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“How is everyone with kissing?”

I love teaching Emotion in improv. It’s one of my favourite topics. It’s interesting when teaching it internationally how different cultures approach the topic and where comfort levels are with expressing that with others on stage.

When our characters are expressing emotion on stage, we are expressing vulnerability as performers, revealing our own ability to emote. It’s such a beautiful thing to see on stage, particular when it feels sincere and committed to by the performer. However expressing emotion is not just about words, it’s about physicality too. And when that emotion and physicality is expressed with other performers, we are talking about getting intimate.

What is Intimacy?
To me, intimacy on stage is any physical action that involves contact with another performer or emotional dialogue that is invoked to emotionally affect those on stage with us. From handshakes to hugs, it’s all stage intimacy. Are you and your troupe prepared to be intimate on stage?

It’s important to set and be aware of other people’s boundaries when performing. Actors have a script, are blocked by directors and consent to every action and word on stage. Improvisers don’t have such a luxury so we cannot assume we have permission and we cannot assume that just because you are ok with being hugged on stage that your stage partners are the same.

Have “The Talk”
As a troupe a conversation on the topic goes a long way. Ask your troupe what they are ok with and not ok with/ Is hugging ok? Is a bear hug ok? Can we hold hands or can I put my hand on your knee?

The opening quote from this article was spoken by one of my co-stars when I was working rehearsing with an ensemble in the US as we teased out the boundaries of the performers on stage. It was not spoken in jest, it was genuine question. Incidentally during a dramatic scene in one of our shows, there was a stage kiss between two performers. It was a sweet moment, sincere and integral to the scene. We don’t often get to see it in improv as many performers will make a joke of potentially kissing or embracing a co-star, usually to the detriment of the scene. This particular scene couldn’t have happened unless we as performers had set our boundaries from the outset.

But once boundaries are agreed, commit to the emotion and commit to the intimacy. If your character is in love, commit to being in love. If your character is mourning, commit to being in mourning.

Not all of your performances will be with your troupe and we may not get a chance to discuss boundaries for example, before a show or a jam. Being conscious of people’s boundaries is important in these instances. So what we can do to prepare?

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Telegraph Yourself!
It’s that simple! Broadcast your move to your co-performers. Let’s take an example. John and Mary are performing in a scene and Mary is upset that her pet dog has died. John expresses sympathy and compassion for Mary and his character’s instinctive move is to offer her a hug. Rather than just reaching out and hugging her unannounced, John can telegraph his move in his dialogue. E.G:

“I’m so sorry about your dog, you are very upset. I’m just going to reach out and hug you to offer some comfort.”

By telegraphing the move in advance, it gives Mary a chance to process it and decide if she is ok with the hug without breaking character. That way the scene can continue and John knows whether the intimate move is welcome.

With practice and rehearsal, it will become instinctual on stage. Simple intimacy and boundary work can go a long way in maintaining safe nurturing space. It can also allow for rich emotional and dramatic scenes. The sky is the limit.

Now, who is for a hug?

Neil Curran

Article originally published on the Tightrope Dublin blog. Article written by Neil Curran.

Intimacy and Boundaries in Improv
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