Naked Shakespeare in the Park

Alex Chester

Recently Torn Out Theatre presented an all male production of Hamlet in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Here’s the kicker, this all male production performed the show naked! Yup, Naked Shakespeare in the park! You’re probably thinking one of two or three things, “what the hell is the world coming to?” “That’s a whole lot of dick!” Or “Yasssss show me the D.” 

I had the lovely chance to talk with Marcus Stewart who plays Ophelia. I asked him about stereotypes, and being naked… duh. 

As a man of color do you think by performing Shakespeare's Hamlet naked you are able to break stereotypes associated with your ethnic backgrounds? Especially since you are playing a woman? 

The beautiful thing about this show is that as a black man I have the opportunity to share as someone else. The color of my skin just makes the play more interesting, it demands that more questions be asked about this world, the world we live in and the world that will inevitably develop after what is enunciated on stage. I can't be sure if it breaks stereotypes. I do think that the nudity will result in stereotypes being questioned, with what's being presented to our audiences. Just like anything in life, I don't expect to know how far the ripples of my actions will affect the world entirely, but I expect it will affect something much greater than myself, which is all I can hope to do, without being invasive, trite, "preachy" but all results are perfect and valid. As far as being a woman, I believe we are man, and that includes woman. There is no need to declare or define man or woman by sex, instead, I choose to determine truth as what is enunciated and received, and interpreted by an objective or outside stimulus. In our play, it seems being male or female is dependent on status and functionality. Interestingly enough, our world of man and woman is determined by the truth of how an individual performs themselves in society, whether by sex, gender, and/or sexuality. Truth is fleeting and only exists in the present tense. The present tense, however, can only exist in the present tense. Today I feel Woman, tomorrow, who knows?

Do you think this show is helping to break the stigmas society has put on the naked form and the sexuality of men? 

Yes, it does help to break stigmas but I don't think it aims to. The audience's interpretation and understanding of the story are entirely theirs as soon as the story is presented.

The entertainment industry is quick to show women naked, but God forbid we show some dick. What are your thoughts on this? 

My thoughts on the depiction of the female form vs the male form are one in the same. Nudity, men's or women's, will always have an effect, but this is theatre and all these effects are valid and welcomed. "God forbid they show some dick" - I think the people who see the show will get over the "dicks" and see a more important, a more interesting vision/story/play. Which is a better reason to do this play like this, then trying to get people to be ok with the male's naked form. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as an actor of color? 

My biggest challenge in this production has been how to get to a state of madness in a world that is determined to be mad or in a state of entropy while being a person trying to make sense of the world. Especially when everything about reality demands not losing myself to get to the next point of success, validity, and surety in direction.

What was the audition process like? Was it weird getting naked the first time in front of your peers? Or did you feel there was a freedom associated with it? 

The audition process was comfortable and productive in immediately understanding the value of showing the self in a drastic state of vulnerability. It also made me sure I didn't waste my time in a production that could have been seen as one that decided to depict nudity for no reason but to be naked men, which I would have deemed as a gimmick. However, Pitr [Strait, the director and co-Artistic Director of Torn Out Theater], Alice [Motolla, co-Artistic Director of Torn Out Theater] and the rest of our production team, cast, and stage hands have created and welcomed me into a world that is sure, specific and has true importance in its timing and execution. After my initial audition, I was sure this was a production to continue to discover, and have revealed important factors of myself.

What are you working on next? 

What's next? No idea - I was director of hospitality at a private members club "Parlor," and that "stage" is undergoing changes. I suppose I will continue with my work with my clients and co-workers, but this fall I look forward to applying for my MFA at grad schools around the country and abroad in acting. This is, after all, what I want to do as long as I have breath to breathe.

Any words of advice for actors or color?

To actors of color, nothing they don't know already. It takes work and energy to get to the next level of anything. If you have any ambitions, put in the work! You will know you are working when there is nothing more rewarding than a good night's rest.

Photo By Marjolaine Gallet - Marcus Stewart as Ophelia

For more info on this production of Hamlet please visit their website