“Hello….can you tell me a little about theatre intimacy training and how it works?”
“I don’t understand how it works, can’t the actors just work it out for themselves?”
“I have my own system of doing things. Why do I need this?”
“I am traditionalist isn’t this going to get in the way of the actor’s instincts?”
“Who has time to add an intimacy call into the preshow preparations?”
“If the actor has that much voice, how is that not self-indulgent?”
People have lots of questions about our work with Theatrical Intimacy Education. And I understand where each one comes from. The #metoo movement has gotten everyone talking about what many of us have felt for a long time: that we have to create a more respectful work environment in all professions. The theatre and film industries are starting to acknowledge that they are lacking in techniques and skills for dealing with how to stage intimate scenes. But many are still unaware of where to learn these skills. Furthermore, many seem unsure about how to incorporate these techniques into their systems of training and rehearsal. Understandably, some fear that the work is going to stifle the creative and instinctual process of the actor.
Of course there are a lot of questions. The problems are old. The solutions are new.
Over the past year, I have met and discussed this work with practitioners at professional theatres and on movie sets, spoken with teachers in many different types of training programs, chatted with casting directors, and presented workshops. I have learned that there are just as many people who are resistant to, confused about, and/or oblivious to theatrical intimacy training as there are people who welcome it. The resistance seems to center around two main areas of concern: the first, some directors fear it will inhibit the freedom of the creative process; the second, some teachers feel that it will get in the way of traditional acting training.
I get it. But in the 2000 years of theatre history, we have not done enough to address how to create self-care for actors as they deal with the physical and mental effects of staging and performing sexual intimacy and sexually violent scenes. In the past 100 years since traditional studio acting training was created, we have not traditionally included this work in training pedagogy. So of course theatre artists are going to resist adding a new system of training into what they already do. The history for this work is short lived. It's happening right now.
This is an opportunity for professional development.
We are willing to do it with other areas of our work pretty readily. If we need better skills in helping an actor connect with the voice, we are open to taking a voice workshop in one of the many voice training systems or hire a voice director/coach. If we want to improve our movement skills, we do not think twice about signing up for a Viewpoints, Margolis, Lucid Body, Alexander, or stage combat workshop. Everyone has taken a movement workshop. Not everyone has seen what good intimacy training can do for a theatre practitioner.
This work is not about forcing any actor, director, teacher, or producer to throw out their creative process, it is about helping everyone improve what they already do well.
Theatrical Intimacy Education seeks to help the industry improve the work and training environment, not only when staging intimate scenes and sexually violent scenes, but in how we treat each other in rehearsal and on set. We can help practitioners understand how to have healthy discussions about positive body image, how to discuss boundaries without judgment, understand empowered consent, and teach in a safe, supportive environment. That's what we do.
Recently, I was consulting with a chair of a top ranked theatre program, and he informed me that he wanted me to create a policy stating that all his performance teachers had to use the work we teach in Theatrical Intimacy Education. I told him to slow down. Forcing teachers to use any technique won't end well for anyone. Instead, I told him to make opportunities for his faculty to train in this work. That he needed to seek funding for that training. He could make change in his department by creating opportunities for professional development. He agreed.
We want to help you incorporate this work into what you already do. We want you to see how it serves the repetition work in the Meisner technique, the physical action ideals in Adler, the sensory work in Strasberg, the composition exercises in Viewpoints, the tremoring of the Fitzmaurice technique, the spontaneity of improvisation. Whatever techniques you work with, we are going to help you further develop an even more healthy practice that gives the performer agency and voice without sacrificing the work. That's why we're here.
The time for readily available access to this type of professional development is long overdue, but now there is no excuse. There are a number of organizations doing this work, all listed on our resource page. Find the right training for you and go. This is the beginning of a ground breaking, positive movement in our industry. Feel free to reach out with any thoughts, questions, and concerns. After all, we are all doing the best we can and learning takes time.
We are here for you. Let us help.
Creating an environment at rehearsal where the actors feel safe to explore potentially dangerous play is a top priority for me as a director. If I fail to establish such an environment, I know the actors will limit themselves in exploration and discovery in rehearsal.
A few weeks ago, I started rehearsals for a production of Romeo and Juliet. This is a production with all college students, so I started the first day giving them an overview of my expectations as a director, and specifically offering them some thoughts on tools for self-care when balancing the rehearsal process with real-life demands. I call this, “TLC for the Rehearsal Process and Beyond.”
Due to the required fights skills necessary to pull off a production of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the intimate nature of some of the scenes, I requested a few extra days at the beginning of the rehearsal calendar for some specific ensemble training. I used this time to have all members of the cast – not just the actors who would fight on stage - train in sword fighting with an SAFD certified teacher. I also trained the entire cast in TIE's system for staging intimacy. Although not all the actors are fighting or staging scenes with intimacy, I thought it was best to give all members of the ensemble an opportunity to experience and practice these skills, in the hope it would establish guidelines for safety, create a common vocabulary, and expand the learning opportunities the show provides to student actors in all roles.
In the time since we began rehearsal, I have perceived a positive sense of camaraderie in the room, and the cast has not shied away from asking hard questions: the rehearsal room feels like a safe place. I was curious if in fact this was the cast's perspective as well; and, if so, what had I done has a director to help establish this feeling? So, I took a voluntary, anonymous survey of the cast. I asked, “How has the director established a safe environment in the rehearsal space?” All of the actors surveyed responded with the same initial sentiment:
PROVIDING GUIDELINES FOR STAGING INTIMACY WAS THE REASON THEY FELT MOST SAFE IN THE ROOM.
