Moving from #metoo to #thisendsnow

Creating an environment at rehearsal where the actors feel safe to explore potentially dangerous play is a top priority for me as a director.   If I fail to establish such an environment, I know the actors will limit themselves in exploration and discovery in rehearsal.  

A few weeks ago, I started rehearsals for a production of Romeo and Juliet. This is a production with all college students, so I started the first day giving them an overview of my expectations as a director, and specifically offering them some thoughts on tools for self-care when balancing the rehearsal process with real-life demands.  I call this, “TLC for the Rehearsal Process and Beyond.”  

Due to the required fights skills necessary to pull off a production of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the intimate nature of some of the scenes, I requested a few extra days at the beginning of the rehearsal calendar for some specific ensemble training. I used this time to have all members of the cast – not just the actors who would fight on stage - train in sword fighting with an SAFD certified teacher. I also trained the entire cast in TIE's system for staging intimacy. Although not all the actors are fighting or staging scenes with intimacy, I thought it was best to give all members of the ensemble an opportunity to experience and practice these skills, in the hope it would establish guidelines for safety, create a common vocabulary, and expand the learning opportunities the show provides to student actors in all roles.

In the time since we began rehearsal, I have perceived a positive sense of camaraderie in the room, and the cast has not shied away from asking hard questions:  the rehearsal room feels like a safe place.   I was curious if in fact this was the cast's perspective as well; and, if so, what had I done has a director to help establish this feeling?  So, I took a voluntary, anonymous survey of the cast.  I asked, “How has the director established a safe environment in the rehearsal space?”  All of the actors surveyed responded with the same initial sentiment:


They felt the TIE work gave everyone the professional tools needed to establish boundaries, and taught them a respectable way to talk about their bodies and that of their fellow actor's as a professional. 

Another common response was the effectiveness of including all actors in the training for stage combat.  The performers felt that by including the entire team, everyone continued to build a common language for safety, and understood the importance of taking things slow while allowing the rehearsal process to build the pace.

The survey was presented to the actors before the Weinstein scandal appeared in the media.  In light of those vents, I find it interesting that it wasn’t the learning of the physical skills necessary to perform stage intimacy and combat that made the actors feel they were in a safe environment, but rather learning how to talk about safety, being able to establish boundaries, understanding body positive communication, and establishing as a regular practice how to give and receive consent. At this time, when we need to ask ourselves how to move beyond the inspiring #metoo phenomenon towards a #thisendsnow campaign of action, what these students learned are not only skills for rehearsal, but skills for life. I see the students carrying these healthy practices into their classroom work, and in their respect for one another outside of class.

If we can inspire students to establish these safe practices when it comes to intimacy in the theaters, rehearsal rooms, and the hallways of our training institutions, it will not be long before these safe practices become the norm of the studios and theaters of the most established producing organizations in the world.  Creating a safe process for the industry can start with just one rehearsal and actors eager to learn.



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.