January 5, 2021

Disrobed Interview: Troy Peterson, Director/Co-writer/Star

Written by 
Matthew McDermott
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Following my review of Disrobed - The Virtual Event, I chatted with some of the creators and cast from the play, to try to understand their motivations, experiences, and relationship to nudity and naturism as part of this production. In this first interview, I talked with Troy Peterson, the man who conceived of the Disrobed online event, co-wrote the adaptation (with Disrobed playwright Steven Vlasak), and directed and starred. Troy is a playwright and actor, and can be found on twitter at @TroyMP94.

 

What compelled you to take on this project? Do you consider yourself a nudist, or what is your experience with social nudity?

As a writer/director/actor, I was compelled to do a virtual version of Disrobed after seeing it in its first run because it checked a lot of boxes I was looking for creatively. It seemed ready made for a virtual production: it was obscure and new to people, had very few budgetary prerequisites (being a contemporary story with no costume or setting requirements), and it struck the uplifting tone I was looking to put out in my quarantine art. As a long-time subscriber to naturist ideals, I also saw it as a chance to spread its fun, positive message about nudity being natural, and social nudity being more fun and normal than people often think.

Also, on a purely selfish note, I had never gotten a chance to play a lead before and I felt the histrionic, nervous, overly clever role of Eric was the perfect vehicle for the Wallace Shawn-esque talents I often deploy in my acting.

 

What special challenges did this play present, both with its online-only presentation, and with the unusual level of nudity for cast members?

Just by virtue of its cast being spread out across four time zones, it was a challenging production to pull off. Working on the comedic timing of a screwball comedy when the person you're talking to is three states away is near-impossible. It took a really strong commitment from everyone to learn their lines in just six rehearsals across two weeks and keep their excitement levels up for a play where everyone could be seen, but aren't necessarily called upon to interact with the scene at hand. That we were able to do that despite our busy schedules and the personal loss of friends, family, and pets during production is a great testament to everyone's skill.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the nudity. We were completely transparent from the beginning and put all the control in the actors' hands. The complete script and the requirement for full nudity were listed on the initial breakdown. We communicated with every actor about what was required, and they signed waivers attesting to their agreement at every step of the way.

It may seem counterintuitive, but giving the camera to the actor in a virtual space returned a lot of power to them. On a set or stage, you are depending on your trust with the director and cinematographer that you will be filmed in a way you're okay with. In a virtual setting, the actor is their own cameraperson and has complete control over how they are shot and what is seen. It thankfully never came to this in Disrobed, but actors could have even left the virtual room if they felt disrespected or uncomfortable, simply by logging off. That’s much easier than trying to leave a toxic situation on-set.

While there were a few required poses in the script we had to clear with the actors, there was never an emphasis at any point of the process where we demanded to "see" the cast fully nude or put certain body parts on camera. That the final product has as much nudity as it does speaks to the comfort and commitment of the actors in our production and how fully they believe in our message.

We had many strong female voices in the room at every step of the way, which reinforced our ethos of respect and boundaries and went a long way to help everyone involved stay comfortable.

 

The play, in its many iterations, has a strong pro-nudism position. Do you share this attitude towards nudism? Do you see yourself as evangelizing nudism in this production?

I certainly share a pro-nudism attitude. While I'm more clothed than not for practical reasons in quarantine, I think it's one of the most honest, most wholesome ethos a person could have.

I don’t really think the original play was totally pro-nudism. Tom Cushing made the nudists in his original play pretty unreasonable and even mean. The family even talks about drowning Eric when they find out he's a textile in the original! I have to give all the credit to playwright Steven Vlasak and the play's stage director Brian Knudson for adapting the play to make the characters sweeter, funnier, modern, and more distinct.

While there have been some good naturist stories and movies, I think it's safe to say most of them fall into the trap of making all the naturist characters too similar, well-adjusted, and only focused on saying the party line on nudism at the drop of a hat. What this play does better than anything else I had seen in the genre is establish its nudist characters with their own independent interests, emotions, and complicated dynamics. In adapting it, my main contribution was to pump those distinctions even more and make each character stand out as unique, fully rounded people.

I think this offers the best method to "evangelize" about nudism. It's too easy to dismiss nudists as people who just want to be naked and that's all they want out of life. But by allowing them to spend an hour with funny, charming, memorable people who just happen to be naked, they can see a bit of themselves in the characters and maybe find it more palatable. Scientists, artists, accountants, professors...no matter who you are, we all have the power to reconnect with our humanity and be comfortable in our skin around others.

