Laid brazen and bare
A Real Page Turner: Keely Kamikaze poses for a closeup during a photoshoot for a visual project in March 2019. She has been organizing Naked Girls Reading performances in Calgary since October 2016. (Photo by Keane Straub)
The first time you meet Keely Kamikaze, there’s a very good chance she’ll be on a stage, naked, and reading.
Mind you, it’s a performance piece crafted to convey several messages at once.
As the producer of the Calgary chapter of Naked Girls Reading, Kamikaze – her stage name from her burlesque days – has a unique perspective on nudity, and society’s perception thereof.
“You can be fully clothed, and fully sexual; or, fully naked, and fully non-sexual. It’s all about a state of mind.”
Naked Girls Reading – NGR, as Kamikaze sometimes refers to it – is, well, exactly what it says it is: naked women on stage, reading. The name itself is enough to start people talking; interest is surely piqued at the very idea of bare skin on display.
In a city as conservative as Calgary, Kamikaze points out, “There’s always going to be that shock value.”
Explaining the public’s reaction to such a concept, Kamikaze’s mouth coyly curls up, and
her dark lashes fan as she gasps, mockingly.
“‘Naked girls reading erotica? I have to go see this’.”
These are not airbrushed catalogue models.
These are females with hips and thighs, bony knees and delicate wrists, blemishes and buttocks, tattoos and piercings, and scars inside and out.
And each one is beautiful in her own interpretation of the word.
“Taking that robe off with nothing underneath is a moment,” Kamikaze asserts.
About 30 seconds into a performance, however, perception tends to shift.
The blush-worthy visual content falls away until the bodies become merely vessels inhabited by the voices of women of all shapes and sizes, metaphorically and literally.
There is power in words, and in that space it resonates endlessly.
Each performance is a welcoming space, one that Kamikaze works endlessly to create. Over a month of planning is involved in producing a reading, from securing a safe and open-minded venue, to finding readers and ensuring their safety, to creating a set list that will enhance the audience’s experience.
Since the chapter’s creation in October of 2016, there have been over 40 readings. And,at each and every one there is laughter, and there are tears; both of which can come from places of joy, pain, heartbreak, anger, fear, and relief.
There is respect. There is dignity. There is a message being conveyed and received, and it is nothing short of art and politics combined.
What the women read at each performance depends on the theme that Kamikaze has chosen for that night. In the past these themes have included children’s stories, things people wrote as teenagers, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, feminist literature, and erotica. And, the sources of the material can range from things written from the reader’s heart, to favorite song lyrics.
Freedom of expression, then, and of censorship, is conquered several times over during any given performance.
April’s theme of ‘Naked Girls Reading High,’ is a fine example.
On April 20th, what the cannabis community has come to view as 420 Day – April is the fourth month, and it’s the 20thday – Kamikaze and her fearless, unfettered females got naked, got high, and got on stage at Calgary’s Twisted Element Nightclub.
Never let it be said that Naked Girls Reading is anything but transparent in their name.
“I honestly don’t know how this is going to turn out,” Kamikaze confessed only days before the 420 show. “But, I have a back-up emcee just in case.”
You Can't Spell Literature Without 'T&A': As the producer of Naked Girls Reading Calgary, Keely Kamikaze spends about a month to organize each performance. Themes of past performances include horror, children's stories, and erotica. (Photo by Keane Straub)
"Taking that robe off
with nothing underneath
is a moment."
- Keely Kamikaze
Opening the show, veteran reader Melissa Lynne narrated the aptly chosen caterpillar scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the stage was set. The audience was ushered headfirst into two hours of literature that hinged on the absurd, the grotesque, and the provocative.
Performed by novice reader Chelsea (surname withheld to ensure her safety), the night’s second-to-last reading of Andrea Gibson’s To the Men Catcalling My Girlfriend While I’m Walking Beside Her, sobered the scene to a degree, and brought back the umbrella theme of feminism and empowerment to the night.
