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NAKED LADIES: Critiques & Assumptions, Post-Show Conversations, and How It Doesn’t Get Easier – In Conversation with writer/performer Thea Fitz-James

by Bailey Green

Thea Fitz-James came into contact with naked art in university when she read Rebecca Schneider’s The Explicit Body in Performance. She created an explicit body piece and performed it for her class. When Fitz-James told her mother (over the phone, drunkenly, in Halifax, on Valentine’s Day) that she was doing this kind of art. Her mother without missing a beat said that women take their clothes off to forget about their fathers. “That assumption really stuck with me, this daddy issues assumption,” says Fitz-James. “That all women who choose to get naked are somehow doing it for an absent male in the room. So Naked Ladies is a combination of personal and academic.”

“The people who are mean to naked ladies are afraid for them,” Fitz-James says. “In the show, I talk about my mother and her criticisms [of Naked Ladies] which are totally valid and come from love. We’re in a really good place now.”

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Naked Ladies began in December of 2014 as a 30 minute piece, part of a double bill at hub14 with theatre creator Andrew Gaboury who performed his piece totem. When Fitz-James was accepted to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe, she reached out to director Zoë Erwin-Longstaff who was immediately on board with the project. “We spent a lot of time tearing the script apart and writing new stuff, and though it is my writing, the development process was very collaborative,” Fitz-James says.

Naked Ladies has travelled to Edmonton Fringe, Cucalorus Film Festival, Adelaide Fringe and most recently to the Montreal Fringe this past June. When asked about the differences between each experience Fitz-James says, “Edmonton was very raw… there was a fresh-off-the-press kind of energy. In Adelaide I had to work harder to find my audience. It’s not just come see Naked Ladies, it’s come see my feminist solo show where I challenge your concepts about the way we imagine women.”

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In Montreal, Fitz-James got to bring her piece home. “Naked Ladies is about the systematic abuse of women, it’s about the way we treat naked ladies — either putting them on pedestals and calling them goddesses or throwing them on the ground and calling them whores,” Fitz-James says. “So what was magical about being in Montreal was that was the site of so many of my young female abuses, things that I am now comfortable to call sexual assaults. And Montreal really picked up what I was putting down in a way no other Fringe has.”

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After a year of shows, getting naked in front of an audience hasn’t gotten easier, Fitz-James says, it has gotten harder. “There’s assumptions about this show — that it’s sexy, that it’s therapy on stage, that’s it’s some sort of personal healing for me. That somehow it is easy to do this because I am a pretty white female,” Fitz-James says. “I address some of that in the show, that I’m white, and how this show would be an entirely different show if I was a black woman. But I’m not going to tell that show because it isn’t mine to tell. I would absolutely support that show. I would dramaturge it for free.”

Fitz-James emphasizes that though the show is about women it is important for men to bear witness as well, “If you’re worried about being that creepy guy who comes to see my show, don’t be! It’s very accessible.” Naked Ladies can be for anyone who has felt outside of their own body.

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It is the visceral response from audiences that has been the greatest gift for Fitz-James and it is what inspires her to continue performing the piece. “The way the play lives on has been in conversations with women, and men, after the show,” Fitz-James says. “And it isn’t always men, but it is mostly men who want to give me their comments, criticisms, change me, curate me […] I had a man tell me my pubic hair was an easy way out because it hides my labia. My experience is certainly not isolated, I think it is just heightened. I think any woman doing a solo female show experiences men trying to direct them. It’s heightened when you’re naked because all of those questions of representations are already there.”

SummerWorks may be the last bash for Naked Ladies, so you don’t want to miss it!

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Who:
Directed by Zoë Erwin-Longstaff; Written and Performed by Thea Fitz-James; Projection and Lighting design by Remington North; Outside Eye by Arlen Aguayo Stewart; Stage Managed by Stephanie Taylor.

What:
A layered history of naked female bodies in performance, NAKED LADIES asks tough questions around the nature of the female body and tries to understand its contested position between stigma and celebration. It brings together personal anecdotes – both traumatic and silly – alongside art history, feminist theory, and performance art, as the performer attempts a queer reckoning the/her own body. Between the naked and the nude, between forgetting fathers and remembering mothers, past sexual stigma and personal secrets, NAKED LADIES asks why women get naked on stage. Why, where, and for whom?

“This is a bold and brilliant one-woman show — filled with more questions than answers” ★★★★★ -Edmonton Journal

“Porn, porn porn porn, men want to f you, or any person they see naked, or did you miss that class in grade ten biology?” – Doreen Savoie, concerned citizen

“Maybe that’s what you are trying to do: reach through shame to seek worthiness? belonging? love? But why can’t you do one show that I can see?” – Thea’s mom

Curator’s Note
“Nekked. Oh yeah.
Bodies. They’ve been around all this time and we still don’t know what to do with them. Why do they still trouble us? Why do they still mean so much, and in so many ways! Smart. Honest. And funny.” – Guillermo Verdecchia

Where:
The Drake Underground
1150 Queen Street West
Toronto

When: 
Thursday August 4th 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Friday August 5th 8:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Sunday August 7th 6:15 PM – 7:15 PM
Monday August 8th 8:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Thursday August 11th 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Friday August 12th 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM

More Show Info:
summerworks.ca/naked-ladies/

Tickets: 
summerworks.ca

Connect:
web – theafitzjames.com
twitter – @theafitz

 

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