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Private Investigators

Laura Kepley and Deborah Salem Smith explore the ethical issues in Sally Mann's photography with the docu-drama, Some Things Are Private. logo
Stephen Thorne and Anne Scurria
in Some Things Are Private
(© Mark Turek)
In American culture, the line between nudity as art or pornography runs a delicate edge flanked by fiercely opposite viewpoints -- which is one reason Laura Kepley and Deborah Salem Smith selected Sally Mann's photography as the subject of their most recent docu-drama, Some Things Are Private at Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island. Mann's photographs, the most infamous of which are the images of her naked children, have long been a strong catalyst in this discussion. "One of our goals was to make a piece of theater that would start a real community dialogue," says Kepley. "When you look at a work of art, based on your life experience, you're going to see different things."

While the work is based on facts, the pair invented the character of Thomas Kramer, who ends up confronting Mann directly about both her photographs and motives. "It was really important for us to derail the traditional docudrama format," says Smith. "One of the advantages is we are able to explore issues that are much broader than what appear to be the questions raised in her works."

Kepley and Smith, who previously collaborated on another documentary theater project Boots on the Ground, include other important historic incidents where nudity or perceived sensuality was an issue in the play, diving into realms as diverse as the Vietnam War and the fashion world. Each performance is accompanied by a post-show talkback session after each performance. "This is ironic coming from us, but the Boots talkbacks were much more interesting than the play and we have high hopes for the Private ones," says Smith. "There really aren't places where a diverse group of people can come together and have a half an hour to discuss things they are concerned about."


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