It’s easy to find nudity on nonprofit stages — from Brian Dennehy in The Steward of Christendom at the Mark Taper Forum to a handful of younger actors in Moskva at City Garage in Santa Monica.
Normally, it’s a much more difficult challenge to find nudity employed by nonprofit theater companies offstage, in fund-raising campaigns. But not right now. Antaeus in NoHo and Rogue Machine on Pico Boulevard are baring it all to raise funds (and fun). They’re showing audiences that year-end appeals for donations don’t have to sound like nagging from a needy relative.
Antaeus — Baby, its cold outside….
The “Naked Actors Need Costumes” campaign, currently underway at Antaeus Company, uses a 90-second video of company members sans clothing to drive home a salient point: Actors without costumes are naked…and cold. The pitch and product is one of many Antaeus videos written and directed by the creative comedy team of Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine, both seven-year veteran actors of Antaeus’ A2 company and independent filmmakers.
“We were just brain-storming video ideas,” says Diani, “and [getting naked] was one of the good ones, so we saved it for this end-of-year campaign.”
“And people like to look at other naked people,” quips Devine. “Or so we’ve heard.”
Casting volunteers from the company, the scripted shoot (believe it or not, all their videos are scripted) took only a few hours on two separate days utilizing a small film crew: Austin Harris (cinematographer), Chad Meserve (editor), Geoff Mann (composer) and Dan Jenkins (visual effects).
Diani and Devine have worked together on several short, humorous videos created specifically for Antaeus fund-raising campaigns but had particular fun this time around getting their classically-trained subjects — with their strategically placed blurs — naked.
Bill Brochtrup agrees. He’s one of three Antaeus artistic directors — all of whom are featured in the video, although you have to keep watching it until after the closing credits begin in order to see the contributions of one of them, John Sloan.
“I think sometimes people get the idea that classical theater is boring or elitist,” says Brochtrup, “and we want to say that is not the case. Sometimes we like a little low humor with our high-falutin’ language. [This video] is actually very representative of who we are.”
Diani and Devine’s passion for Antaeus stems from their own love of the classics while building creative lives in Los Angeles, both in film and theater. Producing companies often struggle to balance the two worlds when higher-paying film and television roles can snatch up actors in the middle of a theatrical run. Antaeus combats the dilemma by double-casting actors — the subject of another Diani/Divine video.
“I think a lot of people at Antaeus showed me how you can be an actor in the theater and [pursue] film and television at the same time,” says Devine. “The double casting really allows you not to worry about walking away from a commitment to a job.”
Diani adds that the quality of the work on stage also makes it easy to commit their film talents to help raise money and keep the company’s lights on.
“We found this wonderful theater company that taught classics,” says Diani. “It fed into our other artistic endeavors to go and create from Shakespeare and Chekhov. It re-energized us into creating our own opportunities.”
In fact, the duo recently raised $100,000 on Kickstarter to shoot a second feature film, proving that a theater life and a film life can successfully feed one another with the right artistic home.
According to Brochtrup, there are also some lessons to be taken from the successful video campaigns and the current Antaeus fund-raising model.
“In this business it’s a good thing to be a multi-hyphenate,” says Brochtrup. “We’re lucky to have members of a wide variety of ages. And, luckily, some creative young people who know how to make a video. [Diani and Devine] do everything and they do it so well. What we’re realizing more and more is that traditional, old-school media are not working as well [to reach donors]…we’re finding is another area where we can be creative and fun. And we embrace it.”
Diani and Devine are particularly excited about the worldwide exposure the online campaigns have received — with donors outside Los Angeles giving to the company simply because they enjoyed one of the videos.
Rogue Machine — Those aren’t pillows…
Meanwhile, across town and from a completely different brainstorming session, another fund-raising discussion at Rogue Machine Theatre led to nudity.
“And, of course, the most ridiculous ideas are the ones that come to fruition,” says Amanda Mauer, production manager for the company which is currently in need of a new Mac computer and hopes to fund one with its own naked campaign.
“One of our stage managers, Ramon Valdez, and I are always trying to think of new fund-raising exploits that are outside the box,” explains Mauer. “And I said, ‘We should make a nude calendar.’ And that was really it. It just took off.”
While RMT doesn’t technically have an acting company, Mauer cast a wide net for participation in either the “guys” or “gals” version of the 2014 Gone Rogue wall calendar. Many actors from previous RMT shows are featured alongside backstage technicians. The results of the multiple photo shoots have been a little surprising, even to Mauer.
“Some people jumped at the chance, most were more hesitant,” says Mauer. “But we made it very comfortable for them. I think some of them felt liberated and honored. We run the gamut of ages and body types. And we gave them the pictures to approve, of course. They were all quite pleased with the artistry. Some are quite beautiful. And some are pretty sexy.”
The full-color calendar, shot by actor/photographer Jeff Lorch, features collages of both solo shots and group shots, with the models performing various backstage tasks in the buff. Even RMT artistic director, John Perrin Flynn, stripped down for the cause. And, while there are no full-frontals, there are plenty of breasts and butts in what Mauer describes as “a definitely R-rated calendar. It’s not for the kids.”
Like Antaeus, RMT has a strong track record of critically-acclaimed and award-winning productions in Los Angeles, but RMT focuses on new works from up-and-coming playwrights rather than classics. Founded in 2008, RMT has tried several fund-raising strategies over the years from gala events to direct solicitations. Mauer hopes the calendar will energize RMT’s current donor base while also attracting new, curious onlookers who might also learn about the quality theater happening on stage.
Things are looking good already. RMT started pre-selling calendars online a few weeks ago, breaking even with the printer costs this week. The hope is that sales will continue through the holidays and the company will reach its financial goal and a new computer for 2014.
“And we’re already talking about next year,” Mauer says. “There’s even more interest now [from RMT members] as people are buying them. When people walk into our lobby and see the ads for it — they see how good it all looks — they all want to be in the next one.”
Who will be the next group to strip as a fund-raising technique? Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, anyone?