Ah, love. So many wonderful theatrical pieces are inspired by love. Yet pretending to be in love onstage, in front of friends, family members, and peers, can be one of the most challenging and potentially embarrassing things for a young actor to approach. Displaying acts of love, like kissing, is even more daunting. As teachers and directors, we know that a stage kiss is simply just a part of portraying a character. But students may not see it that way. So what’s a director to do?
Your most important job as a director is to make your show and rehearsal process a safe place for your students. Yes, students should be challenged, but these concerns aren’t something a student can or should “just get over.” When approaching sensitive topics like kissing, your students’ comfort level and emotional safety has to be a top priority. Here are four tips to help you approach stage kisses with your students in a sensitive manner.
1. Find out if students are comfortable performing a stage kiss.
One of the easiest ways to avoid potential problems is to ask students questions during the audition process. Rather than cast a student in a role that involves kissing and then find out afterwards that they don’t want to do the kiss, you can avoid that issue by asking students during the audition process.
I recommend creating an audition questionnaire that students can fill out and submit to you privately, rather than actually verbally asking students during their audition. I’ve used audition questionnaires to ask questions about a variety of topics, from sensitive issues such as performing stage kisses and showing stomachs/torsos onstage (for a production of Tarzan), to more mundane questions about previous dance and vocal training. A simple yes/no section for students to circle their answer is easy to add to a questionnaire:
Are you comfortable performing a stage kiss? YES NO
Simply asking ahead of time can help you to cast your students into roles that they are comfortable with.
2. Consider reasons why a student may not want to perform a stage kiss, such as:
- Never been kissed before / not ready yet
- Concerns about real-life romantic partners
- Concerns about their own sexuality
- Embarrassed about potentially being teased by friends
- Worried that they’ll be “bad at it”
- Doesn’t like the person they have to kiss
- DOES like the person they have to kiss (and potentially afraid to show it)
- Past or current issues between the students (students used to date each other; one student is another student’s best friend’s romantic partner; students are best friends and it’s awkward, etc.)
- Doesn’t know the other student / has never had classes with them
- Gap in age between students (a twelfth grader might not be comfortable kissing a ninth grader, or vice versa)
- Religious or faith-based concerns
- Family concerns (parents don’t allow dating, let alone kissing)
- Body image issues
These are just a few of the reasons why a student might not feel comfortable performing a stage kiss. Be aware that students might say that they aren’t comfortable performing the stage kiss but are not willing to say why. Don’t press them about it.
3. Think of alternatives to kissing.
Look at the scene critically. Is there an alternative way to approach the kiss, that students are more comfortable performing? Consider:
- Hugs / side hugs / embraces
- The kiss is stopped before it happens (another character interrupts, a musical number starts, etc.)
- Alternative angling (the scene is staged/blocked to look like they’re kissing but they are not)
- Removing the kiss altogether (is it absolutely imperative that the kiss occurs?)
- Kiss on the cheek rather than directly on the lips
- Kiss is implied through a blackout or backlighting
Your students may have other suggestions for creative ways to stage a kissing scene without actually showing the kiss. Brainstorm some ideas with them!
4. In rehearsal, approach the kissing scene with sensitivity.
- Before students block out the kiss scene, have them spend time with each other to get to know each other better. This way the students aren’t total strangers.
- Have the first time students approach the kiss in a private rehearsal with just the actors, the director, and the stage manager.
- Finding the balance of when to schedule the rehearsal will depend on your students. You’ll want to schedule the rehearsal later in the rehearsal period so the students have a chance to get to know each other better, but don’t wait so late that they don’t have enough time to practice.
- Break down the act of the kiss into mechanics–hands here, face angled here, kiss here, done. This makes the kiss less about the real-life emotions behind the kiss and more like choreography.
- When the kiss must be performed with the rest of the cast present, have a brief chat beforehand about teamwork and being supportive–no “woo-ing” or whistling or making a big deal of the kiss when it happens. Remind your students that the rehearsal space is a safe place.
Remember that for students, kissing can be a huge deal. Be available to listen to students’ concerns and do your best to help them with their feelings. Good luck!Click here for a free, printable one-page tip sheet.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Explore her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.