For years, the theater world has used fight directors, to ensure the safety of actors in stage combat.
It has taken longer to embrace intimacy direction. According to the organization that promotes it and trains practitioners, intimacy direction is the codified practice of choreographing moments of staged intimacy to create safe, repeatable and effective storytelling.
“The intimacy director is more than a choreographer,” said Tonia Sina Ellis, founder and executive director of Intimacy Directors International (IDI), who coined the term. “He or she is an advocate for each actor and the entire ensemble.”
Ellis and Claire Warden, director of engagement at IDI and the first person to lend intimacy direction to a Broadway play, will be guest instructors at a three-day workshop offered by local theater Flying V later this month.
“Intimacy direction has gotten a boost from two different directions,” said Jonathan Ezra Rubin, Flying V’s managing director and the theatre’s fight and intimacy director. “One is the #MeToo movement. The other is a growing tendency for directors (and audiences) to expect realism in stage violence and intimacy.”
In the past, said Ellis, actors – especially women and minorities – were not infrequently subjected to coercion and violation when it came to acting out sexual scenes.
“A director had a vision of where he (usually) wanted to go, and that is what would happen; an actor might be afraid to say no,” Ellis said. “With an intimacy director, everything is agreed upon ahead of time, and a contract is created.
“An intimacy director would say, ‘What are you actually trying to do here? Are the actors comfortable? Or, maybe we can it try it this way,’” Ellis said. “Intimacy directors can also create magic tricks that make actors look like they’re doing something they’re not.”
The workshop will explore the work of the actor and stage director in theatrical intimacy. It will dive deeply into the craft and intimacy of design and help establish IDI’s 5-pillar method as a standard of practice in the theater, said Rubin.
In the past, noted Warden, there was a “gaping hole” in the industry. “So many actors were assaulted or made uncomfortable, especially women and people of color. The director might change something on the sly, and no one stepped in to protest.”
The intimacy director takes responsibility for the emotional safety of the actors and anyone else in the rehearsal hall, she said.
Many actors have horror stories from the days before intimacy direction, Warden said. A director would imply to an actress that she is replaceable if she said no in acting. Other actors used to see intimacy as part of the job, having to give up body autonomy.
“A lot of people were getting hurt, and a lot of them had no life experience,” Warden said.
Intimacy, explained Ellis, might be hand-holding or kissing, not necessarily simulated sex.
“Intimacy direction is about creating rules, so we don’t have to talk people into doing things,” said Ellis. “We’ve created protocols, which are now becoming mainstream. Actors have a voice.”
Anyone connected with theater may attend the Flying V workshop, but they must expect to participate in exercises from the perspectives of actors, said Rubin. However, intimate touch is never required, and modifications are always provided.
The workshop takes place 10 a.m.-6 p.m. July 19-21. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, 2nd Floor, Room D, Bethesda.
The cost is $400, and the workshop is limited to 24 participants. For information and tickets: