Naked Girls Reading in Chicago

By: Nathan Donald

 

The best kind of words are naked ones. These are the words with the most meaning because these are the words that make us feel the most vulnerable, and thus the most honest. These are the words that move us forward in life.

This was only the first of many themes conjured by the naked girls during the Naked Girls Reading, a 50’s risque-inspired show which is going on its sixth year this month.

The first thing I thought when I walked into the tennis court-sized lounge where the Valentine’s Day Love Hurts reading took place was how strange it was to attend a reading conducted naked. I was comped a glass of tequila and then found a place to sit.

If you aren’t familiar with what a reading is, it’s an event in which writers share their work on stage. It has the advantage of both making their writing voices public and paying homage to those barely memorable days of youth, when Mom or Dad would read bedtime stories to ease us to sleep. I personally remember demanding Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham so many times my father actually had it memorized. It’s easy to forget how nice it is to be read to.

And what could be better than being read to by lovely, voluptuous women? Women wearing nothing but stylish high heels.

The mellow lighting in the room reminded me of the dim atmosphere of a strip club. The walls were covered with nude paintings. From invisible speakers came the sassy woodwind whistle of the 1939 big band jazz hit In The Mood. How fitting it seemed to play In The Mood right before a reading in the nude.

Michelle L’Amour, Frankie Valentine and Nasty Canasta (a blonde, a brunette and a redhead respectively) walked onto the stage in bathrobes and promptly discarded them, revealing sunny, stage-lit skin covered only by the occasional tattoo. They each sat on stools with the same pride and poise of a queen on her throne, and with crossed legs, breasts and arms akimbo—they began to read.

“Now,” Frankie Valentine began, “I want all of you to take a drink every time you hear the word ‘breast,’” she said, then began reading a story about a sleazy guy in a bar skulking around for nymphomaniacs.

Six breasts later, I found myself all ears (among other things), when the full picture of the event began to present itself. There was something more going on than the gimmick of a bit of tit and lit. Maybe it was just the drinking, but these three women seemed to have transcended the borderline pornographic basis which inspired the group. Their reading seemed to speak to something much deeper than simple carnal hunger. The age-old nightmare of appearing in front of an audience at school or work naked was here brought to reality. Too, it was clear that the shear amount of confidence they exhibited made the rest of us in the audience brash and almost too eager to sooth our empathetic sense of embarrassment with our drinks.

After breast number nine it became clear to me—drunkenly double vision clear—because there was no microphone. I had never attended a reading without a microphone. There aren’t that many objects required for a reading: a stool, some writing, a reader, occasionally a podium but definitely a microphone.

The truth was they didn’t need a microphone, because how can anyone not be listening intently to them speak? I’m not just a body, the three of them seemed to be saying, regardless of what story they read. She’s someone who’s tired of so often only being seen as such. How could someone stand to be ogled despite how much they might be worth? These are women who demand to be listened to, not just looked at. They sit atop their thrones naked in a show of how often they’re used to feeling on display, and thumb their noses at a world which forces them to feel that way.

I left the show closer to understanding how trapped so many women must feel to know their single greatest power in this world is a body and not their voice. I confess myself ashamed, and apologize on behalf of my gender.