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Audra McDonald just made an incredibly powerful statement about nude scenes

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Audra McDonald

The celebrated Broadway star was photographed while naked on stage in her new play. This is why that is not OK.

When it comes to theatre stars, they don’t get more decorated than Audra McDonald.

The actor has won an incredible six Tony Awards – more performance wins than anyone else – and is the only person in the history of Broadway to win an award in all four acting categories. What that means is that McDonald has won the award for Lead Actress in both a play and a musicals, and Featured Actress in both a play and music.

Outside of the world of theatre, fans might know her best as Madame Garderobe in the live action Beauty and the Beast or as a no-nonsense lawyer in the firm of Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart in The Good Fight

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Right now, she’s starring opposite Michael Shannon as one half of a new couple in the Terrence McNally play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. It’s a two-hander, or a play between just two actors, that is famously raw and sensual, first performed by Kathy Bates and F Murray Abraham and, later, Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci. And it opens with an extended, unflinching nude scene. 

Audra McDonald at the Tony Awards
Audra McDonald at the Tony Awards

When the curtain rises in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, it is on Frankie and Johnny in the middle of a one night stand. The play is about intimacy and about opening yourself up to the possibility of something new, and there’s nothing more intimate or open than a sex scene. But nude scenes are a much more onerous ask in the theatre than they are in film. In the theatre, performing night after night, a nude scene can be harrowing.

That’s how McDonald feels about it. She told the New York Times that Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune’s opening tableau of sex gave her a “fight or flight” response. Adding to the strain of the scene is the fact that it is the first time McDonald has appeared naked on stage, as well as her return to Broadway after a three year absence. She is also currently breastfeeding her second child.  

“It’s been a very wild sort of experience to be literally teetering on perimenopause, naked onstage and still nursing my child through the night most nights,” she told the New York Times.

Thankfully, she and co-star Shannon were coached through the play’s nude scene by intimacy director Claire Warden, who is one of the new wave of Hollywood professionals helping actors navigate dramatic representations of sex in the post-#MeToo era.

Imagine you’re McDonald, having choreographed your play’s blisteringly raw sex scene with your co-star and an intimacy director. The play opens in New York and each night you perform the scene in front of hundreds of people.

And then one night a member in the audience takes a photograph of you. Without your consent.

“To whoever it was in the audience that took a flash photo during our nude scene today,” McDonald wrote on Twitter. “Not cool. Not cool at all.”

This kind of horrifying and violating behaviour is all too common in the world of theatre. Remember when Daniel Radcliffe went naked in a 2007 production of Equus? Images of him nude in the show were taken and disseminated weeks after the play opening in New York. At the time, Equus playwright Sir Peter Shaffer said: “It’s very, very bad behaviour. Whoever did it is a creep.” What’s more, it’s illegal to take a photo inside a theatre while a play is taking place.

The theatre is yet to comment on how the situation was handled and whether or not the perpetrator was caught. But the fact remains – nude scenes, whether on the stage or the screen, do not exist for some pornographic purpose. They are art. 

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And they can be a cause of anxiety and stress for those who are asked to be involved in one. Anyone who goes to the theatre and takes a photo of someone during a sex scene is adding to that anxiety and stress by violating a performer’s privacy in their place of work.

As McDonald said: “Not cool”. Or as we would say: unacceptable. 

Images: Getty