Live Nudes: Futzing Around With Sexual Stereotypes
[W]ith neither money nor careers at stake, caution is unnecessary, you can do anything, said Michael Smith, an important figure in the Off Off-Broadway movement, about the glib attitude and openness of Off Off-Broadway Theater. An anything goes attitude was the essence of avant-garde theater. Fittingly, nakedness on stage was not uncommon in the Off Off-Broadway theaters. John Elsom, an expert of eroticism in the theater, stated, nakedness meant freedom: clothes and respectability — tyranny (200). Homosexuality was even more commonplace and seemed to be considered fashionable by these avant-garde artists. The mere existence of radical Off Off-Broadway Theater served as a catalyst for more open sexuality, especially nakedness on stage, homosexuality, and the involvement of women in theater and popular culture. In Rochelle Owenss play Futz, the shock value is bestiality. Cy Futz openly loves his sow, Amanda, and his society does not accept this and persecutes him. Owens uses bestiality to represent a lifestyle that an individual leads that is not accepted by society, like homosexuality, and the ridiculous persecution by society for a lifestyle that is different than normal. Futz embodies three distinct aspects of avant-garde theater in New York: the emergence of nudity on stage, the surfacing of homosexuality in the arts, and the liberation of women; Futz manifests the changing political and social attitudes of the times.
Nudity and erotic messages were used to shock the audience, very much like Antonin Artaud, whose techniques and theories influenced the development of avant-garde theater. Stavros Kolliopoulos says in his article about Artaud that he sought to establish a physical language without transcendental references, directing his fury against society in a state of constant confrontation.Artaud saw theater as a primal force and believed in the expression of primitivism in his work (Harding 60). The importance of nakedness had two distinct motives, yet only the second pertains to Owens play. These moments of nudity caused exposure for the performance, but more importantly, nakedness symbolized a rejection of middle-class standards (Elsom 200). Owens, by the mere fact that she was involved with Off Off-Broadway Theater, was rejecting middle-class standards. She was not, on the other hand, using sexuality and nudity to cause exposure, for popular success was of little importance to her and to Off Off-Broadway as a whole. Futz and all of Off Off-Broadway was a reaction against mass-marketing and monotonous commercialism. Emory Lewis wrote in his chronology of theater that most of the young, fearless explorers start off with the radical premise that there is another America and another culture conveniently ignored by the mass media; they are in absolute revolt against the Establishment and those they regard as its brainwashed followers (138-9). This movement embodied the many protests of the time, and it manifested the doing-your-own-thing aspect of the counterculture revolution. Of course an institution built and prided on such a removal from consumer society would include nudity and sex. The novelty of nakedness on stage wore thin when nudity became more of a crucial aspect to other mediums of entertainment, such as film and nowadays, nudity on stage and in film is ordinary and has no apparent shock value.
Tom OHorgans work, most specifically Futz, became famous because of its scandalous nature of the sexual-erotic content, the seemingly orgiastic physicality, and the occasional near or full nudity (Aronson 96). Tom OHorgan was the original director for Futz in Ellen Stewarts La Mama Experimental Theater Club. OHorgan gained notoriety from his work in the first ever rock opera, Hair. OHorgan followed four elements to his direction (Berkowitz 146). First, he attempted to de-emphasize the text and concentrate on the performance and the emotion of the live actors. Second, he had his characters communicate nonverbally at times and explored nonrational communication. Third, he tried to make the audience and the actors interact, thus breaking down the fourth wall. Finally, he tried to utilize all aspects of the theater and the current technology. He used all of these aspects in his production of Futz. At times during OHorgans performances the actors became vulnerable, stopped acting, and were naked for the audience to see. The fourth wall had been broken down, and the actors had entered into the audiences space. This created a cult-like atmosphere for the actors and discomforted the audience. The actors had thus succeeded, for the audiences had great trouble distinguishing the theater from real life, for that is the purpose of theater.
In Futz, there is little nudity explicitly written in the script. Gerald Berkowitz, an expert in avant-garde theater, wrote the following about OHorgans performance of Futz. OHorgan provided physical expression of the texts ideas and emotions through film, mime, music, and dance, turning the villagers into a many-headed chorus of interchangeable roles so that they functioned as Society rather than as individuals (145). OHorgans style to directing plays was exaggeration, as shown by Berkowitzs quote. If a character was supposed to be mad, he had the character burst out in violent rage.