The two 14 year olds were supposed to kiss each other on the cheek during a rehearsal for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the Casper Children’s Theatre.
But as the teens leaned in for the simple kiss, they accidentally moved their heads in the same direction. The two then simultaneously corrected to the opposite direction.
Their puckered lips landed together.
The two teens pulled back in surprise. They stared at each other for a moment.
Then the rest of the cast burst into laughter, ending the awkward shock. Ali Kopp, one of the teens in the surprise kiss and now a University of Wyoming student, remembers walking off stage and just standing there, processing what happened.
That had been her first kiss. She was mortified.
Kopp and her fellow actor Dylan Doherty were portraying brother and sister in the show, so they weren’t prepared for a real kiss — even though it only lasted an instant. But it’s funny to look back on now, they agreed.
“It was very embarrassing,” Doherty recalled. “Less so because everyone around was our friends, so we knew it was a safe place. But, it was very, very embarrassing.”
Stage kisses, in all their awkwardness, are part and parcel of performance for many of Casper’s thespians. Plenty of mishaps and even injury have taken place on local stages during smooches.
Most kisses are routine and just part of the show, however, actor Mary McPherson said. She grew up acting at the Casper Children’s Theatre and her first kiss was in rehearsal for a small student-directed production at Casper College of George Orwell’s “1984,” she said.
“I guess I was a little bit nervous but really, it just came down to the job,” she said. “Kissing just becomes like blocking or choreography. It just became more like a routine. You kiss and go on with the scene and that’s about it.”
Actors create a character and tell a story, so it’s more about the characters kissing than themselves, she said.
“Most actors know that if you are going into acting, you’re probably going to have to share a kiss or two with fellow thespians,” McPherson said in a message. “I’ve had to kiss men well over my age, as well as some of my dearest friends. My perspective on stage kissing is, actors are incredibly professional. Kissing becomes part of our blocking or choreography.”
Misses and mishaps
But it’s not just teenage awkwardness and first kisses that can make for an uncomfortable scene.
Clint Saunders was a nervous wreck before he had to kiss another woman besides his wife for the first time in more than 17 years. His co-star in the romantic scene was a woman who’d been married seven years. The scene required more than just a peck on the lips, he added.
They’d been putting off practicing the kiss, saying it was no big deal. They delayed rehearsing it until shortly before opening night of “Lunch Hour” at Stage III Community Theatre. But the day eventually came.
“We both kind of froze and touched our faces together like two junior high kids kissing for the first time,” Saunders said. “It was hilarious. And the director said, ‘That’s why we rehearse.”’
The scene was believable by opening night. But as Saunders leaned in for the kiss, he saw his co-star’s husband and daughter right behind her in the theater seats. The man reached one hand to cover daughter’s eyes, then covered his own eyes with the other hand.
“So I kind of lost my mojo for a minute,” Saunders said. “I came out of character and just went, ‘oh no!’ And it was right back to that awkward thing again. That was when I stopped looking at the crowds.”
It also felt a little awkward the night his wife watched the play, he recalled, even though she was the one who got him into theater. She and their oldest daughter told him it was just a stage kiss, he said. His co-star’s husband was great about the scene too, he added.
“I didn’t think it would be hard,” Saunders said. “It’s just acting, you know. But it was much harder than I thought it would be.”
Married couple Jenessa and Travis Jacobs had the fortune to kiss each other during “Boeing Boeing” about two years ago at Stage III. They didn’t mind smooching in front of an audience, but one kiss ended with Jenessa almost breaking her foot.
The script required several kisses as her character shifted from disgusted, to intrigued to “love drunk,” Jacobs said in a message. At one point, Travis’ character kissed hers three times to keep her from talking, dipping her and throwing her on a couch for the last smooch. But one night, she forgot to bend her knee during the dip. Her foot hit the underside of a table so loud that “everyone’s faces broke into an ‘oh,’” she said.
“It was still one of the best kisses of my life, and I had no problem walking right back on stage for bows,” Jenessa said.
“She forgot to mention I had to carry her back to the dressing room after bows,” Travis said.
Kissing in character
Actors sometimes discover ways to move past any initial kissing scene awkwardness. Sometimes it’s a timely joke or a series of pranks.
Dawn Anderson Coates and a fellow actor at Stage III production several years ago felt awkward about an age gap between them. She looked younger and he looked older, so they appeared about the same age, she explained. They pranked each other by eating garlic and anything else they could think of, “to make each other flinch,” she said. They’d smile at each other knowing what was coming.
During the last performance, Anderson Coates took a bite of raw onion before meeting him on stage. He didn’t flinch, at least not until later, backstage, when she heard his sputtering and “blegh,” sounds, she recalled.
“People said the chemistry was fantastic, when in all reality, I was like what am I going to kiss today?” Anderson Coates said. “Is it going to be tuna fish, or is going to be dog food? What horrible thing did he do before the show, and what can I do to get back at him?”
Kelly Walsh High School theater director Dustin Hebert recently prepared students for a kissing scene in the current production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” He’d told them a few weeks ago that they can rehearse it when they’re ready, he said. It’s the same process, whether the actors are students or adults, Hebert added. He makes sure the students know they’re acting, he said.
“I tell students that it’s more important to have a confident relationship with their characters first, so both parts feel confident with what they’re doing,” he said.
So he gives them time and a safe space to practice, he said. If they’re uncomfortable, they can work around it with stage kissing techniques that don’t require contact or even avoid it altogether, he added.
Junior Kirsten Roussel portrays Millie, her first role with a kissing scene. But she’s been in numerous plays and felt at ease with the idea, she said.
The show is the first play for senior Joe Gilbar, who co-stars opposite her.
In the scene, characters Millie and Jimmy move closer as they argue and tension builds. Then he suddenly kisses her.
The two teens always rehearsed it without the kiss. But on Monday, Hebert asked Gilbar before rehearsal if he was ready. He decided to go for it.
The kiss went smoothly. Roussel heard some “oohs” from cast members, but that’s a given with teenagers, Roussel said.
“There was a little bit of nerves involved with everything, just because it was the first time doing it,” Gilbar said after rehearsal. “But it’s just a kiss. People do it every day — it’s not anything drastically different. It’s not a huge deal for me.”