Staging an intimate scene is all about open communication, says Phillip H. Colglazier, executive and artistic director of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.
That starts with the first read-through, where it is made clear that there will be intimacy of some sort involved between certain characters.
“It's not going to be a surprise to anyone,” he says.
Later, when the intimate scenes are blocked, it is usually just the actors, director and stage manager working through the moment. If the script calls for a kiss, the director will tell the actors where they should be standing, which direction they should face and even where the actors' heads and faces should be after the kiss so the audience can see their expressions. The stage manager and maybe an assistant will be present to take notes about the choreography.
Once the actors begin to rehearse those moments, they will develop their own report.
“You've got to allow the actors to get through that uncomfortable period and not put too much expectation on them and then see where the actors take it,” he says.
Then, the director can adjust the intensity and coach the actors further. The intensity of intimate moments changes from show to show.
“When we did 'Rocky Horror,' that's a whole different thing than doing 'South Pacific,'” Colglazier says.
Most of the Civic's directors have acting experience that has taught them how to handle intimate situations, though some courses that actors or directors take may address how to approach those types of scenes.
Students in Purdue Fort Wayne's Department of Theatre are taught about the artificiality of performing and that it is important for a professional actor to be able to take themselves in and out of a role, department chair Beverly Redman says.
Though actors tap into real emotions to express feelings onstage, they are combining that with artificial conventions such as projecting their voices for the audience.
Actors, especially young ones, run the risk of going too deep emotionally, Redman says. But professional training helps them realize that just because they are playing a scene where their character is – for example – sexually attracted to another character, doesn't mean they have to personally feel that way about the other actor.
“We also want students to feel like they can say, 'I'm not ready to do that in a scene,'” Redman says.
Open discussions with the director about choreography and expectations helps make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to performing intimate scenes, Colglazier says.
“It's just a part of theater, but it all comes down to making sure that everyone's feeling comfortable with the process,” he says.