BY: MICHAEL LYONS
I’m stripped down to my underwear in front of a room full of friends and strangers. “I’m unfortunately not going to get completely naked,” I say. There’s a quizzical murmur; the event, after all, is titled “Naked Boys Reading For World Pride.” I drop my undies and kick them off, then point to my glasses — thankfully, there’s some generous, appreciative chortling. “I’m so glad you laughed,” I say, “I’ve been planning that joke for months.”
With that, I open my copy of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice and, completely naked save my eyewear, I start to read.
I was inspired to organize a Toronto Pride edition of Naked Boys Reading after I stumbled across some pictures of the London-based event — hot, naked guys plus classical literature… you do the math. Little did I know, the sexy art salon has a bit of history with Toronto; it’s actually something of a global movement.
Organizer R Justin Hunt started NBR over two years ago, as a cousin to Naked Girls Reading, an event that originated on Chicago’s burlesque scene. The brainchild of showgirl Michelle L’amour and her partner, Franky Vivid, after the first NGR early in 2009, the intimate live event spread internationally, became branded, and has taken place in more than two dozen cities; from Washington DC to Melbourne, from Cape Town, South Africa to Toronto, Canada.
The events themselves are… well, exactly what they sound like: A literary salon where a handful of readers strip down and read a selection of literature. Sometimes the evenings are themed — Naked Girls Reading did “A Christmas Carol” over the holidays, Naked Boys Reading’s upcoming monthly event is: “Fairy Tales.” When I was organizing the Toronto Pride NBR, Hunt suggested a drag queen host, so I hunted down my favourite local queen of filth, Igby Lizzard, who topped off our evening with a number that showcased her deep-throating a dildo — a real wholesome touch.
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“We hope that people get an exposure to various literary forms in a different and intimate way,” says Hunt, who is the producer and host of the London events. “Our focus at NBR is to educate and to titillate! We’re so happy that the audiences keep coming back and love when new folks join us.”
NBR London is doing yearlong residencies at venues in London and Brighton and, like the separate Naked Girls Reading event before it, is coalescing into its own distinct brand with London as the flagship event. On top of their monthly event in January, NBR will be hosting a “brunch” version as well — meat and two veg, any one?
“Our recent ‘holiday’ editions at Camden’s [performing arts venue] Roundhouse were great in this way, bringing a bunch of new folks in to see how we’re playing with both nudity and literature, but also the way we structure the salon,” Hunt says. “We certainly hope that we sustain people’s interest and are always looking for new curators and readers to add new dimensions to our work.”
While Naked Girls Reading Toronto continues to offer its own titillating tales, the NBR Pride edition might become a tradition. After the first event that saw myself and three other boys baring all with our books I had a couple of guys contact me, wanting to sign up to read for the next one.
The success of the events just goes to show that there’s a little bit of voyeur in every literary enthusiast, and vice versa; it indulges the intellectual pervert in us all. Naked Boys Reading For World Pride was laid back, sexy, strange and, most importantly, funny. At one point I’m reading my excerpt from the pervy classic, Death In Venice, and — if I remember correctly — when I read a section describing the “one orderly whole,” there were some juvenile snickers in the audience, and laughter breaks out.
“Wow,” I say, “I guess reading naked really changes the meaning of things.”