Working on Intimate Scenes in Class

This past August I attended The Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was invited to present a demonstration for the Directing Focus Group's pre-conference in which I guided the audience through a series of exercises that I take all of my acting students through before they are allowed to work with a partner on scenes for class. Additionally, I also presented these guidelines as a member of the panel, “Acting Sexy,” sponsored by the Association of Theatre Movement Educators.

After returning from the conference many theatre educators reached out to me for this list, so I am publishing these tips here for all to access. While many of us have developed our own way of handling the tricky stuff in our classrooms, at ATHE, many theatre practitioners expressed that they felt these tips helped them articulate their own process to students.  

These guidelines have been proofed and approved by the Title IX office at the University of Miami. If you are unsure if they serve the guidelines of your program I encourage you to reach out to the Title IX office in your institution. This work is available in more detail through a Theatrical Intimacy Education workshop and will be part of our workshops (coming this spring). 

The Prep  

The following tips are the guidelines that my students learn and must practice when working on scenes for class.  

  • Accept that you have to work in an open, vulnerable and neutral stance.  Take a few moments to silently stand in an open neutral position (without touching) and take in your partner. 
  • Be specific and clear about boundaries – especially physical boundaries.  While we recommend establishing boundaries through a physical exercise that we teach in our workshops, boundaries can be reinforced verbally. We like to say areas that are off limit to touch have "fences."  This way the partner can physically visualize the boundary of a fence and remember not to cross the boundary established by their partner.  

  • Self-Care cue – agree on an word that will be used by anyone to stop the action when the actors feel there may be something amiss in the choreography or the if the actor needs a moment for mental self-care.  When the cue is  used by anyone, all action should stop and physical concerns and issues should be addressed.  If this is for a moment of mental self-care, allow the actor to have a moment alone and move on when ready.  Full permission from each partner should be given before rehearsal can start again. I suggest picking a cue line that is not related to the show, for example, "New Orleans" is not a great self-care cue if you are working on a production of A Streetcar Named Desire

  •  When new contact occurs for the first time ask for permission. Receive clear, affirmative permission before initiating touch. 

  •  Use “I” language.  Remember to offer ideas, do not direct.

  • Always work towards telling the story.  Clarify the objectives for physical action.

  •  When you find complicated physical touch in a scene make sure you repeat with a slow pace.  Continuing work at a slow pace until it is completely safe to move to performance pace.

  • Take breaks during the rehearsal in order to address each action with the following phrase:           

“As my character I want to (state the character’s intention),                                                             as the actor I am going to (describe in detail how to physically accomplish).”

  • Always keep working towards telling the story, do not allow yourself to get caught up in showing clever ideas.

  • Never leave the rehearsal without discussing what you achieved.

  • Be honest with your partner about you how you feel about the outcome of what was achieved in rehearsal.  Be honest about how you feel about the way you and your scene partner worked together.  If you do not feel you can be open with your partner immediately contact your teacher, director, or stage manager to discuss your feelings.

  • Make sure you are in agreement about how the scene is working. Never leave the rehearsal with unanswered questions for your partner. 

  • Journal the process.  It is important to have a written record of the rehearsal process.  In rehearsal for a production the stage manager will do this but in a private rehearsal for class you need to journal.  This will help you keep a clear idea of the intimacy choreography created during the rehearsal.  This will help you journal your process as an actor.  This will also serve as a record of agreement or disagreement about what was achieved in rehearsal that can be compared with your scene partner’s record if needed.  Title IX officials suggest always having a third party present when rehearsing scenes for class but because that is not always a possibility, a journal is the next best option.

TIE offers a comprehensive approach to staging and teaching theatrical intimacy. These tips are a great starting point for any class exercise. For more detail on these tips, reach out to Laura.

For information about our more in-depth workshops or general inquiries, contact us



Let’s TALK About that Kiss in Acting Class!

Welcome back to a new academic year. Everywhere actors in training are reading plays and working on that first scene presentation in acting class. A teacher may assign, suggest, and/or agree to a scene that you are super excited to work on. You rush from class, check the play out from the library, go straight to the scene, and there it is, the stage direction that reads, “they kiss.”

"they kiss."

Honestly, starting with a kiss is complicated, however, I am starting our blog with this because “how do I stage a kiss?” is one of the most frequent questions teachers, directors, and actors come to me with looking for answers.

You might be one of the lucky ones for whom performing a stage kiss is no big deal. Or maybe this is your first ever stage kiss and you have no idea how to approach it. Maybe you are just looking for a better way. No matter your perspective and experience, having a protocol for how to approach any staged intimacy more safe and fun.

Because kissing classmates isn't automatically safe and fun. Maybe you have a cold, or a cold sore, or you don't really know your partner that well. Maybe you don't want to kiss anyone for scene work. That's all ok! Seriously. 

