Tease: The Sydney Theatre Company dangled the prospect of Geoffrey Rush appearing nude in King Lear.
Most men will tell you their penis is priceless. But on the opera stage, the family jewels are worth $67.62.
That’s how much a performer, male or female, should be paid for each stage rehearsal or performance at which full frontal nudity is required.
Jud Arthur as Fafner in Opera Australia’s The Melbourne Ring Cycle in 2013. Photo: Jess Busby
In contrast, a dancer’s genitalia is only worth half as much – an additional allowance of $35.43 (which will rise to $36.49 in January) is paid to Sydney Dance Company performers.
Ballet dancers are paid just $25.28 for each nude or semi-naked performance, according to the Australian Ballet dancers’ enterprise agreement.
Opera performers are also paid more for revealing other body parts onstage – bums and bare breasts (women only) earn an additional $43.90 for each stage rehearsal or show, while “skimpy costumes that show bare buttocks” will net performers $27, according to the agreement negotiated between Opera Australia and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance this year.
The performers in choreographer Xavier Le Roy’s Temporary Title wear their nudity as a costume. Photo: James Brickwood
Actors at Belvoir St Theatre, meanwhile, are paid an extra 2.75 per cent of the standard weekly rate for appearing nude or semi-nude.
MEAA Actors Equity national director Zoe Angus says performers feel strongly that they should be paid more to appear nude.
“The grey area is say in The Ring Cycle or The Turk in Italy where women were in bikinis – not nude or semi-nude but still confronting for them,” she says.
Not all performers are entitled to a nudity allowance although an agent may negotiate a higher fee if a role requires bare flesh.
Performers who sign contracts to appear in shows may negotiate extra payment for nudity, but Angus says this may be difficult for other performers.
“If you are a permanent employee at OA or the Australian Ballet, you can’t negotiate these things as easily so a nudity allowance becomes more important,” she says.
Nudity makes an eye-catching, if occasional, appearance on stages – although performers have cast off clothes for several shows in Sydney this month.
Jacqueline McKenzie is briefly naked in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Orlando, while the company
had also been dangling the prospect of Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush appearing nude in King Lear.
However, STC spokesman Tim McKeough says Rush is likely to remain trousered: “Another actor may be naked at some point in the show but as with anything in rehearsals, as things are being tried and tested, that particular aspect may be cut before the show opens.”
There was also an outbreak of nudity at Carriageworks, with French choreographer Xavier Le Roy and 18 performers dancing around naked as part of the latest Kaldor Public Art Project.
Soprano Jane Sheldon, meanwhile, had to contend with six naked chaps roaming the stage during the Sydney Chamber Opera’s An Index of Metals.
Neither Kaldor nor SCO would reveal whether performers were paid extra to take off their clothes and Opera Australia also declined to comment.
But former principal artist Jud Arthur is more forthcoming about stripping off to play Fafner in The Melbourne Ring Cycle in 2013 – a role he will reprise next year.
Arthur says he is not a prude but admits performing nude was initially “a little bit confronting”.
“It’s not sort of gratuitous nudity,” he says. “There is a clear plot reason for it. I didn’t really have a problem with it to be honest. I’m not a prude in any way.”
Despite the nudity allowance, Arthur says joking: “I have to say I never got paid for getting my gear off. Maybe I should be putting in an invoice for it.”
He adds: “What price do you put on that thing? It’s a gray area. If you think getting your gear off is worth $67 by all means claim it.”