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Anna Camp: Naked on Broadway—in Every Sense of the Word

About the author:
Whenever she chooses to publish her memoirs, Anna Camp might note 2008 as the year when everything changed. Known for her daring turns on the off-Broadway circuit 2006’s Columbinus and Theresa Rebeck’s The Scene, in which she seduced Tony Shalhoub, in 2007, the 25-year-old South Carolina native has all but stormed Broadway in the last several months—first as a naive ingenue in The Country Girl, directed by Mike Nichols, and now as stable girl Jill Mason opposite Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. Yup, she’s in that scene, the one everyone’s been talking about since Radcliffe was cast as Alan Strang in the London production two years ago. Camp’s not a newbie when it comes to onstage nudity both her roles Columbinus and The Scene called for various states of undress, but her scene with Radcliffe is like a master class in mass exposure. How does it feel to shed your clothes in front of a Broadway audience and in the presence of a world-famous movie star? Camp tells all.

So I had this crazy dream the other night.

I’m on a dimly lit stage in front of over a thousand people sitting in the dark. I look up and realize that I am indeed surrounded by people. Some are on stage above me staring down. It is intensely quiet, and to my surprise I suddenly begin to take off my clothes. I think, “This isn’t right…you’re not supposed to disrobe in a room full of strangers!” I’m feeling very vulnerable, but at least I’m not alone in this action. My scene partner begins to do the same thing.

There is comfort knowing we are in this together. Then, just as we remove the final article of clothing, out of the blackness a cell phone rings and I hear someone violently go, “Shhhh!” I look to my in-the-buff comrade for support, and it suddenly dawns on me that he strikingly resembles the guy who plays the title role in the Harry Potter films. And I think: “OK, Anna, this is weird…just wake up already.” Then it hits me. This is no dream. This is my job.

How the heck did I get here? For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an actor. My sister, who’s also an actor living in New York, and I took classes when we were growing up in South Carolina. We were very dedicated, and in high school I guess you could say I became a classic theater nerd. I went to one football game, if that. In my junior year, I had the choice of going to Paris with my French class or New York with my drama class. Maybe I should have chosen Europe, but I don’t regret my decision one bit. I saw my first Broadway shows and fell in love with the city. Looking up at the lights and the posters was truly inspiring and daunting…I didn’t know how I was going to fulfill it, but I set a goal on that trip: I wanted to act on a Broadway stage.

I never would have dreamed then that I would be in the Broadway revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, surrounded by such talented actors. And yes, I’m naked, in every sense of the word. I used to think acting was about getting the chance to “be” other people, putting on different masks, and it is to a certain degree. Yet, in each project I work on, I discover that it is about revealing and stripping away to your most vulnerable self. Only then can you discover the part of the character that lives within you. And only then can you truly connect with the other actor onstage.

And that’s the thrill…to live and breathe together with an audience, allowing them to witness and experience real moments as you experience them for the first time yourself. Lucky for me, my scenes are mainly with Daniel Radcliffe, who is an excellent partner. When you’re acting with someone who is willing to take risks each night, it allows you to do the same.

Equus is a story about passion and taking risks. Most of the characters are struggling with secrets and are afraid to go after what they want. I, on the other hand, get to play gutsy, free-spirited Jill Mason. Jill wants to awaken Alan Strang into a world where not everything is taken so seriously. She sees the beauty in the messy parts of life and decides to take a chance by asking Alan out for a date, not knowing what the outcome will be. She has no plan for the evening, which makes each moment a kind of surprise. As an actor, that is right where you want to be. It keeps you in the moment.

I feel very lucky that I get to take on such a challenging role at this point in my career. In my final scene, I am as vulnerable as you can get. It’s an indescribable feeling, really. Mr. Shaffer has written a dynamic and heartbreaking play, with great mountains for his actors to climb. I am thankful that I get a chance to do so eight shows a week.

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