Opera Kissing

I had a hilarious conversation with a friend of mine on the phone the other night about what it's like to have to kiss someone onstage. We both agreed that it can be totally no big deal or really awkward depending on both people and the situation, and sometimes it can be pretty funny. First of all, there's the awkwardness of deciding when to first start actually kissing each other -because you usually have a couple of weeks of rehearsal in the room before you get to the stage. So, do you start kissing at the very first rehearsal and just get over whatever weirdness there might be, or do you fake kiss (or hug) until you get onto the stage and it starts to feel more like a performance? I' think it's easier to kiss from the first day so it's totally not an issue by the time you get to the stage. But then, how do I tell my romantic co-star that I want to kiss from the first day without seeming like I want to kiss them in real life? Usually I don't say anything and just go with the flow.

Then there's the situation where you are kissing each other and holding it until the blackout. When the lights are on you and you're onstage, you are in your characters, so it's no big deal. But when the lights go out, you're suddenly yourselves again, so how do you extricate yourself from kissing without it being weird? I've noticed I almost always do the same thing (which I'm scared to write about because I'm sure Brian, who is currently playing opposite me, will read this and he'll need to make fun of me when I unconsciously do it in our next performance). I always pat the guy (or girl if I'm playing a boy) on the back like "hey champ, good job there" as soon as the lights go off. Have you ever seen two straight guys hug and do the "straight guy back pat"? That's what I do. I'm surprised I don't ruffle their hair or punch them on the arm. It's my way of trying to normalize a non-normal situation I guess.

I've also had friends who told me that they worked with directors who told them "you need more heat - go make-out/ roll around in bed and get yourselves used to each other." It's something I could see theater people doing, but it would probably really freak most opera singers out. It's funny - theater people don't really see romantic scenes as particularly unusual - imagine what they have to do with each other in movies - but most opera singers I know are squeamish if they have to do anything too involved. I did one show (Lysistrata) where I had to climb all over a baritone, while both of us were pretty scantily clad, and he was wearing a fake erection that kept poking me and threatening to rip my costume (I'm not making this up - Lysistrata is about the women refusing to have sex with the men until they stop fighting war, so the whole second act has the men wearing these fake metal erections under their costumes). But that's nothing compared to some more modern operas I've seen where they have to actually simulate sex. Yikes! That would totally freak me out.

But the best kissing on stage story came from my friend who will remain anonymous, but who gave me permission to tell this story. He was a young guy in his high school musical, and he had never actually kissed a real live girl before. They came to the moment in rehearsal that he was supposed to kiss his leading lady, and the director, perhaps sensing his lack of experience, said to the two high schoolers, "You guys need to go practice kissing." My friend said it was probably the best day of his life, as they dutifully marched down the hall, shooing away the girl's little sister, so they could go find a classroom and "practice". After they spent five minutes making out, they went back to rehearsal, both a little, ahem, wiser. Even though it is totally not okay to ask two high schoolers to do something like that, the thought of this innocent young guy receiving his first kiss thanks to a particularly liberal theater director made me laugh hysterically. No wonder he became a performer!

(top photo is with Brian Downen in Cenerentola and bottom photo is with Keith Phares in Elmer Gantry)