“I’ll be there with bells on,” I announced cheerily to the curator of Manchester’s inaugural edition of Naked Boys Reading, Bren O’Callaghan, when he gave a shout out for the event on Facebook last week. Of course I would be; I’d volunteered to read.
When the opportunity first arose (nudge nudge) to participate (wink wink) in this very special event (GUFFAW!), I found it surprisingly easy to put myself forward (now, come on, that’s enough). On paper, the idea of getting naked in front of an audience didn’t intimidate me before the event; it intimidates me even less now it’s happened. I’ve done, and worn, more embarrassing things in my time.
I was attracted to the event for a few reasons: cash, beer, and curiosity. Curiosity about how committing to an event such as this might effect my perception of myself. Would I feel pressure to whip my body into shape? Would I transform into an obnoxious gym-bunny, shamelessly preening in every semi-reflective surface to see if I had more lines on my torso than an Ordinance Survey map?
There was no onus on me to do so from the organisers; they actively encourage diversity of age, body shape, colour and persuasion in their readers (although I suppose the one caveat is that they have at least some kind of tackle with which to bait the audience). I confess I made some half-hearted resolutions to hit the gym more, but as per usual, they didn’t transpire. Priorities, eh?
Bren curated a deliciously varied selection of texts that engaged with the idea of ‘True North’. Mine was an agony aunt column on the subject of fidelity from Cheryl Strayed called ‘A Bit Of Sully in Your Sweet’. Remaining true to a partner is easier said than done, but the things that threaten to drive a wedge between people can actually be opportunities to form stronger, more intimate bonds. It’s a beautiful text, although I was a bit put off by the density of Sugar’s response at first; she’s very generous with her advice. However, repeated reads revealed the nuances in the text; the shifts in pace and tone that could be achieved. i grew to love it. In the week leading up to the event I spent time familiarising myself with the text without making any efforts to learn it: this wasn’t Naked Boys Reciting.
People asked me afterwards whether I was nervous or embarrassed about getting naked on stage. A little bit, but no more so than when I perform normally. In fact, I’d say even less so than when I perform normally. My attention shifted very quickly from having no clothes on to how I was going to make the text fly off the page. I didn’t have to worry about stumbling on heels or banging my banjo into a mic stand (this is not a euphemism). I was free to concentrate on breathing life into the material, and I’ve not enjoyed a performance quite as much as this one for some time.
My voice has been a focal point of mine ever since it was remarked upon as being a bit monotonous. To have an audience member comment afterwards, “If you’re charmed by a splendidly complex and very cleverly controlled voice, here’s a man to watch!” is a bit of rocket fuel for my jetpack. You’ll have a hard time getting me to keep my clothes on if that’s the kind of response I get at future performances.