Sunday, June 26, 2011

Could you do it?

by Jeffe Kennedy

In the spring semester of my senior year in college, I performed in a production of Equus.

I had no business auditioning for, or being in, a show at that time in my college career. I was (supposed to be) writing my honor's thesis, applying to and deciding on grad schools, winding up terms of groups I'd become director of and handing those things over. Not to mention making sure I passed Immunology so I could get my damn degree. I auditioned anyway. I couldn't help myself.

Now, I was never much of an actress. Another gal, let's call her Patty, received the lead role. I became the nurse, with a grand total of three lines. In most productions, that would have limited my rehearsal time and involvement with the show. Not in this case. Not at all.

See, the director was the very ambitious and very new director of the theater department at our private liberal arts school. He had IDEAS. For his production, he wanted the entire cast (like 10 of us) on stage all the time. When not actively in a scene, we sat in big chairs in the background, like a jury.

For those who don't know the show, Equus is about a disturbed young man who is committed to a mental hospital for blinding six horses because he didn't want them seeing him have sex. The play is mostly about his conversations with his therapist with lots of flashbacks.

Any any rate, Patty, this cute blond freshman, was to play the love interest. The girl who was getting naked in the barn with the disturbed young man. The director told her and Darren, who played DYM, that they would have to be naked for that scene. Patty said she didn't think she could do that. He said she'd get used to the idea and cast her anyway.

Everyone could see this would be a huge mistake.

As we progressed through our twelve-week rehearsal period, (for those of you who've done theater, yeah, you read that right - TWELVE weeks) Patty came no closer to getting used to the idea. I was even assigned to coach her though it. Why me? Lord only knows. I took her shopping for the underwear she'd have to strip out of. We talked. We went through the ins and outs, how it's not really her, if she's in character it's just her and this great guy in the barn. Turns out she's a virgin. Just a mess all around. And it's way too late at this point to recast this girl who should never have been cast.

But, hey, she looked the part.

Meanwhile, we're all in each other's laps, spending hours together every evening for twelve weeks. Darren had to overcome some things, to do the nude scene. He had to be naked on stage for quite a long time, since that's the crux of the story - his fugue state after Patty runs off and the blinding of the horses. It was an intense and difficult scene to do, exposing himself on so many levels.

Inevitably it became our favorite debate: would you do it?

For those of us who didn't have to, the question was academic, but compelling. I really thought that I could do it. We all felt a vague impatience with Patty. She insisted on doing the scene in great big white panties and a granny bra. When they're supposed to be making love, it just looked stupid. We'd worked hard on the show and her inability to get past her inhibitions affected us all. I found myself wishing I'd been cast in her role, just to see if I could do it.

The ultimate exposure.

As it was, the show went off (so to speak) quite well. Patty wore her underwear and the reviews snarked about it. Darren was brilliant. It was a grand finale to my senior year.

And, just to test my theory, I posed for an art photographer. Some friends had worked with him and he needed models. I went to his studio and posed naked.

Just to see if I could.

So, in some ways, this is my follow-up to last week's post. No, I never posed for Playboy. But out there somewhere are photographs of my nude 21-year-old self. I never saw the results, myself.

I didn't need to. It was all about seeing if I could.


  1. Fabulous post. I do wonder what went though Patty's mind, if she thought she could transcend that her limitations to do what was required of her. Or whether she could ultimately shape the role around her requirements?

    And I think that's a lot of the struggle with art of any kind. Requirements versus our own limitations and failings. The push and pull of it. I think a key thing is knowing what they are, and not deluding ourselves about what we are capable of to the point that it annoys the hell out of other people involved with the work.

    Which is a different thing than challenging oneself and growth. Good for you for pushing the envelope!

  2. I love this Jeffe. So glad you tested yourself. I know I could not. I saw equus on stage w/Dan Radcliffe. It was amazing after havIng seen the movie. I would have laughed my a** off at granny panties.

  3. Me? I couldn't. Wouldn't. Uh uh. No way. Too um - naked. Hard enough to be that with the person who sees me naked. It's not body hatred, either. It's vulnerability. And no way in hell, in this world, this life, or any other, would I willing volunteer to do that.

    Not that I don't admire those who can be naked and comfortable.

    Great post, Jeffe!

  4. Wow, Laura, those are fascinating ideas that you extracted from my post. I've always felt a little guilty that we all got so impatient with Patty, but you've hit the nail on the head. She deluded herself and ultimately didn't push her art. Alas.

    Thanks Jillian! (So looking forward to meeting you!) Yeah, the seductress in granny panties? No no no...

    It is interestingly about vulnerability, Kerry. And about discovering that being naked doesn't necessarily mean vulnerable. The whole experience was fascinating that way.

  5. What fascinates me is the difference in the director's expectations and coddling of Patty vs Darren. If Darren had said he couldn't do naked, he'd never have gotten the part.

    Even in novels, dudes spend a lot more time nude and exposed, yet it's the woman's virginal resistance that makes the story notable...possibly even memorable.

    Funny, that.

  6. That's an excellent point, KAK. There was never any question of whether or not Darren would get naked. He was also a serious actor and stepped up to the challenge. (Back to Laura's point.) And you're right, many stories are about the woman fighting vulnerability. Interesting.

  7. Great story.

    My owner's first response was that she couldn't do it, but then I reminded her that she did pose for nude photos for her OtherHalf and he did use those for his artwork. Here's a link to an illustration/painting he made using one of those photos as example:

    So my conclusion is: she could, only in a very round-about way.

  8. Thank you, Sullivan, for showing me another meaning for "bite your tongue."

    Awesome artwork.

  9. I think I'll add a vote that I'm glad that one is round-about! Your owner is most striking, in any medium.

  10. Very cool, Sullivan. Reminds me very much of the goddess Kali (one of my personal favorites)!

  11. she *does* look like Kali! does that make Sullivan the Pig of Kali???

  12. I'm probably reading this wrong, but did you imply that still being a virgin in college was part of being "just a mess all around"?

  13. Ha, Kev.No - just for a girl meant to simulate naked sex on stage.