|Okay, man, she was breathing earlier. Thanks for checking.|
Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit this, but, I suppose at this time in my life, I have had my dignity surgically removed. I had my first stage kiss long before I had my first "real" kiss. Sigh. It's true. I'm not kidding.
Now, before I continue, I want to assure you I have since kissed a whole bunch in my life, and there is no need to feel sad about what I just shared with you. Okay, let me try to explain--- I have kissed a whole bunch, but I haven't kissed a whole bunch of people, it's just the people I've been on kissing terms with happened to kiss me a great deal. Don't get the wrong idea.
In fact, I have actually kissed more different people on stage than I have in real life.
Great, now you're feeling sorry for me again. Double sigh.
Yes, on the beautiful stage, I have kissed a wide variety of actresses from the time I was a freshman in high school all the way through to the second-to-last play I was in (which was the musical Sugar at Lakewood Theater a few summers ago). It truly got to a point where pretty much every play I was in required kissing, and, thus, became no big deal to me whatsoever. By now, it is just another thing to be worked out, like everything else in a play.
I bring this up now because my father, who has directed middle school and high school drama for years, is having trouble at present with a kissing scene for a play he is directing. That play just so happens to be a play I wrote called My Prom Date Was a Felon, which, in my opinion, is a pretty sweet and funny romantic comedy for high school students. Apparently, right now, there is a girl in his play who is uncomfortable about kissing the boy she is playing opposite because she's afraid her real-life boyfriend will be upset about it.
Ah. I've been there. Directing high school drama is rough, kissing or no. However, I will say that right now I'm entirely relieved that by some cosmic accident, I am putting on three one-act plays that have absolutely zero kissing in them. I didn't do this on purpose, it just happened, and it does decrease my stress at the moment.
Let's face it--- dealing with stage kisses for high school and community theater can be difficult. I can't tell you how many musicals I've seen where the handsome leading man will just finish singing their passionate declaration of love and then take the woman of his affections in his arms (with a good space between them) and proceed to give them a kiss that looks like the ones he was forced to give his Auntie Grizelda at family functions when he was a kid. And sadly, though I understand where this comes from, such a kiss does burst an illusion and take the audience out of the story, however slightly and temporarily.
My first stage kiss was nerve-wracking for me, no doubt about it. I was a freshman in high school, and we were pretty much left to our own devices to figure it out. Fortunately, she was my friend, and it wasn't that big of a deal. Since then, as I said, I have kissed a lot of girls onstage (and a few boys--- college), and it really is no big deal, while, at the same time, kind of being a big deal. However, I can honestly say that initial feelings of awkwardness have gone down in a big way over the years--- nowadays, when I have to kiss someone for a play or musical, I'm usually opposite someone who has had a great deal of experience and probably their fair share of stage kisses as well.
A few fun stage kiss stories from my past---- When I was in my first college production, Judith (see my most embarrassing story from a few days ago), when it came time to rehearse the kissing, Vic, our director, instead of giving us mints or anything like that, gave us both sour cream and onion potato chips before we commenced our kissing. This was smart--- you never know how many mints it will take to make a person's breath presentable, but if you are both aware that your breath reeks of sour cream and onion, it makes it a lot easier to relax and not worry about offending your partner.
Second story: this one actually represents the last time I felt awkward about a stage kiss.... I was performing in a play called Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story, and I was playing Tammy's first husband, Euple. The woman playing Tammy was named Lisa, who I had been in several plays with, and, had actually had a stage kiss or two with her. In this production, Lisa's daughter Brittany was playing Young Tammy, who was actually the one I was playing opposite during the wedding scene, and had to kiss. Britanny is a great girl, and I immediately took a liking to her during the rehearsal process of the play--- as my little sister. It was very weird stage-kissing her in that regard, and it didn't help that I had stage-kissed her mom in productions past. A little strange. (Just to make sure no one is too freaked out, Brittany was 17 at the time, and it was really just a little peck at the wedding).
I know exactly what my dad wants to tell his student he's having the difficulty with right now. I know, because I have said the same thing to students: "It's not you doing the kissing. It's your character." This is a fundamental truth, and, with many people in school or community theater, this is enough. Because it is true. Stage kisses only mean something in the context of the play, or, if the actors have crushes on each other in real life (but the crush has to be mutual in order for the stage kiss to mean anything).
The problem, though, for some people, is that they can understand this theory, but they have an argument that is somewhat valid--- it might be the character who is kissing, but they are borrowing my lips to do it.
So how to make it work? It's not easy, but here are some things I've learned over the years:
1. Make sure that for school and community theater that it is made perfectly clear at auditions that there are characters who will be engaging in stage kissing. Have it right on the audition form: "Are you willing to participate in a stage kiss, check yes or no". Now, of course, people who want a part are going to check yes sometimes, even if they are uncomfortable, but not all will.
2. Work it into the rehearsal process as soon as possible. This may be different from a lot of people's thoughts on the subject, but I believe it. Yes, you should wait until the first few have gone by, let people get to know each other somewhat, but I think it's perfect to start with the kissing as soon as you start blocking the play. Why? I'll tell you....
3. Stage kisses should be choreographed like any piece of blocking or any other activity on stage. As a director, BE SPECIFIC, especially early on. Tell them "this is a lover's kiss with passion that should last five to six seconds after your lips meet.... Pete, put your left hand up on her cheek, and stroke her hair with your right hand, Susan, place your arms around his shoulders and squeeze".... etc. The more you are giving specific directions, the more that the actors feel like they are not in any way taking any kind of liberties with their partner.
4. Before you block, even, it might be a good idea to sit with each actor individually, and then with them together, discuss the kiss, talk about what people are comfortable with, and how you want the kisses to serve the play, i.e., that the kiss is not gratuitous and that it is important to the story.
5. Sometimes, especially in large cast plays, it is good to rehearse a stage-kiss with just you and the actors alone first. It can make it much more difficult for some people to have everyone gawking at them when they are doing something that, ideally, should be kind of intimate. Sometimes. Use your discretion. I've done it both ways as a director, with varying results. Most people like being alone first, others feel like doing apart from everyone makes it seem more like a big deal than it should.
There really is no reason for stage kisses to be uncomfortable. If you are an actor who knows that you would be uncomfortable with it, however, please, I'm asking you as a director to refrain from auditioning from parts requiring you to have a stage kiss. No offense. There are plenty of wonderful non-kissing parts in the theater. And the last thing a director needs is to be two and a half weeks into rehearsal with a Romeo who keeps his Juliet at arms-lenght and presses his lips tighter than a drum when he sucks the posion off of her lips in the final scene.
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