For centuries, William Shakespeare’s lyrical oeuvre has been interpreted in ways the author could have never imagined. Beginning Thursday, the Torn Out Theater company presents “Hamlet” featuring a nude, all-male outdoor production at the Music Pagoda in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
Last summer, company co-founders and directors Alice Mottola and Pitr Strait took on “The Tempest” with an all-female cast in the buff, which was produced to promote body positivity. Strait was inspired to further the message of body awareness with this year’s production after reading feedback on social media.
“One comment that came up a lot was the idea that of course we did this [show] with naked women — that’s not brave or new,” explains Strait. “[People said] we could never do this with men and no one wants to see a naked man. The more we read these reactions and comments, there seemed to be this threat about men feeling like their bodies are inherently unattractive or unwanted.”
The New York-based director felt the plot of “Hamlet” was the perfect vehicle to further the conversation on body awareness. “[Hamlet] is this man who feels out of place in a society,” he continues. “Everyone around him is celebrating and moving on with their lives and he has this pain inside of him.”
“No one really listens to him,” adds Strait of the titular character. “Later he finds out this horrible truth about his father’s death and his only real response is to start acting like a crazy person. In our production that means he stops wearing clothes.”
As Hamlet descends into madness, allusions to nudity run throughout Shakespeare’s text, notes Strait. The English playwright mentions Hamlet’s clothes coming off, stockings being down, doublet being undone and hat being off. “As the play goes on, the nudity and the [character’s] reactions to it reverberate and ripple outwards.”
While New York State law allows for full public nudity provided it’s part of an official artistic exhibition, Strait and his brave cast have faced certain challenges in preparing for the skin-baring production, which is free to the public and runs evenings from Aug. 10 through Aug. 13.
“There are a lot of productions that fall into the trap of using nudity as a kind of ‘wow’ factor,” remarks actor Patrick Horn, who plays the role of Rosencrantz in the play. “With this, I think the audience will be kind of awakened by it. It’s in a public place, so there will be certain factors that are different than if it were in a controlled, closed theater.”
Horn realizes most audiences are initially distracted when actors disrobe on stage, but the thespian hopes there will be a broader takeaway with this production of the Shakespearean tragedy that will also be shown at the King Jagiello Statue in Central Park on September 7.
“We need to put on the clearest version of ‘Hamlet’ so people aren’t just focused on the nudity,” he explains. “It’s going to be a beautiful production, as far as the text, and I think the nudity is going to advance themes in the show that come up over and over again.”