When I was a senior in high school, I directed a play called The Yellow Boat about a young boy who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. The play was based on a true story and was written by the boy’s father.
I directed the show for a class at school, but for reasons I can’t remember, we spent part of our spring break rehearsing the show in a back room at the local community theatre.
We also got together to watch movies about AIDS and to discuss topics addressed in the play.
We may have been teenagers, but we were committed to our craft.
We spent a lot of time together. It was a small cast of six to eight actors. It was a decently intense subject matter but also creatively interesting as most of the actors played multiple roles. The show was also written in a fantastical manner fitting of a child’s experience and imagination.
Over the course of creating, and subsequently performing, the show, one of the actors developed feelings for me. I didn’t realize it and did not share the feelings.
A few weeks after the show performed, I visited a college in Santa Fe that I was hoping to attend. The night before I left, this actor dropped by my house.
He hung out for a bit while I was packing my suitcase.
And before he left, he kissed me.
I was caught totally off guard and said nothing.
Eight years later, I was living in NYC and was taking an acting class. My teacher was out of town and had asked another woman to take over for the night. This woman worked prepping non-actors (usually models) for soap opera roles and was coaching us on auditioning for soaps.
So not my world. But interesting.
Part of what she talked about was what to do if there was a kiss written in the audition scene. She was very clear that just because it’s written, we shouldn’t feel like we had to do it in the audition room. She recommended talking it over with the other actor and deciding together.
“Don’t do it if it hasn’t been discussed.”
She had audition scenes for us to practice and asked for two volunteers.
I raised my hand.
So did Carl.
I imagine we had a brief moment to read through the scene but not enough time to read it through together before performing it in front of the class.
There was a kiss in the scene.
No one said a word. Not me. Not Carl. Not the teacher.
Don’t do it if it hasn’t been discussed.
We sat in two chairs on the stage and began the scene.
When it came time for the kiss, Carl leaned in and went for it.
I froze. I didn’t know what to do.
Hadn’t we just been taught not to do a kiss if it hadn’t been discussed?!
The scene ended, and I turned and made a face to the class.
I can’t pretend to know what my face looked like, but it was definitely the outpouring of the discomfort I felt inside at having just been passionately kissed by Carl without having given him permission to do so.
But I didn't want Carl to feel bad. So I didn’t say anything.
The teacher asked why I made the face. I didn’t know what to say.
Because Carl just kissed me when you said not to do a kiss in a scene unless it had been agreed upon! was being screamed from inside every cell of my body.
I mumbled something about not knowing why I was making a face and kept the discomfort inside.
I absorbed all of it into my body.
The teacher never acknowledged that, based on the instructions she had given not thirty minutes earlier, there should never have been a kiss!
The class continued, and I just sat there with the weight of the whole situation vibrating through my body. I felt used. Unseen. Un-fought for. It was awful.
I was ill-equipped to speak up for myself.
While I am getting better at responding in situations like this, I still find that in the moment, my default is to take the emotional hit to spare the other person any possible discomfort.
But it doesn’t communicate my actual experience. Or preference. And it confuses the situation. How is the other person supposed to know that I don’t want what is happening if I don’t tell them?
What are my options? What is the better alternative?
What would you do?