You Must Be This Naked To Be Appealing

I received a call today from a person who had attended the student final performance on Friday. He was complaining about the content of the pieces the students performed, both the dance and monologue/scene pieces. I had actually delivered a curtain speech before the show warning people about this since there were children in the audience, but he had arrived late and missed the announcement.

When I brought the subject up with the drama instructor, I learned there was actually some content he had overlooked when he informed me which pieces might be offensive. Our conversation transitioned to a recent study by the University of Leeds that found women should bare 40% of their bodies in order to attract a mate. Any less and the attraction goes down, any more suggests a chance of infidelity.

We wondered if there was anything to be derived from this in terms of stage costuming. Is a lack of clothing past a certain point considered lewd on stage? Given that the study was done in a dance club, it may be more applicable to dance given that the ratio of clothing plus gyrations must factor in somewhere. Of course, people go to a club with a level of expectation that is likely different from those of performance attendees.

While it would be nice to have a magic number that we knew would be safe to go up to without too many negative repercussions from audiences, it probably isn’t in the best interests of artistic expression to have an exact formula. The ratings of the MPAA have shifted over time due to changing public standards. If point values are attributed to inches of flesh exposed, then people would forever be running around with measuring tapes and parsing percentages. (Ah ha! She is wearing open toes shoes! If we compute those in to the over all ratio of her body, she is 40.1783% naked!! I become more scandalized by the moment!)

There is also the matter of some shows that frequently have nudity like Equus and deciding you want nudity in your show as part of your artistic vision. So while it might be helpful to know what the general tolerance level of an audience might be, there is probably too much opportunity in having it turned into a metric to suggest pursuing research in this direction.

And there would need to be more research because the methodology used for this study seems a little shaky. On top of that, it measured the responses of men. Most tickets are purchased by women so it would be necessary to discover where their perceptions lay.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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