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”.




Sacraments and Symbols- Embodiment and Empathy

This post was originally a discussion paper in my Feminist Theology 2 class in my PhD coursework.

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stale,

After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,

“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,

After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,

“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Well that she said it to him then,

For dry old men,

Brocaded robes belying barrenness,

Ordain that she not say it for him now.

The poem, written by Frances Croake Frank, that begins Susan Ross’s chapter, is a beautiful example of embodied theology intersecting with art. The refrain of Jesus’ words, “This is my body, this is my blood” put into a woman’s mouth, in specific situations where we know women were present in his life, create vibrant, breath-catching images (Ross, 185-6). The final stanza starkly contrasts the role of the women in Jesus’ life to the role of those who follow him today. This entire chapter has helped me hone my own vision for my work, and raises interesting questions in the meeting of art, body and theology.

A theology of embodiment is at the heart of Christianity, and of a feminist approach to it. Feminist theology holds women’s experiences critical to its formation, and these experiences cannot be separated from the body which has them. Ross names this as a “feminist approach to sacramental theology: the incarnation, the centrality of embodiment and all that it implies, women’s lived experience, gender roles and ‘real presence’’ (186). Sacramental theology is typically identified with the latter through the use of tangible symbols: bread and wine, water, oil, hands, etc. All of these symbols are received and processed by a physical body. Ross, based off the work of Schillebeeckx, beautifully calls them “places where human beings live out in a symbolic way the life of the gospel” (191). Christ is the ultimate form of God becoming real as he took on a human body, to live in community with us. Sacramental theology is an embodied theology, and therefore is a feminist theology.

Ross writes of the women in the Middle Ages, “But most found in the Eucharist a confirmation of the sacred significance of the body which, to some extent, ran counter to the denigration of women’s embodiment taught by the church” (189). The Eucharist is a reminder that, even as it is a symbol, the body is also a symbol of the holy, of the redeemed, of the creation and the Creator. The Eucharist is a reminder that everything God created was named “good”, and that includes our bodies. It is a reminder that without a body to show love, and without a body to take it in, the sacrifice of Christ would not have happened. Embodiment is key to the Christian faith. And yet, many Christians try to deny their bodies and physicality. They particularly try to deny the agency of the bodies of others- by legislation, by judgement, by manipulating scripture.

These moments of judgement and dismissal come from an ancient Greek dualism that still rules in the Western world, the body is less than the soul. And yet, nothing in Christian theology shows that to be true. Ross writes, “A Catholic feminist perspective bases its critique on these dualistic conceptions on a retrieval of the Incarnation, seeing God’s taking on the condition of humanity as God’s own self-expression” (195). She goes on to state that, “Sacramentality grows out of human embodiment and its connection to the natural world, not in contrast to it” (195). As a language of symbols and practices, sacraments must be given, experienced and interpreted through bodies. Therefore, a feminist theology of sacraments “...argues for a closer connection between nature and history, body and soul” (Ross, 195). In this way, a feminist theology of sacraments could defeat not just patriarchal relationships in the church, but also current practices of disparaging science and destroying the Earth that often occur there, under the guise of “Creationism” or “trusting God to take care of it”. If we see ourselves and equal to and connected to the other, it becomes much harder to hurt them.

In education, we call this seeing “empathy”. It is one of the great gifts of practicing theatre and dance. When you take on a role, you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You gain a different perspective. And often, that practice changes you. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, considering the issue from a side that you are not on, or even considering an issue you didn’t even know was an issue makes that person who is different, that opinion you do not agree with, not quite so easy to dismiss. Ross likens this to a process Freud identified in young girls, called identification. She writes, “But women’s sense of ambiguity, reluctance to make separations, and tendency to identify with the other are closer to the heart of Christian sacramentality than the strict separations that have become pervasive in much sacramental theology and practice” (Ross, 199).

A feminist Sacramental theology is possible and sensible. In creating such a method, we value the experiences of the bodies that give and receive the sacraments. We value both genders, and all abilities, races and ages. An embodied theology sees all as created, all as good, all as equal. Ross writes, “A feminist theology of ordained ministry takes seriously human embodiment, in all its various forms, as the place where humans encounter God” (203). This is why we must have bodies, and this is why those bodies are holy. Which calls feminist theologians to broader fight than church practices: “The challenge of feminism to Christian theology is the expression of the full humanity of women and men, not only ‘in Christ,’ but in society ...” (Ross 198).


Ross, Susan A. (1993) "God’s Embodiment " in Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed. Freeing Theology. New York: HarperCollins.

Art Education: Process v. Product. Originally published 5.2012

April was full of events. Actually, most of them occurred all in 1 week! My high school students presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream and their semester dance performance. My students at Hedgerow performed for a fundraiser. Through it all, I was coaching, correcting, writing program notes, performing as well, and just generally hoping for the best. 

Weeks like that are the best and the worst. We celebrate as all of our hard work, scolds, suggestions and teaching become a beautiful final product. And, we worry that it won’t. Somehow, it always seems to “come together”. Yet, I’m concerned that miracle of adrenaline is something we take for granted. Do we, as teachers and directors, just trust it will “come together”, and then not instill in our students the importance of discipline, rehearsing as you would perform, and taking pride in one’s work, as much in the process as the product? 

If we do not encourage our students to be disciplined- prepared, on time, respectful of the process, their peers and their authorities- we miss a chance to prepare them for college and jobs, where they will not have us there to remind them. 

If we do not have them rehearse as they perform, we do not teach them that the arts, and most things in life, are group efforts. That the actions (or lack thereof) of one person has a ripple affect on the group, with consequences s/he may not foresee when focused on him/herself.

If we do not encourage our students to take as much pride in the process as in the finished product, we do not actually encourage learning. We are telling them that the end is all that matters. We do not take mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, rather we just focus on the happy ending (see chapter 1 of Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine). And in that, we don’t encourage creativity. If we cannot teach our students to try, to fail, to try again, to seek ways to improve we are not educating them. We are not creating a generation of resilient, innovative thinkers and doers, who operate with perspective and insight. We are simply teaching them to get to the end. By whatever means necessary. 

The arts in education should not be about just getting to the end- the performance, the final piece, the presentation. The arts in education should be a time to teach the value of exploration, to embrace learning and process as just as important as the finished product. If you never start, you can never finish. If you do not learn as you go, you will not end up in any place different than where you started.