Naked Girls Reading. The live show's title alone — a straightforward promise of bare-chested women reading aloud to an audience — has been enough to sell out shows in a dozen other cities. In Richmond? Not so much.
"We were quite frankly baffled by the attendance," Brett Zwerdling, the show's promoter who brought the franchise to Richmond, says in an email. "After the show we discussed all of this and felt like perhaps Richmond doesn't 'get' what we are yet."
That Richmond wouldn't get it is difficult to imagine. The concept couldn't be simpler: burlesque dancers minus clothes plus books. They read on a stage with no costuming or set design. Body glitter and jewelry are applied somewhat liberally.
That the premise is so basic is part of the appeal, Zwerdling says. And the shows have been met with acclaim elsewhere. The idea was born four years ago in Chicago, spreading to such cities as Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
The show's prior success is why Zwerdling, a lawyer and promoter of burlesque and belly dancing groups in the city, says he decided buy into the franchise. While he declines to discuss the financial arrangements, he says the show's creators provided logistical support and promotional materials.
Aside from just a handful of tickets selling at the $20 asking price, the inaugural run at the Triangle Players' theater in Scott's Addition provided what was promised. And in addition to the nudity, the readings were smooth and rehearsed. The show's theme was banned books and included selections from "Catcher in the Rye," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," and some poems by Shel Silverstein.
Zwerdling says he'll try again next month. He's considering focusing on religious books and amping up his marketing — perhaps with videos. "Despite the title, I've heard people say, 'Oh, I didn't realize they were going to be naked,'" he says. "Baffling."