COMMUNICATION is the key to performing all theatrical intimacy.  

The first thing is to talk about it. If you do not want to work on a scene in class with a kiss, tell your teacher. The teacher may decide to assign you another scene, or help you find another acting choice besides a kiss that will serve the story. There are always ways around it. 

If you do decide to go through with the kiss, the following guidelines will help you communicate with your scene partner, teacher and/or director so that you can perform the kiss safely, consensually, and stress free.

Before your partner try the scene, make sure you both have a strong understanding of the story, both of you are in agreement that a kiss is needed, and talk about what that kiss looks like. Here are some questions to consider:

o   What are the given circumstances for the kiss?

o   Do you need a long passionate kiss or a short sweet kiss?

o   How do each of you imagine the kiss starts?

o   How long do you think it will last?  3 seconds or 10? (If you have different opinions on how the scene is to be performed, agree to try it different ways)

o   When do you want to start rehearsing the kiss? (You can wait until the final rehearsal before class to do so, more on this below).

For all in class scene work, I have a closed mouth kissing policy. Actors simply do not have enough rehearsal time for preparing scenes for class to make a kiss open mouthed. Regardless, brush your teeth. 

Both scene partners should state where they are comfortable and not comfortable with physical touch during the kiss. Professor Adam Noble of the University of Houston uses the phrase “No Fly Zones” to identify off limit areas of touch for the actor’s body. You can also show your partner with your hands where you are comfortable being touched. Either way, be specific. (ex: I am ok if you put your hands on my shoulders, the cheeks of my face, my arms, and my hands.  Please do not touch my thighs or my ears.) No matter what they are, you need to accept your partner’s boundaries. Do not try to convince your scene partner that their character must let your character touch them somewhere they do not wish to be touched. There is always a way. 

You don't need to rehearse the kiss at every rehearsal but you should rehearse it at least once before presenting the scene in class. Have a few members of class watch the scene at least once before performing so the experience of kissing in front of an audience doesn't happen for the first time in class. This will make you feel less nervous and you will be more prepared. 

Talk with your partner about your current health! Legally, you do not have to disclose any medical condition to anyone, but out of mutual respect for your partner’s acting instrument, if you know you are not feeling well please choose not to rehearse the kiss until you feel better. If you have recently had the flu or a cold you may want to volunteer this information to your partner. They will appreciate you keeping your germs to yourself, and you can wait to rehearse the kiss. 

If you get cold sores and are having an outbreak, don't rehearse a kiss. You do not have tell your partner about this medical condition but you should be respectful of not possibly giving your partner a cold sore. Tell your partner you don't want to do a kiss (which is totally fine for any reason, anyway). Your acting teacher can help you find another way to tell the story without the kiss. 

So, you've talked about it.

You have set yourself up to have a safe, creative, and productive rehearsal. Few more tips:

Just like in stage combat, you should work slowly at first. Make sure you and your partner are working at the same speed. If you aren't sure if you are going too fast, talk about it! You can lose a tooth if you go to quickly. Save yourself the trip to the dentist and work slowly. 

Yep. More talking about it. Rehearsal is never over until you check in with your partner about how the kiss is working. Let your scene partner know if there is anything that feels uncomfortable. Or if they have bad breath. Be nice, have a sense of humor, but be honest. It is critical that both partners are honest about how they feel about the outcome and exploration of rehearsal.

Journal your rehearsal process.  Not only will you have a record of your growth and process as an actor, but you will also have a record of what was achieved at the rehearsal. Title IX experts suggest always having a third party present for intimate work. That can be tough, so if you can't partner up with another group, document! 

Just check in with each other. If anything uncomfortable took place that you feel cannot be discussed with your partner you should immediately reach out to the appropriate person (i.e. counselor, teacher) for support.

There is always another way. Many actors do not want to do kissing scenes in training. Not wanting to do kisses shouldn't limit your scene choices. Find stuff you love and then find another way. Be honest about your preferences and your teachers should support you. Maybe a kiss becomes a hug, or no touch with a long stare into each other’s eyes. Lots of choices can express the truth and core of the scene without kissing. So don't get hung up on it.

This might seem like a lot. 

You might feel it will take up too much time in rehearsal to talk about a little kiss. But it won’t. It does not take long to have a specific, clear conversation about boundaries. And it will lead to a more open and trusting relationship with your scene partner.   


Teachers and directors?

Try not to be too hung up on how you feel a scene must be performed. Allow yourself to be open to what a new actor can bring to the work. I have had students work on scenes where I could not imagine the characters not kissing and my students always surprise. If you trust in your ability to teach them analytical skills and good acting techniques that honor the story, I have no doubt your students will surprise you.