Thursday, August 11, 2005

To Nude or Not to Nude

The photo is from the club's website,

Curtain to rise, clothes to fall
Lake Edun group to put on nude plays at TPAC
Bill Blankenship - Topeka Capitol Journal
August 10, 2005

TOPEKA, KANSAS - Spotlights will go on and clothes will come off next month at the Topeka Performing Arts Center's Hussey Playhouse when the Lake Edun Foundation Inc. stages plays it commissioned to promote nudism.

"No Sex, No Violence ... Only Nudity" is the headline about the coming attraction in a story published in the August issue of Bare Facts, the foundation's newsletter.

"Examining social expectations, intimacy and just downright shock, all because of the human body, these four contest-winning scripts reach the stage for the first time," the accompanying Bare Facts story said.

The plays are scheduled to be performed Sept. 24 to Oct. 1.

The foundation promotes a clothing-free lifestyle and uses the term "naturist" rather than nudist.

Last month, the foundation lost a legal battle with Shawnee County over whether the foundation's use of a lake and surrounding grounds southwest of Topeka violated county zoning regulations. The final journal entry in the lawsuit soon will be filed, and the foundation then will have 10 days to decide whether to file an appeal.

What is settled law, said TPAC interim director Carl St. Clair, is whether TPAC had a choice about letting the Lake Edun Foundation rent space to stage a show that will include on-stage nudity.

"We did not," St. Clair said Tuesday. "The courts have long since held that we cannot infringe the right of that kind of activity."

It would amount to prior restraint of what might or might not be _expression protected by the First Amendment.

"I've been to federal court twice on this kind of an issue," said St. Clair, who works for Compass Facility Management, the Ames, Iowa,-based firm hired in 2002 to manage TPAC by the nonprofit board that oversees the city-owned facility.

"In one case (in another city), we were even told by the court that if our refusing to book the event caused the event financial harm that the city would have to make up that funding," St. Clair said. "Obviously, we don't need to get into that kind of deal."

TPAC has experienced financial losses in recent years and the TPAC trustees have a request for increased funding pending before the city council.

"Now understand we're not the policing authority, so if what they do in the theater violates anything in the ordinances of the city of Topeka or the laws of the state of Kansas, we would suspect -- and expect -- that the proper authorities would take the proper actions," St. Clair said. "But ours is to make the facility available, and, unfortunately, in some case we have to do things that aren't understood by the majority of our patrons."

That the plays will include naked actors on stage seems certain. The call for auditions, which will be from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at TPAC with callbacks on Sunday, says there are "roles for eight women and 12 men, six roles requiring stage nudity."

In its call for playwrights to submit scripts "for the best original one-act play dealing with issues of body acceptance from a naturist's perspective," on-stage nudity wasn't required but playwrights were encouraged to "consider it if it advances their story line."

Among the plots suggested in the competition, which had first-, second- and third-place prizes of $500, $200 and $100, respectively, were these:

• "A naturist man or woman who introduces a reluctant spouse or girlfriend to naturism."

• "A family accidentally comes across a clothing-optional beach while on vacation."

• "Religious -- Prophets used to strip and preach naked. What would happen if a mother prophet were to preach this way?"

Without offering the names of the winning playwrights and the titles and synopses of their plays, the Bare Facts story said: "From the frantic and funny to the reflective and informed, these brilliant and witty one-act plays promise a rare evening of Topeka theater. So rare, in fact, that almost 30 years have passed since the last time auditions were called requiring actors to undress for the stage."

The last time a Topeka production featured on-stage nudity was in April 1977 when Phil Grecian directed a production of Bruce Jay Friedman's comedy "Steambath" at the Showcase Dinner Theatre, a privately owned theater no longer in business.

Grecian said that since it was a professional theater troupe he decided not to alter a scene that called for a female character in the steam room to drop her robe and reveal her body.

"I did not have auditions for the nude scene," Grecian said. Instead, a company member volunteered for the role.

"She was a trouper," said Grecian, who recalled advertising the production as "Topeka's first R-rated show."

"That was the last time there was nudity on stage" in a Topeka theater, said Grecian, a professional playwright who reviews theater for The Topeka Capital-Journal.

A year later, Topeka Civic Theatre staged Peter Shaffer's "Equus" but pantomimed its long nude sequences.

Grecian, who helped judge Lake Edun's play contest, said he cautioned the Lake Edun Foundation against staging its plays in a venue as small as the Hussey Playhouse, the intimate black-box theater on TPAC's lower level.

"If you're going to put nudity on stage, you can't really do it in a small theater because you have audience members who are going to be a foot and a half from your actors, and it can cause them to recoil," Grecian said. "It's not going to do your cause very much, if you have a cause."

The Hussey Playhouse has seen infrequent use during most of the 15 years since the former Municipal Auditorium was renovated into TPAC.

However, for the past two years, the Karen Hastings Players has staged several plays there, including a revival of Dale Easton's "The Drunkard," the most-produced play in Topeka theatrical history.

Grecian, the company's resident playwright and one of its actors, said the troupe removed all of its belongings from the Hussey Playhouse late Monday at the request of TPAC management.

"We were told to get our things out, and we've done that," Grecian said.

However, St. Clair, TPAC's interim manager, said Tuesday that the use of the Hussey Playhouse by the Lake Edun Foundation shouldn't be interpreted as an end to the relationship between TPAC and the Karen Hastings Players, which closed its two summer shows July 29-30.

St. Clair also said TPAC won't be doing the ticketing for the Lake Edun plays, and the Bare Facts story didn't give performance times, ticket prices or box office information.

A telephone message left Tuesday at the foundation wasn't returned.



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