Jesse Williams was nominated for a Tony Award last month for his work “Take Me Out,” a famous play about baseball and homophobia. But when his name became popular on Twitter the next day, it was not out of appreciation: it was because someone secretly filmed a video of his nude scene and posted it on the internet.
In a recent interview, Mr. Williams, who became a star after appearing in “Gray’s Anatomy,” said he was not bothered by the incident. “I’m coming here to do work – I’m telling the truth on stage, I’m going to be vulnerable,” he said. But he also made it clear that he was not right about what had happened to him, saying that “posting nonsensical nude photos on the internet is really embarrassing.”
Cell phones have long disrupted live performances due to inappropriate calls and annoyed artists when people use them to shoot their work illegally. The ubiquity of smartphones with better cameras now pushes some actors, especially celebrities, to reconsider whether to appear nude on stage, given that what is meant as an ephemeral moment may be forever online, out of context.
“Ten years ago, I don’t think the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Are you okay if you know there’s a good chance he’s filming or filming and appearing on social media?'” By Lisa Goldberg, a publicist representing actors on Broadway, television and film , Said about the discussions he has when the performer is asked to appear naked. “This will be one of the first things I call a client today.”
Nudity has become widespread on stage over the past 50 years, and major stars including Nicole Kidman and Daniel Radcliffe have performed scenes without clothes on Broadway when their scripts are needed. But the chances of shooting naturally increased significantly. Broadway royalties offer no protection: Audrey McDonald, who won six tones, noticed in 2019 that someone had taken a photo of her naked during a scene from the movie “Frank and Johnny Claire de Looney.” “It’s not cool at all,” he wrote Tweet.
Mr. Williams’ latest videos have appeared, despite the unusual steps taken by the second-stage theater, the producer of “Take Me Out,” to protect the privacy of the naked actors. Audience members are required to turn off their phones and place them in bags that are kept locked until the end of the show. Bags made by the company under the name Yondr have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially at stand-up shows, as comedians fiercely defend their jokes and worry that some out of context could cause a blow.
Approximately one million Yondr bags were used at live events in April, almost five times as many as were used in the same month of 2019, the company said. Other shows with nude scenes are now trying them out: In late May, the Penguin Rep Theater announced it would place Yondr bags on its upcoming Off Broadway play “Mr. Parker ”, because the show contains a short moment of nudity.
Graham Dugon, who founded Yondr in 2014, worries that many people still find it difficult to figure out how to be “the person in the computer world with a pocket”.
“The nude photo is obviously very far from extreme,” Mr Dugoni said. “But the comedian’s phrases are taken out of context and repackaged on social media and re-interpreted – all this does not enhance the art form. “They are somehow avoiding it by turning people into hedgehogs.”
But precautions are not infallible. There was supposed to be a comedy night on the Hollywood Bowl last month without a cell phone, but when its main character, Dave Chapelle, decided on stage, a video emerged from several people who managed to break the rules. Earlier this spring, when Chris Rock set up his first public stand since Will Smith’s knock on the Oscars, attendees at the Wilbur Theater in Boston were asked to put their phones in Yondr bags. They were only allowed in a designated area near the lobby, where one of the ticket holders sadly asked to return the phone because he forgot to send a message to the nanny. video Appeared on that show as well.
The ease of video recording and uploading has paused people thinking about nudity in other situations, including some college students who have reconsidered the wisdom of traditional nude campuses and the nude beach habits that are increasingly sought after by cameras. But this is becoming a special issue in the theater, where actors who are asked to appear naked have to agree to this when signing contracts.
Kate Schindl, president of the Actors Equality Association, said in an interview that many actors believe that live theater is “meant to be part of the four walls” and that “if this sanctity is violated, the work suffers.” Audience recording, he said, can feel “disruptive – even if you have all the clothes on.”
Trade union officials said any written or photographs involving nudity required prior written consent. That includes any video that appears on the Theater on Film and Tape Archive, New York Public Library for Performing Arts, said Patrick Hoffman, director and curator of the archive, which contains more than 4,400 video recordings of live theater performances. Most agree. But over the years, some actors have refused to record their nude scenes in the archives. In some cases, they are studying on the spot, and in other cases, their work is simply not recorded. Some videos of nudity shows in the archive are specially formatted for researchers to watch, but can not stop, scroll, or move forward.
Covert photography posed a challenge to the actors who appeared naked on stage long before the iPhone debuted in 2007.
Today’s theater environment, where nudity is a common occurrence on Broadway and even in some performances of the Metropolitan Opera, is far from what it was in 1969, when Margo Sapington, a choreographer and member of the original production cast. “Oh! Calcutta! ”, Which featured great nudity, was among them arrested on charges of obscene exposure after a performance in Los Angeles.
Even in the previous era of smartphones, cameras were annoying, Ms. Sapington said. So the company decided on a low-tech mitigation measure: if anyone noticed a camera from the stage, they would stop the show, smash the fourth wall, and call out to the audience.
“It is now impossible to watch cell phones in the dark at the Broadway theater,” he said. “People are so disrespectful. That’s amazing. “
And the leak in the video, starring Mr. Williams, had a very familiar feel to Daniel Sunjat, who played the same character, Darren Lemming, when “Take Me Out” first aired on Broadway in 2003. Leaked photos of her nude scenes. Also, but somewhat more encompassing the era before Facebook and Twitter made social media so popular.
“The main difference now and then is the amplitude,” said Mr Sunjat, “the speed with which such a thing can be propagated.”
But the leak alarmed Mr Sunjat, who saw the nude scenes as a challenge from the start. He said he had consulted with his lawyers and “wanted to run heads”.
For Mr. Sunjat, the main difference between playing nude on stage eight times a week in front of a live audience and taking a nude photo is less the permanence of the photo than the lack of context around it. “Anyone who has not seen the play just sees naked boys on stage,” he said.
The current revival of “Take Me Out” has taken further steps to prevent people from filming its actors. As a backup tool for Yondr bags, the Second Stage Theater has installed an infrared camera with the ability to scroll, tilt, and zoom in to allow security personnel to see if any members of the audience are trying to capture nude scenes.
During a performance last month, two theater workers were stationed in front of the theater, at both ends of the stage. They stood during scenes in which there was nudity. With all caution, the phone rang five minutes after the first action. People sighed loudly.
When Mr. Williams was asked if he would re-register for the show in which he was to appear naked, he declined. “I do not know,” he said. “My reaction is never as hot, neither loud nor unhappy as everyone expects.”
Michael Paulson and Julia Jacobs participated in the report. Sheelagh McNeill and Alain Delaquérière participated in the study.