Everyone Knows that Kissing on Stage is Weird.
Emilie Rasmussen 2.13.2019
Monday evening, I went to a theatrical intimacy workshop.
The Theatre Arts department at NMSU brings in several guest speakers each semester. I try to go to the workshops and talks that interest me. The workshop was led by a (magical) lady named Chelsea Pace, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).
Theatrical intimacy is always something that I’ve thought about. Intimacy is a common part of theatrical productions. Junior year of high school, I was in a really awful production of Hairspray where I played Amber. Amber’s romantic interest is a dude named Link Larkin, and they share a few kisses in the show. I remember feeling extremely stressed out about having to possibly kiss the actor playing Link (he was two years older than me and had a girlfriend). Senior year of high school, I appeared in a scene of our school musical in just a chemise. Although it was modest, and I was wearing both tights and shorts, I still felt a little weird onstage in what was supposed to be my character’s underwear.
Chelsea began the workshop by introducing herself and telling all of us that we had three ways we could choose to interact. We could work with a partner, furniture, or observe by ourselves.
“Your boundaries are perfect exactly where they are,” Chelsea told us.
The point of the workshop, she explained, was to teach us how to first approach intimacy in theatrical productions. By intimacy, she meant anything from the hay loft scene in Spring Awakening to making out onstage. Everything was about working with consent and having conversations with our colleagues about what we are willing to do and naming what our boundaries are.
The main exercise that we tried was meant to teach how to work with consent with a partner and physically establish boundaries. I feel that it was also meant to make us become comfortable with touching others in nonsexual ways.
Two partners shared their boundaries with each other—first with watching, next by touching, and then finally by saying what the boundaries were.
I did not have a partner for this exercise because all of my friends who were there went and paired up with other people. I sat down and realized that one girl was doing the exercise on her own. This made me think about what I’m comfortable with—what my own boundaries are. I realized that I would have been perfectly fine with performing the exercise with one of my close friends, but not very comfortable trying it out with the one girl. This led me to wonder about how I feel about intimacy.
Chelsea told us that when working with consent, it’s important to ask open questions—not just questions that have predetermined answers. For example, asking someone how they feel about something is more freeing for them than asking them if they’re “okay.”
Desexualizing the language around sex and intimacy onstage, I learned, is important because it makes things a lot less weird, much more specific, and more about exactly what actions are occurring.