On Saturday, September 21, 2019 from 11 am to 1 pm at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, LA STAGE Alliance hosted an Intimacy Direction Panel. Moderated by LA STAGE Alliance Programs Manager, Michaela Bulkley, with panelists Allison Bibicoff, Rachel Flesher, and Ann James (click here to read more about them!), we discussed the positive impact an Intimacy Director can have on a production and the rehearsal process.
“An Intimacy Director is a professional trained to oversee scenes involving intimacy, nudity and sexual content”, as defined by Bibicoff in her article What is Intimacy Direction? Other terms you might hear referring to this work are “Intimacy Choreographer” and “Intimacy Coordinator”. Intimacy Director and Choreographer are used within theatre and dance, while Intimacy Coordinator is in relation to film and television. During the panel, all panelists referred to the work as an Intimacy Director, and specifically focused on theatre, but it was mentioned several times that the job titles are still forming and many of the skills are transferable between Intimacy Directors, Choreographers, and Coordinators.
Panelists reflected upon a few different experiences in which actors or directors were concerned that choreographing the intimacy would diminish its authenticity, but then brought up the practice of stage combat. Onstage violence is precisely choreographed so that it can be done to look absolutely real without causing harm to the performers. The same is done with onstage intimacy. Panelists shared how choreographing the intimacy actually helps actors perform better because they don’t have to worry about their scene partner going outside the agreed upon choreography because they were in the moment. Because the intimacy was then built in collaboration with the director’s vision and the boundaries and consent of the actors, on closing night, everyone gets to walk out happy and healthy. “When actors feel safe, the art soars,” James added.
Beyond choreographing the intimacy, Intimacy Directors are a non-hiring, non-firing body in the space that advocate for the actors and help keep enthusiastic and ongoing consent. Flesher referred to the position as being a “power disruptor” because they can step in without fear of repercussion or punishment. James noted how important it is for there to be more queer folks and people of color in these positions because there’s greater disparity for these folks who already exist outside the margins of power, not just in rehearsal rooms, but in the world. Often resistance against this new and developing field derives from a place of shame, because admitting we need change means admitting there is a problem. However, James suggested we “lean in to healing, lean in to progress, and lean in to structural change within the performing arts.”
While Intimacy Direction is still an emerging field, it is important for producers to make sure they are hiring well-trained and recommended people, just as they would for any other designer or creative collaborator. Even if an Intimacy Director is not needed or not in the budget for a production, there are other ways that everyone can make the rehearsal room safer.
“What can I do?”
Any artist in the room can stand up for the safety and well-being of others. Flesher mentioned that even if it’s not directed at you, speak up for those around you. If you hear someone making inappropriate comments or speaking to someone in a way that you can tell is making them uncomfortable, all you have to say is “Actually, please don’t use that language.”
If you are a stage manager or producer, make sure to document everything and ensure that artists know the reporting structure of the production and company when it comes to safety issues.
Director’s can create a culture of consent and safety through checking in with their actors, defining consent, and making consent an ongoing conversation within rehearsals. Additionally, if someone is uncomfortable, they don’t have to explain why. Building trust takes time and intimate scenes take as much character development, trust, and directing as any other scene in the show.
At the end of the panel, the panelists and the audience discussed that there is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done to keep artists safe and create better artistic practices, even in University and emerging theatre settings. The hopes are that panels like this will foster more conversation and empower artists.