It’s exactly what it sounds like—but that’s not all there is to it.
Did you know Ottawa has a monthly in-the-nude literary salon? Naked Boys Reading began as an international event in London, UK, about five years ago. Even that was a spin off of the longer-running Naked Girls Reading out of Chicago.
The body-positive monthly reading series takes place at LIVE! On Elgin, so our 613TV crew went to Centretown with high hopes for being entertained and educated—because they’re reading stuff. Watch the new Ottawa Minute episode below. It’s tastefully edited but probably NSFW.
Organizers told us they did not expect the show to be so popular. So far, every night has sold out or come quite close. Knowing that, here’s where you can buy tickets to an upcoming show or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in reading one night. There’s a new theme each month and curated readings too.
NBR usually happens on a Monday around the middle of the month. They post all events to their Facebook page.
After the the show, we got to catch up with co-producer Rick Telfer and a second-time reader, Steele Fergurson.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: How did you first hear about Naked Boys Reading?
Rick Telfer: Two years ago I was Googling another show: Naked Boys Singing! Reason being: my partner Cameron and I were cast members of the Ottawa production—which is also how he and I met. I stumbled upon the official website of Naked Boys Reading. We launched the show in Ottawa last July.
Steele Fergurson: I was invited by a friend last year who needed emotional support for first his first read. I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere and group of people who attend.
Do most readers come back and read again? Steele, what made you want to return?
Steele: The act of reading was an incredible experience. There is a particular intimacy when it comes to reading naked on stage. The vibe of the audience was something that definitely helped me want to keep reading. The ability to overcome any anxiety and to put yourself out there is freeing.
Rick: Most readers can’t wait to return.
Steele: I can’t wait to read again and to perform, it’s something that I’ve begun to really enjoy. The attendees are always great, the producer and host are overwhelmingly terrific people, and many fellow readers are now good friends.
At the event we heard a little about entertainment advocacy, body positivity, and empowerment. Has participating influenced how you feel about your body in any way?
Steele: For sure. Men obviously have a distinct sense of self consciousness when it comes to their bodies. For myself, there was a degree of letting go and just accepting that I am who I am, I look the way I look. I have scars, blemishes, I’m pale, and I’m truly okay with that. I’ve learned I can focus on other things about my life instead of aspects that truly cannot be changed.
Rick: We do indeed like to think of the show as “entertainment activism.” First and foremost, NBR is—as a literary salon—performance art. The number one goal of the show is to entertain though it’s also education—because we’re reading stuff. I think it also encourages a culture of body-positivity.
“By the time a reader gets to the end of a reading, you’ve forgotten that he’s naked. He’s sexy and attractive because he put himself on that stage and shared some culture with you.”
Rick: Showing the courage to be vulnerable is inspiring. Overcoming your fears and confronting oppressive beauty standards—with your whole self—is empowering. By the time a reader gets to the end of a reading, you’ve forgotten that he’s naked. He’s sexy and attractive because he put himself on that stage and shared some culture with you. It’s the ultimate dick trick: we prove it’s irrelevant.
What was the most surprising part of launching this show in Ottawa?
Rick: A few things actually.
#1: We did not expect the show to be so popular. So far, 90% of the shows have been sold out. We did not plan for it to be a monthly event. We thought seasonally would meet demand.
#2: We did not foresee how the show would create community. While most of the people—whether in the audience or members of the cast and crew—are queer and/or women, many are also straight men. Many new friendships have formed and the show has, for many, become an important part of their social lives.
#3: The importance of the readings over the bodies. As an audience member, you get over the nudity pretty quickly. What’s left is the reading, and how it’s performed. Our most loyal audience members return for the readings.
Do you tend to see more fiction or non-fiction readings?
Rick: Themes vary each night, however the overall balance of fiction versus non-fiction has probably been about 50-50. We have found that some of the non-fiction readings have been the funniest and most entertaining.
What advice do you have for someone who is curious about attending a show and maybe becoming a reader?
Rick: Dispense with any inhibitions or awkwardness. The show is, first and foremost, performance art. It’s theatre, not a peep show. There’s a fun, positive vibe. Bring a friend. You’ll find that Naked Boys Reading is so much more than just, well, naked boys reading.
Steele: I would say attend a few shows, meet some of the readers and see how you feel about the whole thing. Public reading can be a strange animal for a lot of people, and being naked in front of a lot of strangers can also be a fear for a lot of people, so there’s two pretty big concepts for people to accept all at the same time. Meet the people who take part and that will help you really ease into it.
In an Ottawa Minute we’ll explore corners of the city you may have never visited and niche scenes from indie wrestling to fringe theatre, burlesque, the escape room boom, new breweries and offbeat events. So, not “niche” in the sense that niche tastes will be required… but this is probably the kinda stuff you’d have to hear about from a friend. Subscribe to Apt613 on YouTube for new episodes.