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A day after a nude photo of Jesse Williams performing in the Broadway revival of Take Me Out began circulating online, Second Stage Theater announced it is taking action to remove the photo and will be adding personnel to further enforce the theater’s no-phone policy.
The production, directed by Scott Ellis and written by Richard Greenberg, stars Williams as Darren Lemming, a biracial Black center fielder who grapples with personal and professional fallout after he publicly identifies as gay. During the show, various castmembers, including Williams, appear onstage in the nude as part of several locker room scenes.
In an effort to protect the show’s cast, Second Stage instituted a no-phones policy, which requires audience members to place their phones in locked cases when they enter the theater to avoid any filming of the actors during these scenes. Audiences members are then able to unlock their phones as they exit the theater.
That policy was violated earlier this week when footage taken by an audience member of Williams while nude onstage was posted online. It began circulating around the same time the former Grey’s Anatomy star, along with co-stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer, was nominated for a Tony in the featured actor in a play category.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Second Stage condemned the publishing and sharing of any related image and said it was appalled its “policy has been violated and unauthorized footage of our acting company has been posted.”
“It is deeply unfortunate that one audience member chose to disrespect the production, their fellow audience members and, most importantly, the cast in this manner,” the statement reads. “Taking naked pictures of anyone without their consent is highly objectionable, and can have severe legal consequences. posting it on the internet is a gross and unacceptable violation of trust between the actor and the audience forged in the theater community.”
— Second Stage Theater (@2STNYC) May 10, 2022
The statement concludes by confirming that additional staff will be added for upcoming shows to enforce the policy and ensure electronic recording devices are not used during a live performance. The theater also announced it is “actively pursuing takedown requests” and has asked that the public refrains from distributing any previously posted images.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the production also confirmed to THR that an infrared camera system facing the audience is being installed at the theater that will be monitored in real-time by the Second Stage security team during the shower scenes to avoid the use of cameras.
In a social media statement of his own, Williams’ co-star Ferguson also condemned the audience member’s decision to take and then publish photos of Williams.
“I’m appalled by the disrespect shown to the actors of our company whose vulnerability on stage every night is crucial to Take Me Out,” he wrote on Twitter. “Anyone who applauds or trivializes this behavior has no place in the theater which has always been a safe space for artists & audience members.”
I'm appalled by the disrespect shown to the actors of our company whose vulnerability on stage ever night is crucial to Take Me Out. Anyone who applauds or trivializes this behavior has no place in the theater which has always been a safe space for artists & audience members. https://t.co/eYEqbQBrc6
— Jesse Tyler Ferguson (he/him/his) (@jessetyler) May 10, 2022
In its own statement, Actor’s Equity Association denounced in the “strongest possible terms the creation and distribution of photographs and videos of our members during a nude scene.”
“As actors, we regularly agree to be vulnerable on stage in order to tell difficult and challenging stories,” the statement from president Kate Shindle continued. “This does not mean that we agree to have those vulnerable moments widely shared by anyone who feels like sneaking a recording device into the theater. Whoever did this knew not only that they were filming actors without their consent, but also that they were explicitly violating the theater’s prohibition on recording and distribution.”
Ahead of the show’s official opening, director Scott Ellis spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how the show handled its nudity with the cast’s safety in mind. That included discussions among the show’s stars about what to expect in order to feel safe in scenes and a fight instructor, who helped choreograph one particular sequence between Williams and co-star Oberholtzer, which the director said had been rehearsed extensively.
The cast also never went down to being nude before actually taking the stage, instead, performing in bathing suits during rehearsals. “We worked very hard, way before the nudity came in, on what was going on in this moment and what were the challenges,” Ellis said at the time.
The director also told THR that his goal for these scenes was to ensure, regardless of the nudity, that audience members were following the nuance of the sensitive conversation taking place between the players onstage.
“What was important to me was that it felt truthful that these are still a bunch of guys — a team — in a locker room having a conversation and, are you able to follow that conversation?” he said. “The audience might be looking at whatever they’re looking at, but are they following what’s going on between these guys?”
In his own response, Ferguson echoed part of Ellis’ sentiment, pointing to the larger story of Take Me Out. “And truly, if nudity is what you are coming for … you are in for a long boring night,” he tweeted. “It’s within a challenging 2 and a half hour play with big ideas, beautiful language & remarkable acting from a company of 11 actors that you will have to sit thru as well. You’ll be bored. Trust.”
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