The spoken word piece is a felling blow to toxic masculinity, rife with intelligence and unflinching honesty that kept the audience of about 40 people gasping – one male audience member sounded positively eviscerated and happy about it – and applauding raucously by the time the last syllable was spoken.
Chelsea’s fiancée, Kristen (surname withheld), read at the 420 show, and like Chelsea, this was Kristen’s first time reading, too.
Having both been in the audience at the Women’s Day show in March, they were somewhat eager to get on stage. When asked if they were excited, Kristen smiled pleasantly and nodded, while Chelsea looked like she wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into, and was eyeing up the exit door.
Of course, this may have been due to the cannabis consumed only moments before.
Certainly, there must be a rush that comes from the experience, more than any amount of pot could perpetuate. Chelsea and Kristen, who started out as reserved and uncertain before they dropped their robes, beamed proudly at the curtain call, almost giddy with the notion that they had just done that.
One might think doing something like this once in their life would be enough. For a lot of repeat readers, like Adora Nwofor, it’s “addictive.”
Kamikaze can testify.
“I have never felt so powerful as I do when I’m naked on stage in front of a crowd.”
“I feel like I’m ten feet tall, I feel like I’m a size zero, I feel like this Amazon woman. I forget how tiny I am.”
And though she may be tiny, standing at five feet, four inches, Kamikaze is as bold as her stage name suggests. Unabashed, and bursting into the room full of energy, with a dazzlingsmile, fuchsia-streaked hair, and sparkling green eyes, her goal both on-stage and off is to make everyone feel comfortable with who they are, without sacrificing who she is, or what she believes in.
By day, she works at SAIT in the student awards department, reviewing applications and selecting recipients of the various awards throughout the school year. But after-hours activities range from burlesque shows to drag shows, to Naked Girls Reading, although she admits that she has concentrated solely on the latter for several months.
When she debuted the Calgary chapter, she didn’t realize the impact it would have on the people who read, including herself.
“I started it, and it changed my life.”
“I actually didn’t know I was a feminist until I started doing this,” she points out.
Before Naked Girls Reading, the idea of feminism brought forth images of bras being burned by angry women.
Beyond being a “literary salon,” Kamikaze illustrates Naked Girls Reading as a more receptive form of feminism, and “a way for women to take back their voice, get back their power, and say something that means something to them.”
“I didn’t realize what a powerful thing this was.”
Her boyfriend of four months, Max Clarke, was, as she puts it, “properly vetted,” to ensure he is okay with her baring it all, and in front of strangers, friends, and family. Since they’ve been together, he’s been at every show in support of Kamikaze and her posse of political pinups.
“Max’s sister, and his parents, were at the Women’s Day show,” she relates one Sunday morning as she sips tea and perches on a tall kitchen chair at the table.
Across the room where he’s curled on the couch, Clarke nods, but doesn’t say much.
He doesn’t have to, and Kamikaze is there in the next breath. “And now his mom and his sister both want to read.”
How does something like this sit with Clarke?
“I don’t know if I’ll be at that show,” he shrugs with a chuckle, “but it’s fine. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I’m a nudist at heart. And at home,” Kamikaze confides, using her pinky finger to pull the delicate strap of her top from where it’s slipped down her shoulder.
This, of course, is within reason.
“If it’s just Max and me hanging out, we’re usually naked.”
Does that include a penchant for performing mundane housework in the raw?
There’s a playful glimmer in Kamikaze’s eyes as she flashes a genuine smile.
“I vacuumed naked this morning.”
Daring Denouement: Kamikaze says the reward for the time and effort put into the show is that her "heart is so full." She creates a space that is empowering and entertaining, and causes all who enter to think beyond the skin. (Photo by Keane Straub)
“I have never felt so powerful as I do when I’m naked on stage in front of a crowd.
I feel like I’m ten feet tall, I feel like I’m a size zero, I feel like this Amazon woman.
I forget how tiny I am.”
- Keely Kamikaze