A Kiss is Just a Kiss
By Megan O’Connor
I’m going to break a very important etiquette rule and kiss and tell. Kind of.
When we were rehearsing for She Kills Monsters, the characters of Agnes and Miles had a kiss and our actors began rehearsals doing the kiss from one of the first rehearsals, if not the very first rehearsal. Since then, I would watch the actors who had a kiss—you know, like a creep—to see if they would start practicing it right away or wait until we were further into the rehearsal process.
It’s an interesting dichotomy to me, because as an actor, you’re portraying a character, a person who is not you. They’re inhabiting your body for a little while and in that way you’re telling their story. But it’s your body doing all the things they want to do. And according to the Acting Intensive, you need to find a part of that character that you relate to so you can make them real and present them honestly. So even the most unrealistic character will be recognizable because of the connection you find that will keep them grounded.
But what does any of that have to do with stage kissing?
In the past two seasons, I’ve watched lots of actors in lots of shows go through this and as a Stage Manager I was a bit confused why people would get anxious. I understand being nervous to kiss someone you don’t normally kiss, but some actors agonize over a stage kiss and dread the day it gets blocked. It never made sense to me.
And then I got cast in a piece with a kiss in it.
During the 2nd Annual Miscast Concert, Brian Maticic and I were scene partners in a cutting from Closer and it had a kiss. So much about that scene was new to me; it was an incredible intense and uncomfortable scene about a relationship breaking down and it forced me to try new techniques that I hadn’t ever used before. I usually rely on being funny and getting that immediate response from an audience, but this time I had to cry, I had to beg a man not to leave me (which I hope I will never do in real life), I had to beat Brian on the chest, and have my first ever stage kiss. All in all, it was a very unique and challenging part to play, and I’m so grateful for that opportunity. It will be definitely be a standout moment in my memories of our #magnificentseasonseven.
Brian and I have been friends for a really long time and we’re very close, something I will admit helped with our intimacy in that scene. I can look at him as someone I respect, admire, cherish, want to have in my life, and would be genuinely upset if he went away. That was what I used to connect myself to my character. I can understand actors who don’t know each other very well not feeling as comfortable with each other as I was with Brian. But every rehearsal I’ve sat in on has dedicated time to building the relationships between characters in the show, especially romantic relationships.
Due to the nature of the Miscast Concert, I knew we’d only have a handful of rehearsals so I wouldn’t be given the luxury of working my way up to it. Plus I was in this scene with some pros; my fellow Company Members, David Magadan and Mia Passarella, who killed it if I can add my personal opinion (and I can because it’s my column). I didn’t want to wuss out in front of them. Shelby Maticic (yep, Brian’s wife) was directing our scene and she said, “it doesn’t have to be a long kiss, just a kiss to change the power in the relationship.” So we got started and it was time.
And I hesitated.
Two things were running through my mind. 1) First stage kiss… weird! and B) Kissing Brian… weird! So I made eye contact with Brian, like you’re supposed to do when you choreograph any kind of physical movement on stage, and he looked at me and pointed to his lips.
The first one was weird. I won’t lie, it was bizarre to kiss somebody you don’t normally kiss. And then that feeling was gone, and it never felt weird again. I’m not sure how to explain it because I try to think of examples of kissing someone or something that you don’t have a connection with but even if it’s Grandma’s cheek on her birthday, you still care about Grandma. You feel love and affection for Grandma (hopefully), but this was just another piece of choreography. Like beating Brian on the chest. Or standing from the chair and crossing to him while yelling.
It was just part of the scene.
Earlier this year I was running the lobby during auditions for a show and I asked an actor one of the questions we ask of everyone on their audition forms, “is there anything you are unwilling to do on stage?” and his response was my favorite thing. He said, “anything that will compromise my relationship with my wife.” It was such an honest and lovely, thoughtful answer. If you know from go you’re not going to want to kiss your scene partner, don’t say you will. You get the chance to opt out early on. It may limit the parts you’ll be considered for, but that’s your decision. You need to know who you are and what you are comfortable with. Have conversations with your director. Even if you’re cool with doing a stage kiss, but you want the first one to not be in front of the entire cast and crew, ask. All they can do is say no. And everybody has their own opinion, as they should because it’s how you portray your art, but I think there are much more frightening things in the world of acting than the stage kiss. I don’t think there’s any need to be uncomfortable with a stage kiss.
Because believe me, it is so uncomfortable to watch two characters who are supposed to be in love share a tight lipped kiss. I speak for all of us when I say, gross.