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Antaeus Co. sheds clothes and puts on humor for fundraising video

'Tis the season for nonprofit arts organizations to make year-end pitches to potential donors who might be induced to spread some comfort and joy while perhaps locking in a nice income tax deduction.

The most naked plea of all is probably the one above from L.A.’s Antaeus Company, the North Hollywood classical stage troupe that last year launched a tradition of posting humorous year-end fundraising videos on its website’s homepage and on YouTube.

This year's title is “Naked Actors Need Costumes” – a message driven home by more than a dozen members of the Antaeus acting ensemble who make a full-frontal appeal to viewers to send money so the nonprofit company can meet its manifold needs, not least of which is cladding performers more appropriately.

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Strategic framing and blurring of critical pixels keep things decent, but co-artistic director Rob Nagle says the time-honored strategy of undressing actors to draw a crowd is having the usual effect: As of Tuesday the clip, debuting just after Thanksgiving, had been seen more than 7,000 times, or more than double last year’s funny but fully clothed video fundraising missive.

“Maybe next year we’ll have to remove the pixels” to grab even more viewers, Nagle joked.

Like any savvy theater company, Antaeus draws on its members’ particular talents. In this case the key contributors are Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine, a comedy team, who bring filmmaking as well as live-performance skills to the table, having produced a growing oeuvre of indie and online videos.

They scripted, directed and oversaw production of both the 2012 and 2013 fundraising videos, and in the new one they're among the actors present in the altogether. As in last year’s video, John Sloan, one of Antaeus’ trio of co-artistic directors with Nagle and Bill Brochtrup, offers himself as the butt of a closing joke – this time, literally.

Nagle said Antaeus lacks data-assessment tools to quantify how video viewings are translating into donated dollars, but clearly the exposure, so to speak, can’t hurt. 

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Anecdotal evidence includes a message from a member of the wardrobe team of the TNT television series “Major Crimes,” on which Nagle has appeared. Otherwise unfamiliar with Antaeus, the TV show crew member saw the company’s video and promised a donation, having had his funny bone tickled and, perhaps, harboring a professional aversion to seeing actors go undressed.

Something has been working on the fundraising front for Antaeus: Its most recent nonprofit tax return, for 2012, showed nearly $800,000 in contributions, more than double the peak of other recent years. Nagle didn't attribute that just to the humorous videos — he said an increasingly honed approach to grant-seeking has paid off, and that Antaeus expects to match the 2012 total this year. The company is known for casting two actors in each role, both for the sake of variety and to ensure that its productions won't get derailed when performers need to take nights off to shoot better-paying film or television roles.

Antaeus announced earlier this month that its fundraising consultant, Miki Shelton, has been hired as executive director starting Jan. 1. She succeeds managing director Kathleen Eads, who has landed a gig as executive director of a performing arts center in Jamestown, N.Y.

Antaeus also puts up comic videos to promote specific productions, with the content sometimes geared to amuse rather than to show the public what it can expect to see onstage.

The idea, Nagle said, is to dispel any notion that a company devoted to classic plays must be “stodgy and do dusty museum pieces. … We show 'em we have a sense of humor and we know how to be silly.”

Next up is Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls,” opening March 13 to kick off a 2014 season that also includes “Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White,” by Alice Childress, and the world premiere of “The Curse of Oedipus,” Kenneth Cavander’s one-evening retelling of the story of Oedipus and the ruling family of Thebes.

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