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The Working Actor

Kiss and Don’t Tell?

Kiss and Don’t Tell?
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

Words of Mouth

Dear Michael:
I recently had an audition involving a romantic scene. I really wanted the role, spent lots of time preparing, and went in with confidence. During the reading, my scene partner, without warning, planted a kiss on my lips. I was thrown. Then he did it again later in the scene! I had no idea whether this guy was a reader or another auditioning actor. I prayed he was auditioning. If he was the reader, that meant that he’d made out with possibly dozens of other women that day! Needless to say, it knocked me off my game. My character was supposed to be head-over-heels in love, a condition that’s hard to portray when you’re feeling like you just licked a petri dish full of NYC viruses. What could I have done? It happened so fast I didn’t have time to protest. If I complain now, I run the risk of irritating the director and not working at a well-reputed theater. Or is this behavior not as rude as I think it is?

Sideswiped With a Kiss, New York City

Dear Sideswiped:
Whoa! Way off base. Whether he was reading or auditioning, Mr. Hotlips should have introduced himself and asked how you wanted to handle the scene’s indicated kisses. Completely rude.

I asked actor-director-teacher-coach Valerie Landsburg for her take. “As my friend Joel Brooks always taught,” says Landsburg, “there are four no-noes for auditions: Don’t mime. Don’t cry. Don’t kiss. Don’t die.” In a situation like yours, Landsburg says, there are choices. “I would have gone with it and used it to have a fresh, real-time reaction.... After, I would have taken the casting director aside and discussed what happened.” But, she says, it depends on you. “[You can] use whatever the experience brings up in the moment or stop the audition right on the spot and, in a professional way, explain that you weren’t expecting the kiss and that it threw you, being mindful to keep it brief so you can regroup and do the work.”

Here’s the part that drives me nuts. We’re all so afraid of offending or alienating or irritating that we tolerate all kinds of completely inappropriate behavior. You had every right to stop that scene and say (ideally with a laugh), “Whoa! Hang on. I don’t kiss strangers at auditions. Let’s start again, and just fake the kiss. I mean, we haven’t even been introduced.” And with that, you could have started again. No apologies; no asking for permission. Isn’t that what a big star would have done?

What many actors don’t realize is that, far from offending, that kind of dignity most often elicits a respectful response, because you’re letting people know you require respect. Don’t lose your cool, don’t scold, but take care of it in the moment (so it doesn’t gnaw at you later), and let them know in no uncertain terms that you’re not that kind of girl.

I encourage you to check out the rather heated “Kissing scene with someone I don’t know” thread on our Working Actor message board.

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