Published on March 6th, 2014 | by Zoe A Drew-King0
Stripped Down: Maria Glanz talks “See Me Naked”
Whenever I look at myself naked, my inner monologue goes something like this:“I can’t be this weight at this height. Why do I have dimples on my thighs? I should be less skin and more bones, less fat and more muscle.”
It doesn’t matter how body-positive I might feel before stripping down — the appearance-critical media’s influence is still present and makes me question how I feel in my own skin.
The idea of being comfortable with my body, bare and flawed, is something I would love to achieve. Being comfortable enough to be naked in front of a crowd a people, prompting them to discuss their own inhibitions — that’s another story. Seattle performance artist Maria Glanz has mastered such a feat, and in her empowering comedy See Me Naked, engages her audience in a dialogue about the vulnerable and powerful naked body.
The intimate show begins as a comic monologue, with Glanz discussing a failed striptease. The show soon evolves into a conversation with the audience that examines personal boundaries and feelings surrounding nakedness. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Glanz about her show, which she’ll perform at Studio III at the Broadway Center from March 20—22.
ZDK: Could you tell me about how See Me Naked came into being?
MG: I was on tour in Canada, on the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit, with a solo play I’d written called Pu’uhonua (place of refuge). It was getting beautiful reviews, and folks who saw it loved it–but the audiences were small. It was a drama with an odd name–and no one came.
I’d been noticing that there were shows selling out on tour, many with one odd thing in common–if a show had “Warning: Nudity” on the poster–it sold like hotcakes. And the comedies all sold well, too. I was out one night with my friend Jason Webley, who was touring with me, and I said, “Jason, if I was naked and funny, I’d be making a fortune.” He looked at me and said, “Maria. Say that again.” I did, and he asked, “What would you call such a show?” And I said “SEE ME NAKED.”
And it stuck. It started as a joke, in a bar. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it–WHY did shows with nudity sell out? What was so fascinating about the naked body that people would buy a ticket, even if the show itself had been panned?
I’d also seen a couple of shows that did things I really wanted to try–Shannan Calcutt (now doing Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas) was doing a clown show with a lot of audience interaction and improvisation. Another old friend, Matt Smith, did solo shows where he played a character named Matt Smith–they were both autobiographical and completely made up. So those elements started mixing around in my mind with this growing fascination about nudity, and, well–it all made a show.
The content is a big mixture of fictional and autobiographical. Some of the stories are real, many are totally made up. But with kernels of truth, emotional truth at least, in them.
ZDK: What would you say has changed the most (in terms of audience reception) over the years?
MG: In some ways, I don’t think responses have changed all that much–people are still fascinated by nudity on stage, even with so much nudity available via the internet, etc. People seem to be a little more open to sharing, I guess–I’ve had audiences recently who behaved a lot more like a stand-up comedy audience rather than a theatre audience. In some ways, that’s refreshing–but at other times, I’ve had to wrestle them back into paying attention. That’s kind of fun–I’ve taught playwriting in high schools and middle schools for years, so I just use my teacher voice and ask if they have anything they’d like to share with the rest of the audience? They’re usually abashed and stop heckling then.
ZDK: Could you share some outstanding or interesting audience responses to the show?
MG: Oh my, yes. I seem to have gathered a small fan base of nudists in the last year or two. They’ve come to shows in two different venues, and actually taken off their clothes at certain points. In one venue, it was really difficult. It was a small space, and I couldn’t not see them, and the whole audience could see them (they were in the front row).The show was heading to an emotional climax, and the focus should have been on me, but then a lady in the front row just whipped her shirt off. At the Capitol Theatre in Yakima last year, it happened again, but that time it was no big deal. Thankfully, I couldn’t see her, and the audience couldn’t see her, so it wasn’t a distraction.
In Montreal, I asked the entire front row to close their eyes one night. There was a group of 4 or 5 very buttoned-up businessmen, who had refused to talk with me or interact with me throughout the whole show, and I just didn’t want them to watch the ending. So I asked them to close their eyes – and they did.
And there have been marvelous moments all along the years of people sharing stories of their own experiences, women weeping a bit at the end and hugging me–it’s really been lovely for the most part.
ZDK: How has this show changed you as a performer? Has the material, as you revisit it over the years, changed your perspective on nakedness or on life?
MG: See Me Naked has been the best experience in the world in terms of being absolutely present on stage. The communication with the audience, and with my drummer, has to be real–there’s no hiding in this show (no pun intended). Particularly with the audience interactions, I am kept constantly on my toes, and that is exhilarating.
In terms of the material, yes, I think it’s made me more forgiving in a lot of ways–forgiving of myself, of everyone–we all have foibles, and insecurities. The show pushes me, and others, to move through some boundaries–but in a very gentle and funny way, I hope.
And of course, now I am a whole lot older than I was when I first did the show. I’ve had a child, for goodness’ sake. My body is WAY different than it was 13 years ago. When I firsremounted the show, in 2010, I wasn’t at all sure I’d continue with it. I actually thought, “Well, this may the last time I do See Me Naked… or it might be the first show of a whole new era.” Thankfully, it was indeed the first show of a new era. In some ways, it’s more powerful now than it was over a decade ago.
ZDK: What do you hope to most inspire people with/provoke thought in people with See Me Naked?
MG: I had a big group of girlfriends come to the very first performance, in the Seattle Fringe Festival in 2001. They loved it, and a few days after one of them, a woman I didn’t know all that well who had struggled for years with eating disorders and body image, came up to me and told me that she had gone home after my show, taken off her clothes, looked at herself in the mirror, and played with her belly… poking it and mushing it around… and burst out laughing. Her body made her laugh, instead of cringe. I thought, ‘If I never achieve anything else in my life, that right there is enough.’
See Me Naked runs March 20th through March 22nd at Broadway Center’s Studio II, with performances at 7:30 each night. Tickets are $25 and are on sale now. Visit http://www.broadwaycenter.org for more information about the show.