(Henry Alford’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 9/6.)
For a nude production of “Antigonick,” a translation of the Greek play “Antigone,” performers for Torn Out Theatre dodged the crazies and the lookie-loos during rehearsals in Prospect Park.
Ogods! Let us take measure of the many vagaries of performing Greek drama outdoors in Prospect Park in the nude; let us dare to glance behind the behinds. For Torn Out Theatre’s recent nude production of “Antigonick,” Anne Carson’s translation of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” the show’s director, Britt Berke, and an intimacy director named Cha Ramos outlined measures that would be taken to insure the performers’ safety: Torn Out would provide robes for them to slip into offstage, a security guard would be on site for performances, and photography would be banned. Berke and Ramos also encouraged the nine cast members—mostly in their twenties, and mostly queer—to talk about their characters in the third person (Berke: “Character naked, actor not”), and to feel free to decide, at any point, not to be nude (Ramos: “True consent is reversible”).
Earlier this month, the company rehearsed both at Prospect Park’s music pagoda and in a Brooklyn studio. Because of legal restrictions, fully bare rehearsals could only take place inside; outdoor rehearsals saw cast members shirtless, or in underwear. El Yurman, a trans actor who played Teiresias, the blind prophet who was once transformed into a woman, said, “We were more nervous being naked around each other than around the audience. The performer-audience relationship is clear. You never have to see the audience again if you don’t want to.”
But three days before the première, during a rehearsal at the music pagoda, the company experienced what Torn Out’s artistic director, Pitr Strait, called “a trifecta of harassment.” First, a man on a bike screamed at the actors that they were immoral and headed for Hell; then a man lurking in the woods started filming them and masturbating; then a homeless man who sleeps in the pagoda threatened them and spit at them. Antigone pays a huge price for her decision to bury her brother’s naked corpse against Kreon’s edict, but the Torn Out gang seemed to be paying a huge price simply for spouting poetry in their underwear.
Although performing the classics outdoors, for free, is part of Torn Out’s mandate—the company aims to explore questions of body politics for a diverse audience—the group decided to switch venues, to a Presbyterian church on Eighty-sixth and Amsterdam Avenue, in Manhattan, which houses a performance space called the Center at West Park. One actor then balked at nudity. Sha Batzby, a Black musician and comedian performing the role of the Messenger, had enjoyed rehearsing in the buff in the studio: “It called for a higher level of focus. It’s, like, ‘Oh, now you’re naked and I’m supposed to engage with you like you’re not.’ You’re trying not to derail the car you’re driving amongst all these other cars onstage that are intentionally trying to cause accidents.” Batzby, who describes himself as a “radically reformed” Jew, had reacted to the homeless man’s outburst by mounting the music pagoda with his siddur, a prayer book, and trying to “reclaim the space” with prayer. But the move to the church tripped him up. “Something about being naked there didn’t sit right with me,” he said. He conferred with Berke, who supported his decision to be clothed.