In real life, fighting and making love are intimate acts: outside of whoever you're doing them with, no one else exists.
In the theatre, representing either violence or sexuality comes with a set of paradoxes.
During stage combat, your first duty is to your own safety and that of your fellow performers. Your second duty is to make it look like you're trying to hurt them.
Staging love/attraction/sexuality, meanwhile, turns one's most private moments into a PDA.
Actors love to live as fully as possible through their time on stage. In And Bella Sang With Us, I get to deduce, chase, argue, mime, sing, drink, kiss, make jokes, make a fool of myself and others, and perform heroic deeds. I'm a lover, a fighter, a friend, and (as The Wire would have it) "good police".
I knew I'd ease into the fighting slowly, able to bring the aggression only once I'm sure I know the choreography and that no one's going to lose an eye. (I'm lucky in that Sarah May Redmond and I just worked together on He Said It. In fight scenes as in love scenes, trust always helps.)
On the other hand, I was startled to hear from director Sarah Rodgers and her assistant Ian that whenever Simon Webb and I are playing ex-lovers O'Rourke and Harris, our volume drops to a nearly inaudible whisper. As Ian put it: "If this were a film and we had microphones, it would be very steamy!" Simon and I are both stage animals and, once into performance, I doubt we've ever gotten a volume note in our lives. However, this is rehearsal, and this is different. The overt sexual content of this play is pretty mild – it's essentially a buddy cop story set in 1912, after all – but Harris and O'Rourke have a pretty torrid history, even if only the tip of it is currently bobbing above the surface.
I do feel that, particularly when we play lovers with actors who are strangers, there needs to be a period (even one run-through, if the schedule is tight) where it is just for us. We need to create intimacy... because erotic and sexual material, in the context of the theatre, is not generally about exhibitionism. It's not actually a PDA. It's a very private moment... shared.
Not to worry, though, Rodge: now that Simon and I have got the hang of it, we'll bump it up a decibel or forty. Next I need to focus on improving my hand-to-hand... while wearing a long skirt. Good times.
And Bella Sang With Us plays at the Cultch Sept. 9-17. Tickets and more information here.
My comments about intimacy and privacy are obviously not universally applicable: when it comes to the Kardashian family, for example, all bets are off. However, most reality TV stars haven't seen fit to turn their talents to the stage. Yet.