Theatre Thoughts

Theatrical Intimacy

I played Lucy, the damsel in distress to Dracula’s villainous ways, in my high school’s production of Dracula. Playing Dracula was a boy who had been a friend of mine all through high school, and we had performed together several times before. Of course, there was a bit of sensuality that came along with doing a vampire play, but it wasn’t a huge deal. Until one day I remember being asked by the director to make a sound – a moan – when I was bitten by Dracula. As a teenage girl who knew nothing about anything, this was pretty much mortifying. I did it though. I moaned. When that sweating teenage boy covered in Ben Nye clown white and aqua net leaned in to “bite” my neck, I moaned the fakest moan I could muster.

The cast of Bay High School’s production of Dracula 2005, or 2004. I think 2005. (I am the girl in the middle wearing all white :))

I absolutely dreaded doing it every time.

It was a highly sexualized thing I was being asked to do at a very confusing age. My peers giggled and watched from the wings as I made a very private sound in a very public arena.

I felt embarrassed and confused but I never said a word. I never brought my concerns to the director or even to my friends. Most definitely not to my parents. I felt like if I said I was uncomfortable my friends would laugh at me, the director would think I was difficult, or my parents would not let me continue doing theatre.

I could tell you dozens of stories like this one; some mine, others from actors that I know. Stories where we were asked, as actors, to do something outside of our comfort zone on stage. Something we said “Yes” to, when what we wanted to do was scream “No” and run out of the room. Why do we do that? Because we are taught to always say yes.

If you’re an actor, you know how the story goes. You’re in an audition and the casting director asks you if you are comfortable on a horse.  Even if you have never even laid eyes on a real one, you are going to tell that casting director that you feel more comfortable on a horse than on your own two feet. You fib about knowing how to ride a horse because you know that if you say no they will move right on to the next candidate without any hesitation. You’ll figure out the logistics of the fib later, once the job is booked.  It is the same idea when it comes to an actor’s physical boundaries. If I say I don’t feel comfortable moaning onstage, the director is just going to scoot along to the next actor who is. Maybe not in my 12th-grade production of Dracula, but definitely in the professional world.

And let’s not even dive into the “casting couch” mentality that has plagued our industry from the beginning. That’s another blog post for another day.

When a fight scene is involved, the choreography is planned and learned. There are specific fight call rehearsals and several precautions in place to keep everyone safe. The actors need to know where all body parts are at all times in order to make sure all parties are kept safe. The choreography is worked at several different tempos. Usually starting slow and gaining momentum as the actors grow comfortable. Often times, a place holder is used until the actors are fully confident in the fight choreography (or at least this is how we should be handling these things). In many respects, stage kissing is very similar to stage fighting. So that begs the question: How do we safely tell these stories while still protecting the boundaries of our actors?

We are super fortunate to be living in a time where theatre professionals are looking at ways to take better care of their artists. I had the privilege to sit in on an 8 hour intimacy workshop at the theatre where I work. Not going to lie, I was mildly terrified when I imagined all the ~exercises~ that might be involved in an 8-hour intimacy workshop. My fears quickly vanished as the warm and welcoming environment of the workshop got underway. 

It was incredibly en- andicannotstressthisenough -lightening. I thought I worked very hard as a director to create an environment where everyone felt safe, but I learned there were areas that I could definitely improve. We learned desexualized blocking terminology that is a total game-changer, y’all. We talked about boundaries and consent, and I learned about self-care cues. 10/10 would recommend. (You can find out about the company that put the workshop on here.)

Why am I talking about this? One, because this workshop has literally changed the way I run my productions. Two, because of all the stories I mentioned earlier. We have got to do better. We have got to take more precautions to make sure our actors and everyone involved in these productions feel safe. The theatre is a safe haven for so many of us, let’s work to keep it that way. 

Listen to us chat more about theatre intimacy and our personal stage experiences on this week’s episode of The Stage Moms Podcast. If you like it, give us a rate and review on Apple Podcasts, so that we can grow our Stage Mom community!

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