Sit back and enjoy readings of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde or Henrik Ibsen, sip a glass of wine — oh, and gaze upon the readers themselves: They are naked.
That combination of delights is on offer once a month in New York thanks to the enterprising group Naked Girls Reading.
At a recent session, about 30 people, mostly younger couples and men, met in a small room with a boudoir atmosphere in Manhattan’s trendy Greenwich Village.
Joining them were four young women in bathrobes and heels, who climbed onto a small stage and took seats on a sofa. Applause welcomed the readers, including from an older man who had until then been reading his newspaper.
“Welcome! I would like to start by introducing our naked girls reading for the evening,” said the host, a burlesque performer with the stage name Nasty Canasta.
With her were Gal Friday, Sapphire Jones and Tansy and with a flick of their dressing gowns they were transformed into truly naked readers, ready for what they like to call “full frontal literature.”
What followed was a lot like a traditional reading session, with witty and gripping passages from theatrical works like Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and A Doll’s House by Ibsen. The readers were accomplished performers and Sapphire Jones prompted a moment of real emotion when she dedicated a Shakespeare text to her late grandmother.
“I like the storytelling and that is the way I do the storytelling. I feel very comfortable naked. There is a joy doing that,” Nasty Canasta said after nearly two hours of reading.
Gal Friday admitted to feeling nervous at first, “but now to be naked is not even an issue anymore.”
Listeners — or perhaps viewers — also get used it.
“You can always feel the shift, so when you see a nude at first you say: ‘Oh, there is a naked girl!’ Then we start to read and you can feel their eyes going up,” she said.
Naked Girls Reading was founded in Chicago in 2009 by Michelle L’amour, who, like many of the readers, comes from the world of neo-burlesque, a risque form of theater inspired by the music hall burlesque shows of the early 20th century.
“I was sitting on the couch and reading naked when my husband found me. Let’s say he was inspired by the image. We started laughing about doing nakedgirlsreading.com. And then, we thought: ‘Hmm, maybe this is a good idea,’ so we bought the Web site that day,” she said.
She then contacted Nasty Canasta to take the idea to New York in October 2009 and performances have taken place across the US and European cities, including Copenhagen and London.
“The readings are there to get people excited about literature,” Michelle L’amour said. “You can hear beautiful literature while looking at beautiful women. It’s a perfect combination. It’s very exciting for us to get the audience passionate about reading.”
Nasty Canasta said there were specific requirements for would-be nude readers.
“It’s mostly people that I know that are willing to be naked and to read. A lot of people are comfortable with one or the other, but not both,” she said.
The audience left happy.
“It was wonderful. When they started to read I forgot they were naked,” said Ellen Snare, a 32-year-old lawyer.