Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Kiss is Still (Someone Elses) Kiss

My most enduring blog post ever, on stage kissing, continues to recieve questions and comments on a regular basis. In fact, it received two just this week.

One of them was unique, however. I got a question from soneone on the other side of the kissing situation; I heard from the partner of an actress that will have to kiss someone on stage in the near future. I have never been approached by someone from this angle of the issues before. I thought it deserved its own post. Here are the comments:

My girlfriend is acting in a play that calls for a wedding scene kiss. I've never been involved in theatre and the thought of her having to do romantic scenes did not bother me until she was actually cast in one. I understand that it is a portrayal of her character's emotions and not her own. She is very trustworthy and I know she doesn't have feelings for the other guy. I'm just having a hard time with the fact that it is still a real kiss, and I can't help but feel like I am sharing her with someone else. This probably sounds lame to experienced actors, but I have never dealt with this kind of thing before and I just haven't been able to feel secure about it. She plans to pursue acting as a career and I plan on staying with her, so I need to figure it out somehow, since there will probably be more intense romance roles in the future. I am sure this is a problem with many actors' dating partners/spouses who are not in theatre.
If you have any advice I would really appreciate it, maybe you know an actor with a partner who has gotten over issues with this. Her play opens in two days and I'm kind of freaking out about how I will react. I'm doing alright knowing she is kissing in rehearsals but I don't know what to expect when I actually see it happen. This is the best role she has ever gotten and I need to be supportive.

To begin with, I am naming this anonymous poster, "Pat", because it will be easier to use a name when referencing.

So I will say to Pat that you have the makings of the correct attitide. You do want to be supportive of your girlfriend as she pursues acting. And you do not want to limit her future roles by insisting she not kiss anyone, or by making her uncomfortable with doing so. I have worked with married actresses who insist on kising only their husbands, and scenes have to be rewritten, and it is just akward and time consuming. Fight this urge. She will not appear artistic or professional if she has that albatross around her neck. But you seem already to know this. Go with that feeling.

I also advise you against meeting the scene partner. This is also a very common practice in theatres in which I have worked, but it smacks of insecurity and domination. Don't feel you have the right to meet, talk with, or have dinner with whoever this, or her future scene partners will be just because intimacy will be portrayed in the scene. Your girlfriend has the right to create her art and do her work without the uncomfortable notion of you getting to invade that time and space. And even if she doesn't care, the person playing the partner may. This too is a large temptation. Resist it. It reeks of disrespect and you are better than that, I sense it.

I don't want to get too spiritual with you, Pat, but the idea of "sharing her with someone else" may be part of your issue. Do you love her because of the fact your lips touch hers? Or do you love who she is, what she believes and what she helps you to become? Because if it is the former, you may not ever feel okay with this. But if it is the latter, and I suspect that it is, you already know that nothing about her is being lost to someone else. Not that you own her, but she isn't giving herself away either.

You must remember what she gives to people when she performs, and how it makes her feel when she does so. The art that comes about. I would imagine that is a big part of what she means to you. Don't take the brush away from the painter, Pat. Because even if you say nothing, she will sense how much you don't like her stage kissing. That will make her feel guilty and you don't want that, I know. So the only solution is to change how you feel about this on the inside.

Yes, I imagine it can be somewhat difficult for a non-actor to get a hold on some of these things. But in the end, they are not impossible. In every love, there are things about the other person we may never understand. So take it from me, an actor of 11 years and counting; this is your girlfriend's way of creating and sharing something beautiful with the world. Be no more worried than you would be if she were a lawyer defending a sexy client, or a doctor treating a handome patient. In both cases a person must spend a great deal of time with someone, both are entitled to 100% privacy in their meetings, and both require intimate conversation, and in the case of the doctor, touching. I don't believe you would feel upset by these actions. Don't let the fact that sometimes her lips are involved in her work change that. They are only lips, after all. Acting, however, would appear to be her calling.

