Kissing on StageBy Ty Unglebower • Feb 15th, 2012 • Category: An Actor's Advice
I write this on Valentine’s Day. A day which to me remains uncelebrated whether or not I am single any given year. However, I will pay at least some lip service to the concept of love today. Love on stage that is.
Unless you choose to severely limit your potential roles, chances are you will at some point be called upon to play a character who is in some degree of love with another character in the play. Or in the very least, a character who is in lust. (And I beg you to not accept a role if you later need to refuse to perform certain actions on stage. You hold up the whole production when you do that.)
The depth to which said love/lust must be portrayed by the actors will naturally vary depending on the scene. In my experience, few scenes sink a production faster than intense love scenes wherein the actors are uncomfortable. So unpleasant can it be for the unprepared, that the audience can practically smell the awkwardness. And it need not be the result of a particularly sexy scene, though that of course can complicate matters even further.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips I have given to actors of all kinds for years when it comes to creating the illusion of romance.
- Read my blog piece, “A Kiss is Still a Kiss.” It is the very first return on a Google search for “first stage kiss,” even after several years. I offer tips to get over those jitters that so often accompany stage kisses. (And not just when it is the first time.) Many people have found that post seeking advice, and, much to my gratification, have found it after reading my comments.
- Work on the scene in question early and often. Ask the director for extra rehearsal time with just the two of you alone right from the beginning. If the director cannot spare the time, (though that IS their job), take some time to go over the scene a few times without the director. The sooner you get used to portraying love with one another, the less awkward it will feel on opening night. Avoid the disaster of waiting until tech week to work out love/sex scenes. To quote a late theatre professor of mine, “At that point you might as well hold up a sign on stage that reads, “Hey folks, I’m a fake!”
- Get to know your romantic opposite. That is if you don’t already have a friendly relationship with them. Have a lunch with them sometime. Or a late dinner after rehearsal. Find some silly game like go-fish to play in the green room between your scenes. Anything that allows you to get to know one another off stage. Real-life chemistry is not 100% vital to creating on stage sparks, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier and less stressful if you could establish at least a casual friendship with someone before your character makes out with theirs? However…
- Decline “The Meeting.” The Meeting is the term I use for a specific get together outside of rehearsals. You are playing the opposite of an actress, whose husband wants to “meet up and have dinner and talk about the scene.” Don’t feel pressured to do this. I have seen it happen, though I have thankfully not been asked to one myself. Yet in the end, the security of another person’s marriage or romantic partnership is outside the perimeters of your duties in the show. You owe it to nobody else to attend a dinner that you would otherwise find very uncomfortable and intrusive, simply so the significant other of a cast mate can feel better about the art you are creating. It should be obvious that both you and their spouse are portraying characters, and if that is not enough, that is a matter for the spouses, not you.
It may bother your co-star. And the only real counter to that, (though it is a good one) is that “The Meeting” bothers you. Be polite about it. Be patient. Explain yourself as best you can. But do not open up your artistic process to someone with no connection to the production itself. It’s your role. You have the right to pursue it sans outside interference and judgement.
- Don’t Be Coy. It may be hard at first, but this is a play, and every concern must be addressed. Leave the goofy 9th grade tittering (or fear of same) behind, and ask the questions you need to ask, about kisses, hand placement, and everything else.
- Remember your creativity. You’re an actor. You know what it’s like to come up with ideas for fights, for monologues, for motivations. What is it about love that makes all that grind to a halt? You probably have more ideas about what would look good, what would make sense, and how to portray love on stage than you think you do. It’s just being checked by psychology. You have the talent to make love work on stage. You just need to drop the fear of doing so. Give yourself some credit. And give your partner some credit too while you are at it.
- Know, know, KNOW your character. It is the first step in the solution to almost any acting problem. I’ve said it here, on my blog, and as a director countless times; if you know who your character is and what he wants in any given scene, you will establish a beacon on which you can always focus when making acting decisions. Be true to how your character would have sex, kiss her husband, hide the true feelings. Work upon this goal, and awkwardness over subject matter will quickly fade.
Every actor, character, scene and production is different. There is bound to be a situation not covered by these seven tips. Yet by remembering most of them most of the time, you’ll be able to portray a character whose love makes his heart practically beat out of hist chest, and not an actor who is so anxious about the love scene that his own heart beats out of his own chest while he’s trying to work.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.