a play called "Trojan Barbie". It was last year's student production. I wonder why Mother Mary waited until now to bring her indignation forth.

This year, the student play is "Don's Party". I've seen it quite a few times and, while it is about drunks and boors and cheats, it usually features no nude roles, let alone "plum" ones for girls.

Theatre is not about "plum" roles, in my view. It is about all roles. It is about actors embodying other people, sometimes even showing bits of the body. Some of the world's great actors have shown flesh in the name of the play. I remember Diana Rigg completely pristine in the West End production of "Abelard and Heloise", playing against the great Keith Michell. I vaguely recall the lovely Katy Manning, hot from the side of Dr Who, playing a part deshabille in a 70s Edinburgh Fringe show in the round at The Travers. Since the 60s, nude scenes have been unremarkable in the theatre and cinema. Think of "Hair" without its nude scene. My own son wore nothing but a policeman's helmet in a State Theatre production of "What the Butler Saw". Nude is part of the human condition and, in drama, it conveys vulnerability, sensuality and comedy.

Gratuitous nudity is another matter. Compulsory nudity yet another. Neither is at issue here.

That drama students be asked to confront the idea of nudity onstage seems reasonable. They can say "no", as this girl did.

Now the poor thing is notorious for it, albeit anonymously. And her Mother Mary has pushed the issue as one of propriety and of discrimination right through the media. This is where it gets into the headlines, onto the talk shows and up the noses of arts people. It's an issue in the public arena. It's gone national!

All from an anonymous phone call from a conservative mother who thinks first year drama students should not be exposed to such realities of the theatre.

It is my opinion that Mother Mary's views are at odds with the whole ethos of a university. I'd pop them gently in a church hall where they would sit comfortably within a censorious world view. If Mother Mary did not want her little girl exposed to the ever-controversial perspectives of the theatre and the issues it embraces, she should have recommended a convent for her.

In drama studies, that modest girl will be exposed to scandals of every form - from war, violence, murder, and cruelty through to questions of gender and under-age sex. And that's just Shakespeare.

"Oedipus Rex" deals with incest.

Beware the classics, children!

Oh, dear. Wasn't "Trojan Barbie" based on Euripides?

1 comment:

Helen Covernton said...

Much ado about nonsense!