This play is coming fast, Pat. You may not be able to make the turn around in what short time you have left. Still consider what I say here. And yes, until you have a stronger hold on what all of this means, try to keep your worries to yourself. Your girlfriend needs you as she enters into the opening of the play. It is a draining, but rewarding process when it works, and it would be tainted a bit if she could sense your concerns. If you think it would help, don't go see the play. (It is not as horrible as it sounds, I know spouses who can't watch for any number of reasons.) Though if you do choose to go, see it as someone you love creating something they love. Not as your girlfriend sharing her lips with someone else in front of an audience.

I wish both you, and her, well with this opening. I hope my words have in some way helped you with your difficulties.


Josh said...

Thank you so much, Ty! I can't tell you how much I appreciate your thorough response in such a short amount of time. This truly has helped me out, and I'm sure it will help others with this issue who are looking for some perspective. I have really come to stronger terms with myself these past couple days, with your help as well as a few people who I have talked through it with. I think I'm ready to go see it, and the short amount of time may a good thing, since all of these helpful points will be fresh on my mind. I'm very glad I ran into your blog just in time. The play is "Our Town," I'm sure you're familiar with it. You are right about her love for art being a big part of why she is special to me. Your views on this and acting in general has furthered my appreciation of the acting world and what makes the girl I love happy.
So thank you again!

Ty Unglebower said...


I am very happy to hear that what I wrote was of some comfort and help to you.

It isn't easy, I am sure. Especially for someone who doesn't do the acting thing all the time. Yet you have proven that you are up it, and I commend you for you choice to be more at ease with what your girlfriend does, and will do.

I hope it all goes well, and thanks for stopping by the blog!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I appreciate this is quite an old post, but I was just looking for more perspectives on the subject and came across this.

My fiancee is an actress, and this recently came up for the first time in our relationship. She had to do a kissing scene in a short film. It ate me up inside, but let me explain a little bit. Its not a fear she will run off with him, or even that shes enjoying the shot (as I'm sure you've said elsewhere, I'm sure she enjoys most of the shots she films), but just an almost primeval feeling that what I was seeing was wrong.

I'm not an actor, but have worked on a few films in my time as a sound engineer. Including one with a quite uncomfortable rape scene in it. So I knew full well what it was like on set, how clinical it is (for want of a better word). I didn't take your advice, I met her co-star, and am very glad I did. I was also on set for the filming, again, I'm glad I did this. Not knowing would have just been a million times worse.
I trust her beyond doubt, but with something as personal as this any and all insecurities rush to the surface, justified or not. This is nothing about being logical, as I'm sure I've also seen other people post on other threads, its an emotional response, not a logical one.
When the kisses were not proper lip-on-lip ones I generally felt ok on set. Its just when the camera angle called for a proper kiss, it feels like all your insides are just gone. Its feels almost not real, and I don't mean in the sense of acting not being real, but that its not happening, and its like a dream (or nightmare). This kind of feeling needs to be understood by the actor in a relationship with a non-actor. I'm not saying that roles should be turned down because of it, but the other persons feelings taken in to account. Anything else is just selfishness.
We (as the non-actors) get told a lot that its "not real", and "its just acting" etc. And we generally understand that. But the actor has to understand how the other is feeling.

I want to support her as much as I possibly can, she has always supported me in my career (which admittedly doesn't involve anything as personal as this), and I want to do the same. But I feel your advice here that the partner should just be ok about this kind of thing is a bit selfish. You are right to an extent, I and in love with her, and part of that is her acting, and part of that is that she will have to, occasionally, kiss another. The majority of the time I just feel incredibly proud of her when I see her on stage or screen.
But that works both ways, the actor has to be sensitive to the non-actors needs. This is not a normal thing for any relationship to have to endure, and one party being selfish about it would not help. If you accept an actor in to your life you have to accept a certain amount of this sort of thing. But the reverse is true, the actor has accepted a non-actor into their life, so they have to accept that person has feelings, which may not be as easily controlled as the actors. (That is an actors job after all, to control emotion). You talk a lot about how the partner should just support the actor, but you are describing a one way street, very selfish. As I said I support her as much as I possibly can, but the she has to do the same.