 

How do you avoid sexualizing nudity with a production that puts multiple people fully nude on camera? What ensures that this production is not sexualized?

Our commitment from the very beginning was to make this as wholesome a production as possible. When I saw the show, I realized its strength was how it felt like a cheesy 1980s sitcom episode or a 1970s Disney movie. These are the kind of earnest, sweet stories that just don't get told anymore and while some might scoff at such storytelling, I think people today could benefit from more earnestness and sweetness.

To reinforce that wholesome end, we even edited out a lot of the sex jokes from the original version with only one or two mild double entrendres remaining. While the nudity alone unfortunately means we have a more adult audience, our aim was to make something that a whole family audience could enjoy if the characters were dressed.

However, if nudism becomes more focused on being welcoming to all, listening to diverse perspectives especially from women, POC, and the LGBT+ community, and is able to portray itself as a complementary aspect to people's daily lives instead of a radical change, then it could prosper.

Of course in our society, nudity is a Rorschach test. Some people will automatically sexualize it. We can't control that kind of obsessive behavior, but it's hard to think of a less sexual pose than someone sitting with just their upper chest and face visible in a corner of a screen on a Zoom call. Our focus was always on people understanding our emotions and performance, so the blocking we use was always in favor of the story and never in service of objectifying any of us. Even during one sequence where Axel is oblivious about what his camera image looks like, no one can argue his appearance in that sequence would be sexual if he was wearing pants. Again, it all came down to our attitudes and none of us viewed ourselves or our other cast members as inherently sexual.

 

The source material, Barely Proper, was subtitled "An Unplayable Play". In our relatively liberal age, it has been a hit at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and now in your online production - no longer unplayable! Does this bode well for mainstream culture's acceptance of nudism, or will nudism always be relegated to the fringe of society?

Despite its success, some people might still consider it unplayable. It's tough to gauge in my American perspective, especially when our society has a tendency to swing from very liberal to conservative to back again.

On one hand, I think nudity is unfortunately an easy thing to ban for large corporations who don't want liabilities, our cinema is having a very body-negative moment due in part to the excesses and abuses of previous eras, and no one wants to make waves on social media by being too out there.

On the other hand, the naturist rhetoric is seeping into the mainstream. More and more young people are realizing how toxic a negative attitude to our body is and I would not be surprised to see topfreedom for women in America de-stigmatized in a few decades. And if movies are becoming more prudish, you can't say the same about Game Of Thrones which commanded a huge audience every week. So it's possible nudity may very well become as accepted in North America as it is in the United Kingdom, if not Scandinavia.

The acceptance of nudism is a different question I think and it depends a lot on the image that naturists present. If the focus of nudism is an insular one, one focused on little-promoted resorts, constantly ignoring broader discussions in the textile world, and focused only on being nude and nothing else, then I feel it will always be a fringe philosophy attracting only true believers.

However, if nudism becomes more focused on being welcoming to all, listening to diverse perspectives especially from women, POC, and the LGBT+ community, and is able to portray itself as a complementary aspect to people's daily lives instead of a radical change, then it could prosper.

I should also add that in the United States, the major divide between the urban and the rural might hurt nudism. People who might be interested in nudist events are moving towards urban centers, while the current nudist model centered on beaches, resorts, and nature retreats are far away from cities, making them cost-prohibitive for those people to attend. As a gig-working 20-something who lives in Los Angeles and doesn't have a car at present, it would be very expensive and time-consuming for me to go to any of the SoCal nudist resorts for even a day trip, much less become a member!

 

What future projects are you planning? Where will you go from here as a playwright and director?

This project has taken up so much of my time that I genuinely have no idea what I'm doing next. To be honest, I've found that my comedic acting is my most marketable skill so I'd like to work on that further through my class in the Groundlings and through comedy sketches percolating in my head. Locking down my first agent or manager would be helpful, I imagine.

However, I have some film ideas I'd like to work on and there's been an idea for a play about Abraham Lincoln meeting George Washington in Heaven bouncing around in my head. But let's not forget, there's a sequel hook at the end of Disrobed! If the play is well-received and everyone in the cast is down to return, I would definitely love to revisit these characters with our wonderful cast and crew.

 

Disrobed: the Virtual Event will stream for three shows only, on January 15, 16, and 17. The performance will stream live, and disappears immediately thereafter. For information, and to purchase tickets, see https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6996.

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