Naked Girls Reading YYC: From titillation to inspiration
Local show journeys from sensationalized nudity to empowerment and inclusivity
Calgary may not be the first city that comes to mind when you hear the words “nude literary salon,” but the local chapter of international show sensation Naked Girls Reading has quickly gone from titillation to inspiration for the women of Calgary.
“The opportunity literally fell into my lap for the Calgary chapter,” said founder and producer Keely Schneider, who also performs under the name Keely Kamikaze in drag and burlesque shows.
“The producer in Edmonton was the one who connected me, and within 2 days we were set up, signed, paid and done.”
The show was founded in Chicago, IL. in 2009 by burlesque performer Michelle L’Amour. It is exactly what it describes: naked women onstage reading.
Due to the literal naked nature of the show, many of the first readers in Calgary were pulled from the burlesque community.
“My reader clientele was 95 per cent burlesque performers for the first couple shows, and then around the six-month mark we started getting more non-performers signing up,” said Schneider.
While the show was originally built on titillation and tease, in line with its burlesque roots, Schneider quickly saw how powerful the experience of participating in the show was.
“I didn’t read until the fourth show I put on in January of 2017,” said Schneider.
“You don’t know until you do it just how vulnerable you are up there. It was very unique, and I felt very powerful.”
The show now boasts a list of more than 80 performers, and there are new readers signing up every month to bare all onstage. It accepts any female-identified person, regardless of age, size, or sexuality. The show attracts a host of different readers, ranging from burlesque performers, nurses, and students.
“I originally heard about it because my friend had done it, and I attended to support her,” said former Mount Royal University student Bethan McBreen.
“I thought to myself that it seemed neat, but I would never do that.”
McBreen did eventually perform in the show not once, but three times.
“I was looking for a performance to do, something unusual as part of a personal challenge,” said McBreen.
“It gave me a ton of confidence in myself. There’s a certain kind of intimacy with the audience you get, when you’re naked and reading a text that you chose for that moment.
“The audience looks at you, but they also listen and it was the most acknowledged and visible I’ve ever felt as a performer.”
For some people, the show is a healing process as well as a performance opportunity.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that being that vulnerable in front of a crowd can give you back your power,” said Schneider.
“To go on that stage in a room of strangers and strip down onstage is such a powerful moment.”
Naked Girls Reading Calgary is currently ramping up for a show themed around loving yourself on Feb. 12, taking place at Twisted Element nightclub.
They are also planning a charity show to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Wildrose Brewery on March 8, including raffles, draws, and a silent auction. All proceeds go to the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter.