- Stage nudity has a long history. In the first century ADRoman mime featured scenes in which female performers wouldundress. Following the adoption of Christianity as the state religion,however, and especially after the reign (527 - 65) of the emperorJustinian, nudity was restricted. Throughout the Middle Ages publicnudity continued to be banned by the Church, although some royal pageantswere exempt. Theatrical nudity was eventually reinstated in Francewhere, despite the disapproval of the Church, many 17th-century playswould feature an occasional uncovered bosom. When government restrictionscame into effect in the 1780s, creative designers introduced tights(see leg show) and the tutu for ballet.
The English-language stage was not far behind. In 1861 theUS actress Adah Menken was billed as 'The Naked Lady' forwearing a barely visible costume in a dramatization of Byron's Mazeppa.Nudes were sometimes seen on the 19th-century English stage in posesplastiques, living pictures that imitated famous paintingsor sculptures. The convention that discreet stationary nudity waspermissible was endorsed by the Lord Chamberlain's 1931 ruling onRevuedeville at the Windmill Theatre: "If it moves, it's rude."
Modern striptease is supposed to have originatedin 1893 at the Moulin Rouge and by 1920 had become a popularUS burlesque attraction. The genre was made semirespectableby the sophisticated routines of Gypsy Rose Lee. Performersgenerally retained 'pasties' to cover their nipples and the famous'G-string' until the early 1950s when total nudity was introducedat the Crazy-Horse Saloon.
In Britain the abolition of stage censorship in 1968 (seeLord Chamberlain) was followed within days by the Londonpremiere of Hair, which featured full-frontal nudity. Earlierthat year Maggie Wright, playing Helen of Troy, had become the firstlegitimate actress to appear totally nude on the British stage inthe Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Dr Faustus. In1969 Kenneth Tynan's revue Oh, Calcutta! featuredensemble nudity and was advertised as "the hottest show in town."A year later Diana Rigg appeared nude in Ronald Millar's Abelardand Heloise, prompting the critic John Simon to write, "DianaRigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses."As late as 1980, however, audiences were still shocked by male nudityin Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain. In Nell Dunn's playSteaming (1981), set in a women's Turkish bath, the all-femalecast spend most of the production without clothes. Indeed, nakednesshas now become so ubiquitous on both stage and screen that some dramaschools now make learning to perform in the nude an obligatory partof the course.
Occasionally, nudity has continued after the fall of the curtain.The distinguished alcoholic British actor, Robert Newton, once enteredAnna Neagle's dressing room naked except for his socks and suspenders.He was introduced to three ladies who had just attended the matinée,engaged them in lively conversation, escorted them out of the stagedoor, and, still naked, hailed them a taxi.