From Faith Prince and Nathan Lane’s iconic smooch in “Guys and Dolls,” to Patti Murin and John Riddle’s not-true love’s kiss in Broadway’s “Frozen,” the stage kiss is a powerful tool for the theatrical actor. Here’s everything you need to know about this evocative act, from the significance of the stage snog to how to perform a perfect peck.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” Credit: Matthew Murphy
“A stage kiss is a simulated or actual kiss onstage between two or more performers,” explains dramaturg-director Dr. Lindsey R. Barr. Stage kisses are choreographed and rehearsed before being acted out onstage. Much like stage fighting still involves kicking and punching without actually involving combative behavior, stage kisses might look like the real thing, but aren’t representative of the actors’ true feelings about or attraction to each other—merely the appearance thereof for the purpose of the performance.
Like other gestures and movements onstage, the stage kiss is an important part of an actor’s body language. When executed well, it adds emotional depth and verisimilitude to a performance, allowing actors to better connect with the audience. But when executed poorly, it can break the audience’s suspension of disbelief. To keep viewers engaged and invested, actors must approach the stage kiss with the same level of commitment and professionalism they give the rest of their craft.
Are there alternatives to kissing onstage?
As discussed in our guide to onscreen kisses, there are some options for those who would prefer not to lock lips with their fellow actors.
- The staged stage kiss: In this technique, one actor cups the other’s face in a way that appears natural and romantic before drawing them in. Right before they connect, the former places their thumb over the latter’s lips so that no direct mouth-to-mouth contact occurs.
- Blocking: The director can position you in relation to the audience in a way that disguises what’s going on up close.
- A blackout: The technical director can cut the lights just as the kiss is supposed to occur. If you and your partner are positioned to suggest a kiss is happening, the audience will fill in the blank with their imagination.
- A different action: Your director may be willing to substitute a kiss for another physically intimate movement that conveys the same meaning, such as a loving embrace.
“The Notebook” Credit: Liz Lauren
Stage kiss do’s and don’ts
- Perfect your body language: A good stage kiss isn’t only about the meeting (or approximated meeting) of mouths—it’s also about body language, such as eye contact and the embraces that lead up to the liplock. Rehearse the scene as much as possible and refine your body language before taking it to the stage.
- Practice good hygiene: Show respect to your fellow actor by brushing your teeth before a kissing scene. Avoid contact if you have any communicable disease or condition.
- Request an intimacy coordinator: “In the last few years, the training and employment of intimacy coordinators has influenced the landscape of staging kisses and other intimate moments onstage,” Barr says. “Intimacy coordinators work with the actors on consent and best practices before even choreographing the scene. Then, the intimacy coordinator goes beat by beat through the scene to block and stage, just like you would any other movement in the show, with intentionality and with safety for all involved in mind.”
- Use tongue: Onstage kissing should be closed-mouth only, according to intimacy coordinator-choreographer Laura Rikard.
- Go off-script: Intimate scenes—particularly ones performed in front of an audience—can be extremely vulnerable. Stick to the plan, especially those regarding your and your partner’s boundaries, to avoid a potentially harmful situation.
How to kiss onstage
Read the script. Familiarize yourself with the storyline and characters so that you know what’s expected of you in a kissing scene.
Work with your intimacy coordinator. The intimacy coordinator will help you and your partner navigate the stage kiss as comfortably and sensitively as possible.
Determine the kiss type. You may find that you’re comfortable with performing a comedic, over-the-top smack but not a slow, passionate makeout session. Rikard notes that you and your scene partner should consider the following questions before ever getting physical:
- What are the given circumstances for the kiss?
- Do you need a long, passionate kiss or a short, sweet kiss?
- How do each of you imagine the kiss starts?
- How long do you think it will last? Three seconds or 10? (If you have different opinions on how the scene is to be performed, agree to try it in different ways.)
- When do you want to start rehearsing the kiss?
Set bodily boundaries. Decide what parts of your body you’re comfortable (and uncomfortable) with your costar touching. “There’s always, always, always multiple ways to tell the same story,” according to intimacy coordinator Mia Schachter. “So knowing those things for yourself ahead of time is going to be really helpful.”
Barr concurs: “When there is intimacy in a script, the actors involved in those moments will take time before each rehearsal where we’re going over that scene to communicate their boundaries and consent for that day. For example, an actor might be okay with their scene partner touching their collarbone one day, but not the next for any number of reasons.” Whatever your limits and preferences might be, it’s best to recognize and set them ahead of time. Be sure to respect your partner’s boundaries, as well.
Rehearse. Whether you’re really laying one on your scene partner or going for an audience-fooling cheek-to-cheek, it’s vital that you rehearse your kissing scene so that you become comfortable with the choreography and build chemistry with your partner. However, you don’t need to actually kiss your partner until you’re onstage. “For kissing in rehearsals, a deep hug while pressing each other’s cheeks together or making a ‘mwah’ sound can easily take place for the actual staged ‘opera kiss,’ ” advises actor Lucas Meachem. “It should rarely be practiced off the opera stage and never alone.”
Keep checking in. “Once the show is open, we have an ‘intimacy call’ where we rehearse the intimacy scenes beat by beat to ensure safety, accuracy, and consent, just like you’d do with a fight scene,” Barr says. Ensure you and your partner’s continued well-being by regularly checking in with yourself and with each other.