How I Became an Intimacy Choreographer

Following the Broadway World press release about my upcoming work with Measure for Measure Theatre company, I got a question about how I got into intimacy choreography. And it seemed like a really good 3rd installment to the intimacy series on this blog.

Vol 1: What is Intimacy Direction? Published in July.

Vol 2: Why do we have/need intimacy directors/choreographers? Published last week.

Vol 3: How did I get become one? Published now.

Past

I took my first intimacy for the stage workshop from Laura Rikard of Theatrical Intimacy Education in the summer of 2018. I searched out intimacy work, not because I had had a negative experience with a scene partner, director, or choreographer. Rather, I wanted to make sure that I, as a teacher and creator, had the best practices available, to do the best job, telling the best story, in ways that served my performers and audiences, that I could!

I had recently choreographed a musical for high school students in which one student was distressed about the onstage kiss, because this student had never kissed anyone, ever. And the director didn’t set it or offer any thoughts or even seem to want to rehearse it with them. Which I do understand, as intimacy with minors is a difficult thing, complete with legal issues on top of power dynamics and teenage hormones. So as the choreographer, I set it- mainly to ease the anxiety experienced by the students.

In doing this, I thought, “It is so weird that there is no standard for doing this!” So, I started looking to see who else was experiencing this and working on these types of encounters. I found TIE and Intimacy Directors International online, and read everything they had in the free resources. Shortly thereafter, the South Florida Theatre League brought in Laura.

I went to the workshop expecting it to be packed! This was amazing, relevant work, that people in all levels of theatre, not to mention dance and opera, would benefit from. It wasn’t. I mean, there was a good group. But for a topic I thought was so important, I expected more humans to be interested.

In that first workshop, I realized how much my own choreographic and performance experiences, and particularly my work in Laban Movement Analysis supported the idea of choreographing intimacy. I also realized that this was a skill that needed more learning and practice.

So, 6 months later, I enrolled in a 3-day workshop for performers, choreographers, and directors with Tonia Sina and Alicia Rodis, 2 of the co-founders of IDI. We learned about the Pillars of the IDI Method, the history of the work, and I even got to practice choreographing.

So, a little on the history. Tonia wrote her Master’s Thesis on Intimacy for the Stage in 2004. This work is not new, nor is it reactionary to the #metoo movement. It has, however, shown its relevance and importance even more as performers are speaking out against the abuses they’ve experienced in their respective rehearsal rooms. And again, this affects not just theatre, but dance and opera as well. But, Tonia was drawn to this work because she saw a need- we choreograph dances and fights. We coach text and dialect. But what do we do to prepare, protect, and professionalize intimate encounters on stage? And she found the answer to be “nothing documented nor consistent”. So, she set out to change that.

After my 3 days with IDI, I was interested in using and pursuing intimacy choreography as part of my creative work. In order to certify with IDI, one needs to have a certain number of hours of training with them. So, my next step was to apply for their 9-Day Choreographers’ Pedagogy Intensive.

I did, and was accepted! I got to train with intimacy choreographers and directors from literally all over the world in May. We were coached by the women leading this field in theatre, from regional to Broadway, and on TV and film. At the conclusion, I felt ready to take this work back to South Florida.

Present

Now, I’m hoping to apply for their apprenticeship program and earn my certification. I’m also going to Salt Lake City in November to work with TIE again. The two organizations have different approaches to the work, and I appreciate what each one has to offer me as a learner and a professional artist.

I’ve also been adding to my learning by taking classes and reading books on mental heath and trauma, conflict negotiation, and ethical issues surrounding touch and intimacy. This is definitely not a field that one can just learn a movement technique and call it a day.

Just this week, a press release went out on BroadwayWorld announcing me as the Intimacy Choreographer for the season at Measure for Measure Theatre here in Fort Lauderdale. I’m so excited to work with this company- they’ve shown a sincere dedication to offering relevant stories to audiences, while honoring the humanity of their artists. That they would be the first South Florida company to have an IC for a whole season fits their values!

Future

My company, Momentum Stage, is bringing in IDI for 1-day workshops in October. Registration will open after Labor Day, so pop over to the website and subscribe to our newsletter so you are the first to be notified!

As I complete my Laban Movement Analysis certification, I’m doing my final project on Intimacy Choreography, and am excited to carve my niche in this work and in South Florida.

I am actively pursuing other contacts, and would love to work with any dance, theatre, or opera company that finds this work valuable! Contact me! As I said in last week’s post, I got into this not because I think the performing arts are full of predators. There are some. But, rather, I believe our arts organizations are full of people who want to do the right thing, and tell meaningful stories. This work, and me, are resources for them.

Thanks for reading all about intimacy! If you found it informative or helpful, please share this blog series with your co-workers, artistic leaders you know, etc. And leave me a comment! Do you still have questions about intimacy- what or why it is, my story? Leave them in the comments! I love talking about this!

