Following the leak on social media of cell phone video and photos of a naked Jesse Williams, star of Broadway’s Take Me Out, the venue has installed an infrared camera system facing the audience that will be monitored in real time by the venue’s security team, a spokesperson for the show tells Deadline.
The cell phone video, shot from the audience and then posted on social media the day of the Tony Award announcements, infuriated the Second Stage Theater, Actors’ Equity and Williams’ co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson. “Taking naked pictures of anyone without their consent is highly objectionable and can have severe legal consequences,” Second Stage said in a statement last night. “Posting it on the internet is a gross and unacceptable violation of trust between the actor and audience forged in the theater community.”
The theater company said it is “actively pursuing takedown requests and ask that no one participates in the distribution of these images,” and that the venue is adding additional staff at the theater to enforce the policy.
The new monitor system, installed today, augments current security camera systems, allowing the venue to focus in on suspicious activity. Violators could either be asked to leave and/or delete footage.
“I’m appalled by the disrespect shown to the actors of our company whose vulnerability on stage ever night is crucial to Take Me Out,” Ferguson tweeted. “Anyone who applauds or trivializes this behavior has no place in the theater which has always been a safe space for artists & audience members.”
(Williams himself was asked about the nude scene – though not the video leak – on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live Monday, telling host host Andy Cohen, “Everyone around me [was] going, ‘Are you serious? Are you sure? Nude, nude? Naked?’ And everybody makes such a big deal. It’s a body. Once you see it, you realize, whatever. It’s a body. I just have to not make it that big of a deal.”)
Even prior to the photo leak, Second Stage was taking unusual steps – unusual for Broadway, at any rate – to prevent violators of Broadway’s no-photo rule. As with some comedy clubs and concert venues, Second Stage required patrons to lock their phones in Yondr pouches, which prevent access to the devices until the pouches are unlocked as patrons exit the venue. Whether the Take Me Out bootlegger managed to open their Yondr pouch or snuck in an unpouched phone is unclear.
The video shows both Williams and co-star Michael Oberholtzer naked during a shower scene. The play, about a New York Yankees-like baseball team and the fallout when a star player (Williams) comes out as gay, includes more than one scene of full nudity. (Ferguson, who plays the Williams’ character’s agent) is the sole cast member who does not disrobe.
Take Me Out has been nominated for four 2022 Tony Awards, including featured actor nominations for Williams, Oberholtzer and Ferguson, as well as Best Revival of a Play.
The Jesse Williams incident isn’t the first time Broadway has had to confront the issue. In 2019, Audra McDonald, then starring with Michael Shannon in a revival of Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune took to Twitter to call out an audience member who photographed a nude scene.
“To whoever it was in the audience that took a flash photo during our nude scene today: Not cool. Not cool at all,” McDonald tweeted.
Nor would the use of an infrared system to detect violators be a first: In 2017, magician Derek DelGaudio was appearing in his hit Off Broadway show In & Of Itself when he noticed on a security monitor with infrared capability that an audience member was recording the show with a smartphone concealed in his breast pocket. The audience member turned out to be a rival mentalist from Northern Ireland; the house manager inspected his phone following the show but found no recordings.
Elsewhere on Broadway, just two days after the Take Me Out video was posted, security staff at Chicago, currently starring Pamela Anderson in a limited engagement, were seen repeatedly confronting audience members attempting to surreptitiously shoot cell phone video of Anderson during her song-and-dance numbers. At one point, security asked two audience members seated next to the video scofflaws to briefly vacate their seats so the security team could sit beside – and have a chat with – the violators, who did not resume recording thereafter.