Shakespearean Actresses Are Getting Nude Again, In The Name Of Free Expression

The Torn Out Theatre company’s naked production of “The Tempest” is back.
Actresses portraying Ferdinand and Miranda in "The Tempest" perform in New York City's Central Park in May.
Actresses portraying Ferdinand and Miranda in "The Tempest" perform in New York City's Central Park in May.

Earlier this year, enterprising theatre troupe The Torn Out Theatre company stripped one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays down to its bare bones.

Okay, we’ll cut it out with the euphemisms. The troupe’s actresses performed “The Tempest” in Central Park in May, naked. And although a cast of undressed women might seem like a gimmick, the play wasn’t a shocking one-off ― it’s set to return to New York on Sept. 7, this time at the Music Pagoda in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

A statement on Torn Out’s website explains that its wardrobe choice worked in harmony with “central themes of identity and liberation” in the play, building on “a long tradition of free expression in theatrical productions held in outdoor settings.”

But the performance stirred up controversy among theatre-goers. 

The Huffington Post’s original writeup pondered the value of Shakespeare sans clothes ― considering the Bard’s affinity for expressive dress ― and was quoted by The New York Post, which claimed we “trilled” that the production was “liberating.” (Possibly an oversell on our original take.)

Still, we didn’t anticipate such a huge, largely negative, backlash to the production. While Salon hailed the play as “brave” and “beautiful,” CBS reported on frustrated parents who felt the play was inappropriate for park-going children. More nuanced decriers dismissed the production as inartistic, or a misconstruing of Shakespeare’s themes.

Actresses playing Ferdinand and Miranda in "The Tempest" perform in May.
Actresses playing Ferdinand and Miranda in "The Tempest" perform in May.

A cast member from the first production backed up the social significance of her troupe’s performance.

“You can do only so many Facebook rants about women’s equality, and this felt like direct action,” Reanna Roane, who played the sprite Ariel, told The New York Post. “This is my body, I’m proud of it, and I’m using it to tell a story.”

Of course, The Torn Out Theatre company isn’t the first group to get, erm, creative with Shakespeare’s texts. Drunk Shakespeare, a screwball-y off-Broadway production, works tequila shots and tomfoolery into the plot of “Macbeth,” retaining the value of the original story while sprucing it up with a light, accessible vibe. Another recent New York City production revamped revamped “The Taming of the Shrew” with an all-woman cast while Pulitzer-winning author Anne Tyler updated the same play through the lens of a troublesome green card marriage.

Shakespeare purists may object, but it seems that modern attempts to keep his work relevant aren’t going anywhere.

Take a look below for more images taken during the troupe’s May 20 performance of “The Tempest” in Central Park:



Shakespeare Posters