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Stage kissing is odd

I've mused on this before, but every time I have to kiss someone onstage I'm struck by what odd things it does to my headspace. It's not that it's that hard or awkward for me, I don't have a ton of hangups about it. But it requires me to make a mental shift that, while not negative, is definitely an unusual experience for me.

The character I'm playing, Gabriella, is turning out to be a real vamp. Very attention-seeking, sexy, and physical. Plus I decided that as a humorous thing I could do the stereotypical Italian thing of touching people too much and not respecting people's personal space. So obviously I end up being all over the character of Bernard, who is Gabriella's fiancé. There's some weirdness to the fact that I'm kissing somebody that in any normal, real-life context I would not be kissing. I'm in a monogamous relationship, I believe my scene partner Nick is married, so there's this little mindset shift that has to happen. "No, in most circumstances this is not something you would do, but in this special circumstance, it's the appropriate thing."

And there's a tension between in the in-character and out-of-character communication. You want to do a good job as an actor, which means you need to be appear convincing and genuine to the audience, so you need to be appear to be comfortable and into it to the degree that your character would be. It's not going to work or look good if your personal inhibitions are holding you back. But whatever enthusiasm you're supposed to be showing in character needs to be balanced, I think, with making sure you don't seem EXCESSIVELY enthusiastic about it OUT of character. Sure, it may be human to get a little kick out of getting to kiss some cute nice person you wouldn't normally get to, but you certainly don't want to make that person think you're taking inappropriate advantage or crossing boundaries. I mean, that person's there to do a job, not be sexually harassed. Bodily autonomy is really important to me, as is not making someone feel sexualized against their will. There was a moment in rehearsal yesterday where we ran a part of a scene that had a kiss written into the stage directions, and it wasn't working quite right, so we had to run it several times in a row. I went in for the kiss each time, not realizing that its placement in the action was part of the problem, until our director Bobby had to tell me to just forget about it. I was embarrassed and apologized to Nick, as I didn't want to make him feel like I was making an excuse to mack on him. I'm slightly more accustomed to a kind of stage kissing where exactly what sort of romantic business will be happening at what point is laid out really specifically before it happens. Honestly there's too much to get through in this show to move that slow about it, but the advantage of that is that you never make the mistake of approaching the kiss wrong for the situation-- too enthusiastically, not enthusiastically enough, whatever. Nick has never been anything but nice, professional, and fun to work with, so I want to show him the courtesy of being the same.

To be perfectly honest, I think I would find it difficult to get all that "into" romantic stage activity in any case. There's so many things you have to worry about while it's happening, does it look right, am I holding my body right, what's my next line, can the audience see what they're supposed to, is the timing working out, blah blah blah, that you're just entirely too distracted and detached. I hope that is helping me keep the balance properly between a convincing performance of affection onstage and making my scene partner feel sexualized out of character.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mark Bourbeau
Oct. 3rd, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
Stage Kissing
Phoebe- Thanks for your bravery in raising this important subject. Two key points, IMHO, and a little elaboration:

First, this is as much a director's problem and responsibility as it is the actor's. Where it is not clear from the stage directions or obvious from the script, the proper approach to any sexual situation, including romantic kissing, should be discussed openly and frankly between the director and the participating actors, as well as, in some cases, the other actors who may be witness onstage in their characters. I realize in many cases this doesn't happen, and I think if the director, who is dealing with all sorts of problems, doesn't raise it, any actor involved ought to without shame, embarrassment, or fear of recriminations. Theater is a team sport, and all the team- cast, crew, and director/SM should be pulling for each other and to help each other.

Second, the nature and extent of the simulated sexual conduct should be defined by the nature of the two (or more) characters involved (not the actors, but the characters they are portraying) and appear to be be as mush as possible the result of the natural interaction of those characters at that time in that situation. Nothing looks more awkward to the audience than a false seeming presentation of a romantic encounter, and I see it all the time, even in "professional" shows.

But, the operative word is "simulated"- all acting, and the goal of its direction, is creating the illusion of reality to tell the story. (I just saw a powerful "Grapes of Wrath" at Trinity Rep in Providence, where the illusion of the characters' struggles during the dust bowl was created on and around a set that looked like a modern bar, with audience members, myself included, sitting at the bar tables on that set, which were sometimes also shared by the actors. The whole thing worked beautifully, including the simulation of not only kissing but the intimacy of delivery of a child under very difficult circumstances.)

So, it is up to the actors and director to create that illusion of reality, which takes not only communication but the willingness of each actor to be "giving" to the other; e.g., if it is necessary to create the illusion to "go in for the kiss," the "giving" actor responds as his/her character would to that, even "going in him/herself" where appropriate. This doesn't actually mean tongue down the throat, but sometimes it may be necessary to appear so open lipped against the other so as to make it appear that that is happening.

And that can only be the result of good communication between the actors involved AND the director. And, when it works, it is the most powerful theater.

Edited at 2013-10-03 04:04 pm (UTC)
Oct. 9th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
To a certain extent, momentarily ignoring notions of what does it look like, holding your body, what can the audience see, etc. and just going in for it can come across as more natural and more believable. And for just a few moments, it won't detract from what the audience experiences.

Now, if you're going in for a long snog, yeah, you want the audience to see the best angle and your positions to be right, because if you are going to have the extended canoodle, clearly you are trying to show/sell it to the audience, and you want them in that moment with you.

If you are just conveying a moment of intimacy... well, it is normal to not fully see what is going on between two people in a brief moment of entanglement. And conveying the emotion and the intensity is way more important than the audience seeing exactly what is going on with the lips. Look at old hollywood movies where they often shot this sort of scene specifically at an off angle to blur the fact that a lot of early screen kisses didn't involve 'proper' contact of the mouth.

All of that's just the technical stuff, and the above poster is right. Any time boundaries are crossed, there's plenty of reason to have a conversation about it, and about where the comfort levels are and what needs to be done how to get out of the scene the full context and message needed.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:

MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3

at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM


Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

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