Smooching is not exactly a lost art this Valentine’s Day; it’s more like in storage, along with many other practices, onstage and off. But it’s a good day to remember how much theater has revolved around a kiss, illustrated below by dozens of photographs of stage kisses from 1887 to 2020.
“Romeo and Juliet” is the one play in which we’re guaranteed a stage kiss — and it’s the first theater in which many of us saw one.
But kisses have been common as well in contemporary shows on Broadway, even in their titles — “Kiss Me Kate,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Kiss and Tell,” “The Kiss Burglar” — 26 in all. “Stage Kiss,” Sarah Ruhl’s 2014 Off-Broadway play, begins with the actress about to begin rehearsal; turning to her co-star, she asks whether he would mind if they would actually kiss: “You look young, I don’t want to traumatize you.”
Stage kisses are different enough from off-stage kisses as to require guidance. There have been manuals for some time, such as How To Stage Kiss (Set ground rules, pay attention to hygiene, make sure you know your lines) and Tell and Kiss: A Manual for Actors (Boundaries—to tongue or not to tongue: For me, this is an easy one: open mouth, no tongue…. Make sure your makeup won’t rub off on your partner. ..Use good sense. Be respectful. Speak up for yourself.”) Intimacy coaching is a growing vocation in the theater. Last month, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival hired Sarah Lozoff https://www.sarahlozoff.com/ as its first “resident intimacy director.”
Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and learn who is kissing whom and in what, e.g. Elizabeth Taylor kisses John Culllum in Private Lives in 1983, and Tallulah Bankhead kisses Donald Cook in Private Lives in 1948. Sydney Chaplin kisses Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, 1964. Faith Prince kisses Nathan Lane in Guys and Dolls in 1992. Caitlin Kinnunen kisses Isabelle McCalla in The Prom in 2018.