NEW YORK — Andy Golub started out getting arrested, along with his models, for painting naked bodies in Times Square. Fast-forward a decade, and the artist and activist has taken it from the streets to the stage.
“Welcome to Naked Theater!” exults Golub to the audience in introducing his nude play, “Freedom Dance,” which runs through Sunday at the Gene Frankel Theatre in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood.
What follows is a free-association riff on freedom, God, destiny and the roles we play in our own fate.
“It’s kind of liberating to be that naked and also be like, ‘Oh, I have to memorize my lines, I have to play these chords,’” actor and keyboardist Maggie Rineman, coated in red paint and nothing else, told the Daily News after an “undressed dress rehearsal” on May 31. “It’s a fun dynamic. But it is a little bit vulnerable, in a beautiful way.”
Most of the 10-person cast is completely nude — except for the paint. The only “clothed” character is God, played by Rahul Gajasamharamoonthy, who delivers his lines in a full-body blackout suit that even covers his face.
Nudity both frees up and focuses the actors, while sending a message that nakedness is not necessarily sexual, or even erotic, Golub said. It can also represent stripped-down human nature, or existence.
“To me, the idea of the nudity aspect of it is not small, in that it is an existential play but it’s also a play that shows really great respect for people who are willing to expose themselves and be that vulnerable to connect with an audience,” Golub told The News.
“And I think that the way that the world has become challenging in a lot of ways really lends itself to the idea that the arts are that much more important. And that in order for the arts to be heard, that the arts have to be bolder.”
Golub has been making such bold art for at least a decade. He and a model were arrested in 2011 after he painted her in Times Square in broad daylight. A Manhattan judge dropped the charges on the condition that the body painting be conducted only after dusk.
Just a few years later, Golub and other artists were free to practice their craft on an official Body Painting Day held in New York City. By 2015, the movement had morphed into National Body Painting Day, a tradition that continued last year.
Golub founded Human Connection Arts, a nonprofit organization that fosters creativity by mounting large-scale public art events and performances.
“Freedom Dance” uses poetry, music, dance and acting to paint — literally and figuratively — a series of stories about existence and the questions it raises.
The actors, several of whom have collaborated with Golub on other projects, admit that it’s something of a stretch to play a role nude.
“It’s a freer, more relaxed environment in general,” said Atlantis Carp, who has been working with Golub for eight years.
“It has a sacred meaning and has to be done in a way that truly feels safe and not exploitative,” Carp added, emphasizing that the show is also interlaced with humor. “Even though it’s sacred we’re not taking it too seriously.”
“I think that there’s a lot of confusion about the relationship that people have with their bodies and what people are like who are exposing their bodies,” Golub told The News. “So I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to say, ‘This is me, this is my name, this is something personal about me,’ so that we can find something that we can all connect to.”