Intimacy Theatre

Intimate Theatre: Why?

[This is a new feature – a collaboration between Unknown Playwrights and guest writer Nicole Perry about intimacy choreography/directing.]

As an intimacy director, I get a lot of conversations that start with “What exactly IS intimacy direction?”

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This is the definition Intimacy Directors International offers. 

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

What exactly is intimacy? Let’s ask Google. 

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I certainly hope that guy doesn’t need an intimacy director for his relationship with Swahili literature

For us, stage intimacy isn’t just sex or nudity, it’s personal vulnerability. Intimate moments could happen between grieving siblings, close friends or lovers. One good part about Google’s definition is that it uses the closeness between husband and wife as an example.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon-Marigolds is ripe for an intimacy director. Here are Arielle Hoffman, Skye Coyne and Laura Turnbull in a Florida production


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Even Ah, Wilderness! (a play featuring Eugene O’Neill’s least dysfunctional and depressing family) could use an intimacy director. Here are Thomas Stagnitta and Christina Liang in a San Francisco production

Maybe you remember in high school how awkward that kissing scene was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It would’ve been nice to have someone take that awkwardness down 1,000 notches. The adult theatre needs this. 

If stage combat is choreographed, stage intimacy needs to be choreographed as well. When something is choreographed, it means there is a level of accuracy to be achieved and maintained. Think about how lame unchoreographed fights would look.

The grand-daddy of all intimacy direction needs: A Streetcar Named Desire. Here, a Korean production from 2013.
Here’s an interesting poster for a 2019 Korean production of A Streetcar Named Desire, ironically showing the different intimacies involved in the play. In fact, this poster could use an intimacy director. 

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 heightens the actors’ performance, that furthers the story, that fulfills the director’s creative vision. As a bonus, choreography  is repeatable. 

This is what happens when you lack an intimacy choreographer:

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 trains in various genres of dance and fight choreographers train with 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 importance of this work transcends 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. That is what an intimacy director or intimacy choreographer does.

Intimacy direction isn’t just for creepy old misogynistic plays. In fact this year’s revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune used an intimacy director. Above: Michael Shannon and Audra MacDonald.  

This is the first in a series of posts penned by Nicole Perry, a dancer, choreographer, actor, director and intimacy director. We let Bryan Stubbles have some minor input.

Please check out Nicole’s Twitter feed where she often posts about the topic.  

And when you’re super bored, please read our Theatre Horror Stories, watch monologues or learn about Unknown Playwrights.