Sexuality Neurosis: Sexuality Has Little or No Place in a Discussion About Acting

Sexuality Neurosis

One of the biggest acting class cliches are actors who say they are “working on their sexuality.” The fact that 90% of those working this “note” are females, so assigned from a male teacher, well, that’s just part of the cliche.

Disclaimer: I’m from Boston, we have Puritanical roots, and I’ve often joked in class that we New Englanders don’t talk about sex even when we’re engaged in it. I can barely say the word “sexuality” without wanting to barf. So I fully admit that the following is based in a big fat eye roll about sexuality in stage and film, or at least conversation about it. It just kind of bores me as a topic.  If I’m involved, well…. All is good. 

So, disclaimer disclaimed, let me say that I think actors (and possibly teachers) of all genders and orientation are too worked up in general about sexuality, and this leads to all sorts of fairly useless introversion and introspection and analysis about why one’s sexuality might be “blocked,” and then crazy exercises about how to “unblock” your sexuality – it all just kind of creeps me out, frankly. As a teacher I don’t consider this my business, and it seems very indulgent and possibly damaging.

First question: Does anyone actually believe about themselves that they’re sexy? No. Those that do are lying to themselves or, perhaps, are empirically incorrect. (Couldn’t resist.) No one thinks they themselves are sexy. That person over there is sexy. And that one over there. If someone finds us sexy, it’s gratifying but they’re wrong.  We unsexy mortals who actually walk the earth, rather than hover over it in a gravitation-reversing sexy energy field, might have a shot at it if we finally go through at long last with that P90XYZ / Pilates / Cleanse / Crossfit (PPCC Super Bod Package – only four installments of $199.99), after which we can peek askance in the mirror and wonder anew.

Next question: Okay, we’re evolved enough to know that physical godliness is cool for health but probably not necessary as a component in sexual appeal, and maybe it’s that whole “confidence” thing that is covered in chick mags and on the Oprah Winfrey Network. That way we can carry a few more pounds than we should and still qualify as sexy. Well, let me ask: Who is it who is walking around actually feeling so bloody confident about themselves? As in – on a regular basis?  No one. If anyone does, they’re probably employing some desperate mantra like the actress in Four Dogs and a Bone. Everyone doubts. All the time. Maybe there are blessed moments – like when those NBA players get into a rhythm and hit six three-pointers in a row. But I would bet there’s not a solitary second of those streaks where the player is saying to himself, “I’m really confident right now.”  They certainly aren’t thinking, “I’m in touch with my sexuality, too.” I think they’re in a zone and aren’t thinking at all. Perhaps a certain technical point about follow-through or hitting a certain spot on the floor to take the shot. Confidence is as confidence does. I would bet on an individual basis that confidence is actually believed in far less than we think by those who seem to exhibit it so effortlessly.

So here’s my point at last. Sexuality in story telling is technical. It is a script point – brought to life by actors who relate to each other in a believable way. It has no more or less significance than the assumption of an accent or physical trait. Sexuality as a story point is not impacted by nudity, by simulated sex acts, and most importantly we don’t need belief, confidence, awareness of your sexuality – none of it. We need you to behave in a certain way with the other actor so the audience believes there is an attraction, if that indeed is the story point. Going further – we can stage a love-making scene so it’s believable. Done. There is simply zero psychology necessary for the job. You don’t have to like yourself. You don’t have to be in touch with your sexuality, or not in touch with it. You don’t even have to like the other person. (Remember the stories about Debra Winger and Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman?)

No one bloody cares about your sexuality – its makeup, its components, its practices. No one wants to know your orientation, I don’t think anyone should be aware of any of it, unless they’re actually involved with you. (Those that do advertise their orientation do so at their own risk of having to surmount the age old showbiz obstacle – can a known gay actor play straight and vice versa? Is it a useful, evolved conversation embracing tolerance and blind justice? Probably not. Is it a real one that occurs in the world every day and affects casting? Absolutely.)

I recall a scene a few months ago where the sexual chemistry between the characters was an important element in the story. But the actress was sitting on bench and her legs were locked together so tight and she couldn’t move and it was a classic Where’s Your Sexuality? moment. And then it came to me – she’s worried about her short skirt. The stage is elevated, and she’s worried we can see up her skirt. So here was my fancy psychological critique about her sexuality: Get a different skirt. Or stage it differently so you aren’t risking that embarrassment. Done.

I think sexuality has little or no place in a discussion about acting. People think that the schwing factor that brings two people together in the real world has to be actually present to tell a story about sex, so they worry about whether they have enough schwing, are they in touch with their schwing, they should have done those schwing exercises….  and it’s just total crap. I’ve directed a few plays over the last 5 years, and stories being stories, they involved attraction and sex and relationships and all that, and not once did I say the word sexuality or have a discussion with actors about it. There were only discussions about how  believably to stage a story point to communicate the relationship effectively, in accordance with the tone of the script. Chemistries between actors were either there or not, but it didn’t matter.  Casting for love stories is crucial, and yeah they want to see if there’s chemistry. But I’d bet a lot of money that never was there an audition or test for casting a love story that involved a discussion about individual sexuality.

So lighten up, and please hereby free yourself of the sexuality neurosis.

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One thought on “Sexuality Neurosis

  1. Roz Cohn

    Yep. Whole heartedly agree. I’ve studied at so many name places prior to the BHP (which has been my school for the past 11 years) and sexuality was NEVER an issue. Sexuality is intrinsic to our DNA and has very little to do with much other than the fun and need we have when we’re having it. It’s basic stuff all on the living spectrum need to fulfill. No sexuality on earth can carry a movie, tv show, play. Moments may be sexually arousing, but they don’t make up the whole story, only fragments. There has to be more. What is sexy is fearlessness in doing one’s art – to me. It is in the eye of the beholder and can make you nuts. Let it go. Thanks again, Allen.


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