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When you tell someone you're going to a show called Naked Girls Readingan inevitable — if redundant — response is: "What's that? George Fowler, whose drag king alter ego Hugo Grrrl produces and MCs the New Zealand incarnations of the show, is so used to the question he has a ready-made response. Television host Carson Daly reportedly called it "the best thing to happen to books since they were put on tape.

Fowler, who spends his time dreaming up and producing politically charged "rough around the edges" late-night cabaret and comedy shows, learned of this artistic marriage of literature and nudity from a friend in Australia. Fowler contacted the Naked matriarchs in the US, then set about planning a Kiwi version. Since then, they've been held in Christchurch, Nelson, Dunedin and Auckland.

In April, there was even a Naked Boys Reading event. We're trying to talk about feminism in a fun way, but there was this whole side of that story that we weren't telling. The boys had really, really important stories to tell. Recruiting participants has been surprisingly easy, he says. There's a Facebook group "teeming with talent": one shout-out and Fowler receives more expressions of interest than he has spaces on his couch. I think you'd be great at it! From the slew of responses, Fowler, a trans man, chooses three participants exhibiting a range of ages, backgrounds and body types.

With the occasional exception, they live in the city or town the show will be performed in. Plenty of Naked Girls work in the arts, and some in the sex industry. But the bums on Fowler's couch have also belonged to lawyers, beer brewers, bank tellers, dog walkers, and council workers. Each "edition" of Naked Girls Reading is themed: the inaugural instalment was Kiwiana; on a cold Thursday night in Christchurch, it's Crime and Punishment. Tonight's her third time on the stage.

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Hamel aka Sapphire Matizze and Crequer Sera Tonin are in the same burlesque collective; Gordon — whose stage name is Gingerella — also dabbles as a drag king and helps Fowler produce the Wellington shows. We're in a cosy, if industrial, space in central Christchurch: a former panel beater's garage that is now a cafe by day and bar by night. I learn the woman running the merchandise table was once a Naked Girl herself — she performed in her final months of pregnancy.

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The stage — dressed to look like a lounge-cum-library — is the same level as the 55 seats. Crequer, 26, tells me a fear of being fully exposed compelled her to take part. Crequer's nerves were at their worst before she first walked on stage, she remembers. But taking off her robe was like ripping off the proverbial Band-Aid. Soon, her nakedness ceased to matter. And why I would come back for a second and third time.

Wearing an army captain's hat and thigh-high patent boots over shimmering legs, Hamel, who has a degree in defence studies, has dressed to theme. At almost 54, she is the oldest woman to have read on a Naked Girls stage in New Zealand — a factor in her choice to partake. Gordon is raising her kids — two sons and a 6-year-old daughter — to respect and appreciate all types of bodies. You don't see women's bodies after they've had children, unless it's a celebrity in a magazine who's lost whatever weight and looks like she's never had children.

That's not a reality for 99 per cent of women.

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You don't get to see yourself in the media, or on stage. That is, until a show like this comes along. They had felt that they were alone — that they were the only ones who had saggy breastfeeding boobs, and stretch marks from their knees to their shoulders…. The audience members have taken their seats; it's a full house. A quick scan suggests an even distribution of ages and genders. There are bald patches as well as technicolour tresses.

There's a woman wearing a hijab; there's a man wearing a dress. Plenty have donned thermal outerwear to guard against a non-existent chill. Sure, there'll be a frost in the morning but inside, it's glowing with warmth. Fowler had said another common question about the show, posed by men, is: "Am I allowed to attend?

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Or we have solo men turn up and slink away by halftime Because they think they've come for a striptease? The thing is, if you were of that mindset, how terrified would you be to look at three naked, empowered women who are being actively verbose? That would be horrifying for someone who was expecting something else Fowler acknowledges the Naked Girls Reading concept has similarities to stripping.

Look at them use both at the same time. When you tell someone you're going to a show called Naked Girls Readingan inevitable response is: "But are they really, fully naked?

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Crequer tells me a friend was fossicking through her shoe collection recently, when she picked out the pair of gold stilettos she is wearing tonight. She was like, 'Oh, what else? It's time for the show to start, and the readers go outside ahead of their grand entrance. Fowler, in full Hugo Grrrl mode, extravagantly introduces them, one by one. Hamel, in a full-length silver-blue dressing gown, sashays out first, disrobing with her back to the audience. Then comes Gordon — used to it by now — who strides down the aisle in a flash of pink glitter. She strips off her robe, flexes her biceps, and takes a seat, her knees comfortably apart.

Crequer completes the ensemble, coquettishly allowing her cream-coloured kimono to fall from her shoulders, now wearing nothing but those sparkly gold shoes. The atmospheric alchemy Crequer spoke of has already begun.

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The audience, whose cheers are infused with encouragement, has absorbed the tattoos, the bikini waxes, the leg hair, the nipples and the navel piercings. Fowler encourages participants not to eat or exercise differently to their normal routine in the lead-up to the reveal — "indulging in some f I find myself sitting straighter to spot the body parts I had firmly instructed the photographer not to capture. My curiosity satisfied, I settle back in my chair to listen to these naked women read from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

Stripped to their skin, their voices were somehow clearer than ever. First, the trio conducted a shared reading of "The Quality of Mercy" speech, from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venicein which Portia — whom Gordon described as an original drag king — begs Shylock for compassion. Then, Gordon recited a poem published in the second edition of homegrown erotic journal, Aotearotica. Breadby Cassie Welch, invoked a none-too-subtle metaphor. The first half concluded with Crequer standing to read another poem, written by Olivia Hall and Carrie Rudinski after Stanford University student Brock Turner was convicted of felony sexual assault.

Why do women need to belong to men for them to be worth caring about? This is someone's daughter, sister, mother, friend. Why isn't the word 'human' enough? After the break in which Hamel told me the scariest thing about her first Naked Girls event was reading aloudCrequer stood again, this time to demolish a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. Which is pretty much non-existent in the s that litter the floor. When the cheers subsided it took a whileHamel stood to read a tract of fan fiction, in which consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson engage in vehement intercourse, described in graphic detail.

Some audience members wept with laughter. Then came a letter to a radio station's agony aunt, then a recitation of former National MP Maurice Williamson's world-famous "big gay rainbow" speech. The show closed with another shared reading, of Maya Angelou's beloved poem:. But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams. His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream. His wings are clipped and his feet are tied. So he opens his throat to sing. Naked Girls Reading: nude women as you've never seen them before. Britt MannAug 05 Bodies and brains: Naked Girls Reading is a celebration of both. George Fowler is a Wellington-based cabaret and comedy show producer, MC and drag king.

He is the current reigning national drag king champion. Hannah Gordon, aka Gingerella, has been on the Naked Girls stage three times. An audience member enjoying a dramatic reading of erotic Sherlock fan fiction. Fifty Shades of Grey was the only casualty of the night.

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Naked Girls Reading: nude women as you've never seen them before