What is "Intimacy Direction"?

Just over a year ago I began my exploration of Intimacy Direction. Which means that over the past year I have had a lot of conversations that start with the question, “What exactly IS intimacy direction?”

Initmacy Directors’ International defines it this way: “Intimacy Direction is the codified practice of choreographing moments of staged intimacy in order to create safe, repeatable, and effective storytelling. “

Theatrical Intimacy Education says that one trained in the art: “empowers artists with the tools to ethically, efficiently, and effectively stage intimacy, nudity, and sexual violence.”

So, what’s intimacy? Intimacy is usually immediately thought of as sex. However, intimate moments could happen between grieving siblings, or with intense eye contact across a room. Intimacy is personal vulnerability.

And, why choreograph it? This question also comes up, usually with a concern that it would look “forced” of “inauthentic”. However, fights are choreographed, and this is not often a concern raised with those moments. When something is choreographed, it means there is a level of accuracy to be achieved and maintained. Just like with fight choreography, personal safety is a mandate. Similar to dance choreography, in intimacy choreography, a person with training has created movement for the moment that: makes the performers look good, that furthers the story, that fulfills the director’s creative vision. Additionally, choreography is repeatable.

All of these elements make for story-telling that is safe for the performers, clear, and consistent. Communication with the audience is part of the goal of any performance, and intimacy choreography makes that possible.

Just like a dance choreographer has extensive training in various genres of dance and fight choreographers are trained on weapons and hand-to-hand, intimacy choreographers should have training in creating these moments for the stage. The two organizations linked above are doing that. I have been lucky enough to train with both.

The more training I do, the more I want to train and learn. And the more I see the importance of this work, in everything from youth theatre to ballet companies to professional theatre to ballroom dance competition teams. All of these instances require a performance of authenticity and vulnerability, for the communication of a story to an audience. A performer’s personal safety and professional integrity should never be compromised for that. Nor should the story or the audience suffer because intimate moments weren’t crafted with the same deliberation as the rest of the performance. And that is what an intimacy director or intimacy choreographer does.

This blog post is by no means comprehensive or definitive. For more information on this field, please visit the websites linked above. Also check out my Twitter timeline, as I regularly share the latest news on intimacy on stage via that platform. The button is below, or on the Contact page.

My 4 Least Favorite Words....

“It’s only a show.” “It’s just children’s theatre.” “It will be cute.”

As someone who has been creating theatre with and for young people for almost a decade, those sentiments, and many more like them, are not just a pet peeve of mine- they’re fighting words. Much like other adages and practices around pedagogy that I have taken issue with in the past (read: beginning dance teachers teaching beginners alone, women only being able to teach children in many churches), these make zero sense. I find them irresponsible and dangerous.

Yet, these are things I get told when I hold my students (and other children’s theatre productions, I’ll be honest, I’m judgey) to professional standards. Not in terms of performances, although there are some VERY talented children out there. I mean in respect to color-conscious casting and culturally appropriate show selection. Actually, I hold them to a higher-than-most-professionals standard, because there are some theatres and theatre professionals who do a TERRIBLE job of this. I hold them to a formational, educational standard.

In children’s theatre, we are encountering these young humans while they are still learning. Heck, I work in a school.  My job is literally to be an educator. As such, I want my students to learn as they are involved in theatre. And, not just theatrical skills. Rather, I want them to learn the traits theatre and the arts are so uniquely suited to develop: perspective, empathy, collaboration, ensemble attitude. Unfortunately, when we tell stories that are not ours to tell, what we teach is that other cultures are here for our entertainment; cultural appropriation is okay, as long as it’s cute; and/or that the performing arts are exempt from the standards we hold for culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy in our classrooms.

As theatre teachers, it’s really time to do better. Because, the arts are underfunded, under-appreciated, and usually just seen as outlets for self-absorbed humans.. When one of us does something that is irresponsible, questionable, harmful, or just unprofessional, you put all of us under that label with you. For the sake of our own field, we have to do better. For the sake of our students, we have to do better. As Tonia Sina told us in our IDI training, “when you know better, you do better”.

This mentality, this lack of ethical art, in the name of kids just having fun, is harming all of us- as educators and artists, and our communities. Can we please find a way to have integrity AND be creative? I really don’t think it’s impossible. I do think it will take some work. Some diligent planning of rehearsal time to be sure to include dramaturgy on the culture, time period, social issues of a given show. Some hard choices being made when a show will pigeon-hole certain actors into caricatures of their race/orientation/gender. Some long discussions with students on why we can’t, in our population do certain shows. Based on this past weekend’s Twitter explosion of a high school performing Alien, a discussion on copyright and creative ownership is needed as well….

When I allow “it’s just a [children’s] show” or the entertainment factor to be my driving force for selecting a show, I ignore my responsibilities as an educator AND as an artist. Now, I don’t think any children’s theatre director (particularly one in a school) sets out to explicitly teach children these things. Nor are they explicitly taught. However, our choices set these examples for our children and their families, and will help them develop their own approach to the consumption of art, as participant or spectator. We also inform their approach to Others who are different from them. We can teach them openness, inquiry, and to find common ground while enjoying differences, as art is a common expression of humanity searching for and expressing meaning. Or, we can give them Other as Spectacle, as entertainment or caricature.

When we, as the as experts in children’s theatre or theatre education, make irresponsible choices we undercut the power we purport theatre to possess. When we make a choice based purely on cast size or title recognition, we make it all the harder for arts educators in every discipline (not just ourselves in theatre) to be taken seriously. We fulfill the outside world’s stereotype of “Oh, you teach theatre? That must be fun…”. We denigrate our ability to do our actual job of shaping the minds and lives of young people.


Responsible, ethical choices are not always easy to make. It is probably easier to do the show-in-a-box. It is probably easier to do a show you’ve done before, the way you’ve always done it. But easy isn’t always right. Easy doesn’t always carry the integrity we know we are capable of.

This world needs truth-telling theatre. This world needs audiences who recognize the power of the theatre, and artists capable of wielding it. We don’t need “just a kids’ show”.