After Nude Jesse Williams Video, Theater Turns Camera on Audience

The nonprofit theater presenting a starry Broadway revival of “Take Me Out” installed a new infrared camera on Wednesday to help its security team spot surreptitious camera usage by audience members after a video of a nude scene featuring the actor Jesse Williams circulated online.

Second Stage Theater, which is producing the much-praised production, was already requiring audience members to put their phones in locked pouches before the start of the show, but decided to add the additional security measures after someone managed to film and post to social media video showing Williams, an actor best known for “Grey’s Anatomy,” naked.

Peter Dean, the director of production for Second Stage, said the theater’s security team already had a camera view of the audience that it monitored before, during and after the play’s shower sequences, but that on Wednesday morning it had added a PTZ camera (the initials stand for pan, tilt, zoom) which would allow it to get a clearer image of individual audience members at the Hayes Theater, where “Take Me Out” has been running since March 10.

“This will allow us to focus on an audience member who looks like they’re doing something suspicious, and assess whether they’re just going through a purse to get a breath mint or pulling out a phone,” Dean said.

He said that if security spots a forbidden phone, it will alert the ushers and house manager, and that “we’re having discussions internally whether we would then stop the show, or send an usher or security when we see someone, to remove them . ” He said the theater staff could ask patrons to delete footage from a phone, or could call the New York Police Department for assistance.

Asked what an audience member should do if he or she spots someone filming, Dean said, “We’re New Yorkers. If you see something, say something. ”

Second Stage has been using Yondr pouches to restrict phone use in the theater. When the patrons arrive, they are asked to turn off their phones and put them into the locked pouches, which the patrons hold through the show and then hand back to be unlocked after it is over. The system, used at some comedy shows, pop music concerts and other live events, is obviously imperfect – some people have figured out how to open such pouches, while others smuggle in phones despite the rules.

Dean noted that Second Stage had in 2019 mounted the play “Linda Vista” at the Helen Hayes Theater. That play had both male and female nudity, and there were no problems with videotaping, he said. But he said he believed that in 2003, when “Take Me Out” first ran on Broadway, someone managed to obtain a naked photograph of the old Daniel Sunjata, even though that run was before the invention of the iPhone.

“Take Me Out,” written by Richard Greenberg, is about homophobia in baseball; Williams plays a team star who comes out as gay and confronts discomfort among some of his teammates. In 2003, the drama won the Tony Award for best play; this week the current production picked up four nominations, including one for best revival, and three for actors, including Williams, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer can also be seen, naked, in some of the online videos.

In the run-up to the show, Williams, best known for “Grey’s Anatomy,” discussed the nudity. “It’s terrifying in all the right ways,” he said on “The Ellen Show” last year. In an interview this year with The New York Times, he was more sanguine. “I’m here to do things I’ve never done before,” he said. “I have got one life, as far as I know. It’ll be fine. “

Williams, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on the video release, but the incident prompted outrage both from the Second Stage and Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents stage performers.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the creation and distribution of photographs and videos of our members during a nude scene,” Kate Shindle, the union president, said in a statement. “As actors, we regularly agree to be vulnerable onstage in order to tell difficult and challenging stories. This does not mean that we agree to have those vulnerable moments widely shared by anyone who feels like sneaking a recording device into the theater. ”

Second Stage, which distributes Playbills with an insert reminding patrons that “photos and videos are strictly prohibited,” issued its own statement, saying “we are appalled that this policy has been violated” and that “taking naked pictures of anyone without their consent is highly objectionable and can have severe legal consequences. ”

The theater said it was seeking to have the online videos removed.

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