Why "Intimacy Direction"?

About 6 weeks ago, I posted about what “intimacy direction” is. But, even knowing what it is, some people don’t know why it is. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on that, based on some of the things I’ve been told about why intimacy direction is not necessary.

  1. Our director has been doing this forever, so we don’t need one of those.

  2. It’s just a fad, it would not be a good use of the company’s money.

  3. Actors should be able to do their jobs, and this is part of it.

  4. Our director is a woman, so we don’t need one of those.

1. Our director has been doing this forever, so we don’t need one of those.

I’m not going to make you hire me, nor will any of my colleagues. I’m a resource; just like a dance or fight choreographer, or a dialect or text coach. I’ve had specific training for this work. I built it onto my dance degree and over a decade of work as an actor, choreographer, and director. I’ve added to it with my own studies in Laban Movement Analysis, the ethics of touch, and trauma-informed teaching. I take my job seriously, and I think it’s a worthwhile field. If you need me, hire me!

2. It’s just a fad, it would not be a good use of the company’s money.

I recognize that most theatre companies do, indeed, operate on small and tight budgets. People donate to non-profits because they believe in the work they are doing, and/or the humans doing that work. For companies that hire an Intimacy director, it likely makes sense for who they are as a company, and their donors will get that, because they already believe in their mission. Also, if it’s just a fad, it will fade away, and then you won’t have to worry about this any more.

3. Actors should be able to do their jobs, and this is part of it.

Yup. It absolutely is. And our jobs, as members of creative teams, is to make sure that the actors have the tools and supports necessary to do their jobs safely and well. We have dialect and text coaches. We have choreographers for dances and fights. And now, we have intimacy choreographers.

There is another version of this comment that goes something like, “Well, they already know how to kiss/have sex/get out of bed in their underwear because they do that in their real life.” Maybe, I don’t know, that’s not really my business. Actors also sit, stand, and talk in their real lives, and we still think it’s important to make them rehearse those things in specific ways!

Also, acting is not their real lives. It is their job. The job of those of us in charge of steering productions includes creating a professional working environment, that our actors can walk away from at the end of the day and return to their real lives, without entanglements, trauma, or even a nagging “I wonder if that was really what s/he was looking for there”?

Audra McDonald worked with an intimacy director for Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. She didn’t feel like having an intimacy director was redundant or insulting. And, if it’s good enough for Audra, it should be good enough for all of us! Read what Audra had to say to Variety here. Check out my personal FB profile for a ton more links on the experiences of her and other professionals in working with intimacy directors.

4. Our director is a woman, so we don’t need one of those.

Oh. Good. Phew. Women don’t abuse their power and privilege. They also know all the things about all types of intimacy, inherently, simply because…estrogen. Done and dusted. Except, no. None of that is true.

RAINN does not offer statistics regarding the gender of sexual predators, but we can rest assured the number is not 0. Likewise, the abuse of power or privilege imbued in a leadership position is not specific to the male gender.

And, being a woman does not, in fact, make you knowledgable about all things sex/love/romance related. It’s like saying, “Our director is a man, so we won’t need a fight choreographer, because…testosterone.” My friend Yarit Dor, who does both intimacy and fight at the Globe in London (yeah, that one), just wrote about this today on her Facebook profile. So this is a global issue we could all be better at.

It’s also a very ridiculous sentence that reinforces the binary and gender norms. Don’t do that.

Pushback like the above comments comes from 1 of 2 places:

  1. Complete misunderstanding or a simple lack of knowledge of what intimacy direction IS and what it can bring to a production.

  2. Fear

The answer to the first is easy: knowledge. Besides the websites for Intimacy Directors International and Theatrical Intimacy Education, there are many, many articles regarding the use of intimacy directors for the stages of Broadway and off-Broadway and intimacy coordinators on set, particularly at HBO. For those who are members of SDC and/or SAG-AFTRA, those unions have published statements as well. I even wrote a quick hit on this for my blog last month.

The second however likely has no answer. Maybe these people are afraid that others think they are incapable of doing their jobs well. Or are afraid of losing power. Or are afraid of looking weak if they accept help. Or are afraid of being exposed as someone who has abused their power in the past. Or maybe they just fear change. Knowledge will help, but it likely won’t be enough. Until they look deeply at what they are afraid of and WHY, and deal with that underlying cause, fear will continue to make them reactive and negative about intimacy direction.

Part of the reason I was drawn to this work is NOT because I think the theatre and dance worlds are full of abusive predators trying at every waking moment to take advantage of the people they work with. On the contrary, I think our world is full of good people, who genuinely try to do the right thing and a good job. And having procedures and practices in place to help them do that makes their lives easier, and protects them from being lumped in with those who do abuse their power.

So, I’ll go on, doing my job, for whichever companies would like to hire me. Change, as they say, is inevitable. Or as Imgard Bartenieff said, “the only constant is change”. And I’m excited to be a part of it.

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.