William Davison-Paxon was one of the original stars of the infamous theatrical revue Oh! Srinigar?! and has just come out with a memoir about his acting career titled An Actor Bares All. He recently sat down with The Self-Abasement tapes for an interview.
The Self-Abasement Tapes: Oh! Srinigar?! was an evening of sketches about sex and sexuality that featured flagrant full-frontal nudity from both the male and female actors. It debuted off-Broadway in the early 1970s and was universally panned as an artistic failure yet ran a record 2,000 performances at the Phallus in the Square Theatre. Let me start by asking why did you agree to do that show?
William Davison-Paxon: Well the short answer is I needed a gig (laughs). But more than that, I looked on it as a challenge both creatively and personally.
S-AT: You had to be nude in front of strangers every night.
WD-P: And Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, yes. Well, all acting is about overcoming inhibition. This was just taking it a little further than the Shakespeare and Chekhov I did at Brigham Young.
S-AT: The sketches were by some of the leading playwrights and cultural figures of the time: Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, even Paul Lynde. Why did the critics hate it so much?
WD-P: Well of course it wasn’t their best work. These were just little pieces they had lying around that had never been produced. The Beckett sketch was titled “The Quick, Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog.”
S-AT: How was that staged?
WD-P: A naked actress read it aloud while I wore a pair of fox ears and jumped over another naked actor wearing dog ears.
S-AT: It must be difficult to be in a play you know is badly written, gets horrible reviews, is considered crap by your peers … and you’re nude in it.
WD-P: It was a challenge. But any actor will tell ya, you sometimes learn as much from the bad shows as you do from the good ones--if not more.
S-AT: Well then you certainly must have learned a lot from your next show: Nude Carpenters. It featured another all-nude cast singing Carpenters songs. We’re you a trained singer?
WD-P: No, not at all. I’m terribly embarrassed whenever I have to sing, but … if you want to be in a show like Nude Carpenters ….
S-AT: After that came the shows Naked Line Dancing and People Giving a Toastmasters Speech in the Nude.
WD-P: Yes. A lot of people have a fear of extemporaneous speaking on an assigned topic. And I must admit I’m one of those people.
S-AT: And I imagine being nude at the time might add to the anxiety.
(William shrugs vaguely.)
S-AT: Next you did a show called Naked White Guy Holding Ice Cubes To His Balls While Standing Next to A Naked Black Man. The New York Times called it “pointless degradation.”
WD-P: Ah, well that show was very fulfilling personally. It was the first in which I approached the role using Mamet’s Practical Aesthetics technique rather than Stanislavski’s Method.
S-AT: And that helped?
WD-P: Oh yes, immensely. You see, the Method is so psychological that if you’re not careful it can really do a number on your self-esteem.
S-AT: So then Robert Altman calls…
WD-P: Yes, my idol.
S-AT: And asks you to read for a part…
WD-P: Oh, this is a painful memory. (Laughs.)
S-AT: In his 1987 film O.C. and Stiggs…
WD-P: His best.
S-AT: But you blow the audition.
WD-P: Yes, I was terrible.
S-AT: What happened?
WD-P: … Nerves.
S-AT: … So then you go back and do a revival of Oh! Srinigar?!.
WD-P: Yes. This time we did it in the round and with all fluorescent lighting.
S-AT: Then it says here you played “Bottom” online. Was that an Internet production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
WD-P: (Cryptically) … No. S-AT: Where’s your career at now?
WD-P: Well I guess I’m semi-retired from acting now. The roles seemed to dry up. Luckily I’ve always had a law degree to fall back on. I’d be willing to act again if I was offered a part I felt comfortable with.
S-AT: And what kind of part would it take to get you back on stage?
WD-P: … Just about anything, I guess. Accept a lottery commercial. I have my pride.
S-AT: Well thank you very much.