The Jewish Theatre Ensemble will be getting naked in Equus by Peter Shaffer, starting this Thursday. They’re quick to explain the play is about more than just nudity and horses. But they know the nudity is what everyone is talking about.
The play achieved notoriety in 2007 when it was revived with Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe as the star. The students are hoping to ride some of this fame to their own box office success.
“We do sort of hope that ticket sales might be up because people are curious about it,” said actress Lillian Cummings, a Communication sophomore. “But once people get past the initial shock of seeing a naked body in front of them, they’ll realize that it’s a very somber and mature event.”
Cummings said that the nudity didn’t necessarily make her uncomfortable. “I’m not particularly sensitive about nudity and I only take my top off. If I had to do full nudity, it might be a different story.” The nudity is such an integral part of Equus, it is written into the rights of the show.
“If the play is performed, it has to happen. But it is done very tastefully,” Kelsey Melvin, the show’s mask designer said. Melvin, a Communication senior, designed the horse masks the actors will wear. Made out of sticks found around campus, wire and leather straps, they create an ominous imagery around the show.
“I wanted them to be simple and organic. Every mask is unique and you can see the actor behind the mask. I wanted to portray that something complex is being caged in this horse’s body,” Melvin said. The masks will only add to the haunting nature of the play. Even without full lighting or music, the constant movement of the horses, played by actors, around the set and their impatient stomps and huffs promise to make for an all-consuming theater experience.
Knowing what Shanley Pavilion looks like without a set, it was a shock to see the complete room transformation undergone to bring the play to life. Now, instead of a small empty space, there stands a stable with gates and hay bales. But it didn’t hurt that Shanley already resembled a barn.
The set came together just as quickly as the rest of the play. The actors had about four weeks to rehearse and memorize lines before this week’s premiere. “I was impressed with the speed of memorization. Some of the actors have very dense portions of lines,” Cummings said.
Even though the Jewish Theatre Ensemble produced the play, it does not deal directly with Jewish themes. Instead, it focuses on the general religious aspect of Equus. “The play deals a lot with religion, even if it’s not traditional. Some people’s religion is Christianity, for some it’s porn, for some it’s horses,” Cummings said.
This is the second year the show’s producer, Jesse Rothschild, Communication sophomore, has been involved with the Jewish Theatre Ensemble. “Last year I was attracted to the type of shows they were doing. It’s a wonderful and supportive family on campus. This show has been one of the most rewarding processes,” she said.
As for the nudity, Rothschild said she barely notices it anymore. “The more I work on it, the less it becomes about the nudity,” Rothschild said. “I hope the audience will leave with more than just the idea of nudity. It really conveys a message that is so much bigger than that.”
The Jewish Theatre Ensemble’s play Equus will run Thursday through Saturday in Shanley Pavilion. Tickets are $5 for students.