If there's one thing for which I am eternally grateful it is that I have never had to take my kit off on stage, which is quite remarkable given that I worked with Opera Factory back in its heyday. If that means nothing to you, suffice it to say that nudity in their shows used to be pretty-well de rigeur. You would have thought that the piece I did, "Mahagonny Songspiel", populated as it was with lumberjacks and tarts, would be an obvious choice for a bit of exposed flesh but it was not to be. Given the other two pieces in the triple bill had loads of dangly bits on view, perhaps it would have been too much to finish the evening with yet another dose of pink, wobbly flesh. Opera Factory was pioneering in its use of improvisation during rehearsals so I suppose if one of the cast had decided to strip off (as some were often wont to do) then I could have found myself in the horns of a dilemma. But no, I escaped. We did have to do a sort of mad dance with a naked inflatable sex doll, but the doll was not considered a working member of the company, so the remaining members of the company could keep their members in their trousers without fear of letting the side down.
I've come face to face with plenty of other nude bods on stage, notably in an opera in Amsterdam, where I had to do some pretty odd things to the lead soprano (pour ink all over her naked torso, stuff her inside the carcass of a horse and rape her - you know, the usual thing) and at ENO when we did "Die Soldaten". In this production, by David Freeman who had also directed "Mahagonny Songspiel", the café scene featured a professional stripper from Stringfellows. It's a very tricky scene but gosh we rehearsed it a lot. Rather more than seemed strictly necessary. Some of the other singers had to be naked for a bathhouse scene but luckily not me. Another narrow escape.
Hopefully I'm now considered too old to do naked-on-stage, though I do have a new opera coming up in a couple of years where I have to have some vigorous sex with the lead soprano, so I'm not totally out of the woods yet.
So what led me to ponder this subject?
I belong to a local health club, just outside Bath and I'm often struck by the abandon with which old men wander around the changing- room completely starkers. These are probably ex solicitors and car salesmen and yet, unlike me, the professional performer, they seem free of any inhibitions. They probably haven't manhandled many ink-stained sopranos in the course of their work. Me, I'm a towel wearing sort of chap. I keep everything covered up until the very last second, when it's off with the knickers and on with the swimming trunks in, hopefully, one rapid movement. But not these chaps. They wander around for ages, arranging their gym bags, drying their hair, winding their watches, all without a stitch on.
The other day I returned to the changing-room after a swim and there was nobody there except a maintenance man who was fitting a mini spin-dryer to the wall. While I was relieved that I didn't have to find my "personal space" amongst an army of posturing pensioners parading their pendula, the presence of a plumber plying his trade by the lockers did pose something of a dilemma. I considered it for a brief moment and then reckoned he must have known what he was in for, working in a changing-room, so I went about stripping off and changing as I usually do.
Still, it did feel odd, getting naked with a workman a couple of feet away. I suppose there really is a sort of code of behaviour in changing-rooms which is totally at odds with the real world. A bit like opera really. I couldn't help thinking how strange this is though, on closer examination. Why is it considered utterly normal to strip your clothes off in the presence of a plumber at the gym, when if I did it anywhere else I'd be thought of as a pervy nutter? Our boiler at home has been playing up and Mr King our trusty engineer has been in to have a look. I wondered how it would have gone down if, while he was tweaking our pilot light, I had wandered into the kitchen, removed all my clothes and started nonchalantly talcing my scrotum.
Not well, I would think.