Interview with

Robert Schrock

Director of the Los Angeles
production of

Naked Boys Singing!

Large L.A. poster
Interview date: 1999

The artist who conceived and directed "Naked Boys Singing!" is Robert Schrock, the Celebration Theater's Producing Artistic Director. He's the head creative honcho at Celebration, making sure that the shows there are good, gay, and worthwhile. Although most of the shows are directed by others, he has his hand in them from time to time.

Since he did in fact direct this show, I set up an interview while I was in Los Angeles. I just had to find out, on behalf of Penis Central fans everywhere, just how this wonderful penile entertainment event came to be.


In the liner notes for the original cast recording CD, you imply that the idea for this revue came from Celebration Theater's need to have a commercially successful show, and you decided that singing, dancing, and nudity were the elements that had previously brought in the most customers. Is that really the way it happened?

It really is.

So what's the financial difficulty that the theater is in?

Being a nonprofit to begin with and a theater on top of it, even with this hit show we've grossed a lot of money but we still have major debts. Theater never really makes money, and we just have to live with that fact of life.

How many seats does it have?

65.

And one sign of the success of this production is that you've been able to raise the ticket price as high as $25?

No, it's always been $25. Most of our weekend shows are $20, and our off-night and late-night shows are $15. Our big musicals are $25, just like this one.

[I did the arithmetic.] So you're lucky if you average $1,000 per show.

We've been doing better than that on this show, but for the average show here, given that we don't always sell out -- yes.

I   was fascinated to read your view that nudity per se isn't sexual, and I noticed how similar that is to the gay nudist philosophy of GNI, IMEN, and so on. Are you a nudist?

I've certainly spent many hundreds of hours on nude beaches and I'm not uncomfortable being naked at home, but I appeared professionally in a naked show in New York in 1970, so I had firsthand experience. Having had that experience then really opened me up to nudity. It's like no big deal. That experience really fed me in creating "Naked Boys Singing!".

Have you had any contact with the local gay nudist group LANG?

LANG had a special performance; it was great fun [because this time the audience was naked, too]. But I haven't personally been to a LANG function. However, at the LANG performance I was naked [when I introduced the show] -- and they applauded.

What was it like to have an audience of nude guys?

It was terrific! And weird. Some of the actors commented that it sounded different because there were no clothes to absorb the sound. The acoustics were different.

When the Palm Springs gay naturist group (PSSST) did a similar event at the Top Hat Theater, the owner/director didn't tell the actors ahead of time about the audience being nude -- so there were a lot of amazed double-takes as they made their entrances. What did your actors think about the LANG performance?

They were all for it; they thought it would be a lot of fun.

Was there mingling afterwards?

LANG sponsored a reception. But the naked boys who attended wore their clothes.

What a disappointment! [Joking:] And after they paid you between one and two thousand dollars??

[He laughs.]

How about the members of the cast? Are they nudists?

I don't believe they are.

How many cast members have changed since the original production?

After next week we're only going to have one of the originals left. So... new meat! Tell everyone who's already seen the show that they want to come back, because there are new boys to see!

Besides "fresh meat" [I smile, knowing he was joking], why do you rotate cast members?

Because it's impossible to keep a cast together in our circumstances. That we've run 9 months [nearly a year as of March 1999] is a miracle. We can't pay a living wage, so we're not a really high priority in their life. They get a job in a soap opera, they get a movie part -- whatever. They go off.

Will you take this show on tour?

It's not going to actually tour, but we're going to open in New York in the spring, and then there are plans for Chicago and San Francisco. Lots of other cities have expressed interest.

So you'll recruit a local cast?

Probably. That's the plan now. There might be some of the originals who go to New York; that remains to be seen. They all want to go -- even though in New York you don't make a living, really, from acting because the cost of living is so high.

How about a sequel?

I've got some ideas brewing -- but I'm not ready to talk about them.

Aw, shucks!

It's been really interesting how many women come to the show, even weddings and bachelorette parties, so the show has enormous crossover appeal.

hat are the differences -- artistically, esthetically, practically, and politically -- about having naked men on stage rather than naked women?

You attract a whole different audience. If you have naked women on stage, it doesn't have the draw to the lesbian community that a gay male nude show has. And in the straight community it's going to attract people who aren't used to going to the theater [Ed. comment: What a polite way to put it!], so you would be limiting your audience appeal if you did a naked girl show. I don't know -- maybe I'll try and crack that market -- but heterosexuals would REALLY expect it to be sexual, I suppose. Not being one I really can't say!

I   happen to be attracted to the West Hollywood type that you have in the show, so I'm not complaining about your casting or your taste. But a lot of my friends are bear lovers -- are you planning to include any bears in your cast?

One of the previous actors I wouldn't necessarily call a bear, but he's not a West Hollywood smooth boy type, and he was very appealing and attractive. I cast people who can just do the material. Yeah, looks are important, but it's more important that they can dance and act. And the size of their member means absolutely nothing.

Does the nudity in the performance generate a special bond among the actors?

It's interesting, yeah, they're a lot more familiar with each other [than they otherwise would be], a lot more intimate in a nonsexual way. But it's fun to be around people who are that comfortable with each other, and can be that with each other in the green room [where they prepare for the show], although I think it has prevented them from dating [each other]. There was no dating among the actors in the first company, even though they were all single, I believe. The intrigue that comes from dating wasn't there because they'd already seen everything.

How does one integrate new cast members into the group of previously bonded actors?

Well, the boys are really very good about being open to the new people. We go bowling every week, after the show on Friday or Saturday. It's a relaxing, fun thing to do. We spend a little time together outside.

What do you think a non-nudist gay man would get out of this show?

They get a lot out of this show. They get the humor. Even straight people, including straight men, have seen the show and they have a great time.

A lesbian?

We get a lot of them, too, surprisingly. And they also have a great time! They laugh, they get the humor.

What would a lesbian tell a lesbian about why she should go see this show?

I don't know, actually. Just that it's a good musical!

Indeed it is! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

You're welcome!


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