I would say at this point that my fiancee has been very accommodating of me, even if I feel she doesn't completely understand how it feels, she will listen to my concerns and reassure me. I'm just concerned about non-actors reading your post and thinking that the feelings they are having are wrong.

Ty Unglebower said...

PhDutton, thanks for your comments. But reject your assertion that my position is a "selfish" one. My position is about accepting our callings as artists, and not allowing the discomfort of our partners to dictate how we follow that passion. Nobody should have to choose between their partner's peace of mind and following their passions.

I'm not judging your soul, but I remain committed to the notion that a respect and comfort for all aspects of a partner's passion is key to remaining together happily.
The non-actor must find ways to not only accept, but be at ease with a partner stage kissing.
It's clear you don't try to stop your fiancée from doing it, so you've reached the acceptance part. But if you're still this torn up inside, you have yet to reach the "at ease" part of the equation.
Nobody should have to feel as eaten up inside over this as it seems you are. It may be manageable now but such feelings can build over time. The more she kisses other actors, the more your discomfort could build. I don't want that to happen.
Yet that's something only you can prevent, not her. Of course I feel that actors have to respect the feelings and concerns of their partners as much as anyone else does. That doesn't mean, however, that all emotions are fair or productive. There comes a time when "respecting my partner's feelings" comes dangerously close to "my partner doesn’t feel good about my doing this with my life, so I’ll stop.”
As you say, being in love involves emotion. But emotion without reason is to me unwise and short lived. Being in love doesn't absolve us of being reasonable.

There comes a time where we must embrace without discomfort those things in the other that we don't like. To not just let them do it, but be happy for them as they do so.
I think you've fed your negative feelings by standing there watching the shoots she is involved in, and meeting the people she has to kiss. If that's what she wants you to do, so be it. I don't consider that a wise route, though.
In the end you're going to feel what you are going to feel. But I strongly suggest you take a look at why you feel that way, and ask yourself if there is someway to evolve beyond it.
Say you had a dream job where your wife had an intense dislike for something you had to do, (fly, where a suit, eat at the office, go to meetings with women.) She wouldn't stop you, but wouldn't ever be at ease so long as you had that dream job.
Do you quit the job you love, and for which you are paid out of "respect" for you wife's feelings, because "there is no logic in love"?
Perhaps you would, I don't know. And if that's how you proceed, very well, though I wouldn't expect everyone, including you partner to embrace the same approach. I can't approve of that sort of situation myself, as I think it's unhealthy, but again, you do what you do.
What I say in the end applies to all couples in all fields. I stand by it.
One final thing, an actor’s "job" isn't to, as you say, "control our emotions" anymore than anyone else's job is. As adults, we are expected to control our emotions no matter where we work. I can't go off angry or in despair at every setback on stage anymore than I could while in a board meeting. An adult's job is to control his emotions. An actor's job is to recreate them and use them to tell a story, and to invoke them in other people.
That’s what I try to do each time I'm on stage, and that is what I would gather your fiancée is also trying to do. For the sake of your own heart, and for the future of your relationship with her, I implore you to try to be more internally at ease with that. It can be done.
Good luck to you, and your fiancée, as you move forward on this issues.

Unknown said...

Non-actor mates should keep in mind, your mate isn't kissing this person because "you are not enough". They are doing this as part of their job/art/passion. Even if they actually do enjoy a kiss or are aroused by a romantic scene...they're not doing it because "you are not enough". If you really think your mate thinks "you are not enough"...you have bigger problems in the relationship than the fact that your mate's job requires them to sometimes kiss someone else. As for the enjoyment side of things...would you be upset if your mate got a professional full-body massage? That involves them getting pleasure from slightly intimate touch. Enjoyment can happen in physical contact, it doesn't mean "you are not enough". Or that they're going to leave you. If you really think your relationship is that weak, then that needs to be worked on.