- New York Columnist
He pulls her towards him. They kiss. “By God, I’ve missed your lips.”
They kiss again, and she drives the kiss. “Your lips taste like—let me taste them again.” She does.
They kiss more than is required.
—Stage Kiss, Sarah Ruhl
Kissing someone onstage is tricky. It’s tricky if you aren’t attracted to the other actor and trickier still if you are. But perhaps the trickiest thing of all is what happens after a chemically charged staged kiss. A kiss between characters that lingers longer than called for that becomes a thing between actors—becomes a showmance—is a tricky and dangerous side effect of life in theatre.
More often that not, I think a showmance is the mark of unfocused and unprofessional actors. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened to me—it has—that’s not to say I don’t understand it—I do.
But the thing is, if when we step onstage it’s more for art than for ourselves, showmances (or the possibility of) are sidelined.
It’s easy to fall for someone you find yourself intimately and emotionally connected to during the course of a show. It’s easy to love the beauty and magic of creating a connection with a human being that only weeks earlier was a perfect stranger. When you think about it, it’s the most brilliantly concocted “love at first sight” scenario ever. And it is beautiful to connect quickly to another human being, particularly in our age of rampant disconnection. If as actors our job is to be open, to listen, to communicate and to commune with another human being, then it’s inevitable. We will connect.
This connection happens to be the very thing we’re supposed to do when dating to find a partner. We work hard, particularly in those opening days together to listen, ask questions, look in the other’s eyes and seek a genuine source of connection. And it’s beautiful. But that same beauty can quickly turn to danger in a world of make believe. Because it’s fake.
The difference between connecting as a character and connecting as a person is a matter of authenticity. And if there’s one thing showmances aren’t, it’s authentic. They’re make-believe. They’re an extension of a life created onstage in the safety and sanctity of lights, perfumed air, period costumes and eager audiences.
Consequently, most showmances end disastrously. They can result in heartbreak, betrayal and uncomfortable cast moments. They’re the result of actors who forget to step out of their character shoes and back into their own when the curtain comes down and the ghost light goes up. The romance and fabricated relationship between two characters onstage should not be confused for one borne in real life, between two human beings who’ve flung their masks to the side.
The part of acting that is difficult and beautiful and a wee bit risky is the tendency to adopt your character into your own life, to forget to close the door on rehearsal/performance and invite the relationships you’ve created into your offstage life. To not recognize the difference between rehearsal and reality, between performance and permanence is where actor training, and experience come into play. The methodology of acting these days, it seems, is to border as close to truth, reality and real life as possible. We’ve surpassed method acting and wandered into the realm of the blurring of lines between the craft of acting and the art of living. This is dangerous.
Again. Showmances can be beautiful. Sometimes they can work, I’m not arguing that. They can big and beautiful and exactly what two people need in exactly that moment. But the thing that a lot of actors forget is that that the onstage moment ends and all that remains is the life you walked in with hours earlier. Showmances can be fleeting moments in time when two people who need to connect, connect. But they can also be deadly. They can kill an established, tenured relationship that’s withstood flirtation and late nights at rehearsal and the life of actors.
When art is the priority, our stuff, our needs, the crap we’re working out in real life can show up in our art, and it should—when appropriate. But when art is the priority, and the show takes precedence over our personal needs (and from an employer’s perspective it should) we can see the life and relationships that we are creating for what they are. Fabricated. Fictional.
Of course there are instances and experiences that prove everything I’ve written, wrong. There are times that two actors in the same show fall in love offstage. And last. In my experience that’s the exception, not the rule. I subscribe to the philosophy and actor training demands that characters connect, live and love in the theatrical moments created onstage. That actors let their characters feel the flicker of romance in the course of a production and extinguish it at curtain call.
No, let me explain. She always falls in love with whoever she’s in a play with. You and—Johnny here— have kissed each other—let’s see—nine times a night, eight shows a week, four week run, two hundred and eighty-eight times. That’s not love. That’s oxytocin.
Stage Kiss, Sarah Ruhl.