Now Or Never

Stripped: When vulnerability meets performance

Standing onstage, almost entirely exposed is the stuff of nightmares for many people. But Dan Augusta willingly stripped down in front of an audience. The goal? To take ownership over the conversation about his body.

Dan Augusta willingly stripped down in front of an audience, so they could ask questions about his body

Dan Augusta stands stripped down, arms outstretched, ready to answer audience questions for his part in Lame Is: a disability cabaret. (Michelle Panting)
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Standing onstage, almost entirely exposed is the stuff of nightmares for many people. But Dan Augusta willingly stripped down in front of an audience. The goal? To take ownership over the conversation about his body. 

Since he was a child Augusta has had multiple illnesses, many of which are immune deficiency disorders, and most of which have gone undiagnosed. These illnesses have littered his body with scars and noticeable features. 

"I've noticed that these visible signs of illness solicit a lot of questions, often inappropriate questions, or from people who have no business asking, and that's something that's bothered me for quite a long time," he said. 

In his piece for, Lame Is: a disability cabaret, Augusta stripped down to his underwear and invited the audience to ask whatever they wanted to know about his body. That opened up the potential for questions about the scar he has from a feeding tube, the central intravenous line in his chest which is below the skin, but visible, one swollen leg and plantar warts he can't get rid of. 

Years ago — when he was in his late teens — Augusta had to use a cane because of the proliferation of plantar warts on his feet. This was an especially difficult time in his life, and it was made all the more difficult by strangers asking him why he was using a cane. This period, in particular, was a major force behind what he wants the audience to take away from his performance. 

"I understand why the question seems simple and it seems innocent and innocuous, but it might not be. You never really know when you're stumbling onto ... and ripping the cover off something a person wants to keep under covers," he said.

"While I don't want to shame that curious impulse, I want people to consider that that's a possibility, that that specific question, or the timing of that specific question, might not be a welcome one."

The process of developing and performing the piece has forced Augusta to confront some uncomfortable topics that have followed him for his whole life. While it has been hard, he thinks he's better for it, and the process has been therapeutic.

"I had an acting teacher once say something that really stuck with me, and she said, 'Acting can be therapeutic, but it should never be therapy,' and there's been some time in this process where I've wondered if I'm walking that line a little bit too closely. But ultimately [I] do think I've been on the right side of it." 

One of the things Augusta has come to realize through his life and through this performance is that most people have things about their bodies they don't like, and that sharing these thoughts and feelings takes the power away from them, and gives it back to the person.

"I strive to be welcoming when others share their own bodily things, because that's the world I want to live in, where we all don't have this stigma, and we can all just talk about these things and be okay with them, because we see that others are okay with them too."


This encore Now or Never segment originally aired in June 2017