They felt the TIE work gave everyone the professional tools needed to establish boundaries, and taught them a respectable way to talk about their bodies and that of their fellow actor's as a professional.
Another common response was the effectiveness of including all actors in the training for stage combat. The performers felt that by including the entire team, everyone continued to build a common language for safety, and understood the importance of taking things slow while allowing the rehearsal process to build the pace.
The survey was presented to the actors before the Weinstein scandal appeared in the media. In light of those vents, I find it interesting that it wasn’t the learning of the physical skills necessary to perform stage intimacy and combat that made the actors feel they were in a safe environment, but rather learning how to talk about safety, being able to establish boundaries, understanding body positive communication, and establishing as a regular practice how to give and receive consent. At this time, when we need to ask ourselves how to move beyond the inspiring #metoo phenomenon towards a #thisendsnow campaign of action, what these students learned are not only skills for rehearsal, but skills for life. I see the students carrying these healthy practices into their classroom work, and in their respect for one another outside of class.
If we can inspire students to establish these safe practices when it comes to intimacy in the theaters, rehearsal rooms, and the hallways of our training institutions, it will not be long before these safe practices become the norm of the studios and theaters of the most established producing organizations in the world. Creating a safe process for the industry can start with just one rehearsal and actors eager to learn.
Written with Jason Davids Scott, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Film, Arizona State University
It’s hard to write about the headlines in the news.
Not because we are unaccustomed to headlines about people abusing their power in performance industries, or immune to the stories about careers thwarted, bodies damaged, and lives ruined because of pervasive, unchallenged, and ignored acts of sexual misconduct, humiliation, and abuse.
But we struggle to write because it seems so lacking to make a statement about abuses in the industry that reduce the problem to any one person, or any one company. Focusing one’s wrath on an individual producer, director, executive, or other empowered individual only seems to serve to make each case seem so exceptional, so much a product of intentions and mistakes made by an individual and a small circle of people around them. While such expressions of outrage may be cathartic, the ultimate impact may be unproductive.
Because we all know: this stuff happens all the time. It’s probably happening right now, and today’s headlines about a famous person finally being held accountable for unconscionable and indefensible abuses of power seem to be little deterrence to others who commit such acts far removed from the spotlight or the vision of a journalist investigating a story.
We focus on ethical practices on discussing, staging, and producing sexual intimacy in educational environments because we are tired of the headlines about the industries the students we train are preparing to enter, and we want to make a long-term impact.
We focus our work in academia, because we want to have the opportunity to address the problem at the root: teaching people best practices results in best practices, while ignoring worst practices only perpetuates the systemic invisibility of everyday abuses of power.
In our workshops, classrooms and rehearsal rooms, we see the producers, directors, choreographers, and performers of tomorrow. We teach every single one of them the importance of ethical behavior and to understand power dynamics that extend from director and producer to ensemble to individual performer to audience member. We give them the skills to be the good people in their own rooms in the future, to give them the physical and verbal language and skills to create and maintain their own safe creative spaces. We believe that the skills that we give them also give them the confidence and fortitude to respond to unethical situations where abuse may occur with immediate focus and purposefulness.
If we don’t teach this work, we might be in the room with tomorrow’s headline.
We want today’s worst headlines to happen never - not because the conversation is being ignored and the individual symptoms have been identified, neutralized, and held accountable, but because the causes of the problem of systemic abuse and exploitation have been eradicated, and all creative artists have the language and ability to stop abuse every time it occurs . That’s why we do what we do. It’s about more than staging ethical, efficient, effective intimacy. It’s about teaching emerging artists that there is a better way.
Staging intimacy needs to be ethical, efficient, and effective because it’s not just about the intimate moment: it’s all about telling the story. At TIE, we know moments of theatrical intimacy need a little extra TLC, but the moments surrounding intimacy, or even around the idea of intimacy can cause problems of their own.
Social ideas of sexiness trick students into thinking sexy needs to look a certain way, sound a certain way, and move a certain way. Women try to make themselves impossibly small, restricting their breath, movement, and character choices. Men tax their bodies, straining their voices, creating tension, trying to perform a “manly” version of bigness. Non-binary actors can feel lost or forced to choose between hyper-binary ideas of how sexy “should” be.
It’s a real life behavioral Photoshop.
These ideas of “sexy” get in the way of truthful acting and they limit the types of stories actors have the opportunity to play. Missing the truth of the moment and “acting sexy” can drag a production down and can feel like a minefield to navigate as a director or educator. Giving an actor a note about untruthful “acting sexy” can make them feel nervous and actually make the problem worse. Trying to address it with action-based direction can help with the choices, but misses the vocal and physical issues. Fixing “acting sexy,” like staging intimacy, is all about having the right tools to describe the movement in a desexualized way.
Get out of the “Sexy” Trap
Always come back to the story. Just ask the actor to explain why their character is in the room. Ya know, acting stuff. It will help with the nerves.
Shallow breath is a giveaway of “acting sexy.” Try big sighs and shaking it out on a yawn. Think about letting the release of breath release your shoulders and shake it down into your pelvis. Those deep, full breaths will help with the next tip.
If the actor doesn’t understand their weight, it reads as nervous or stiff. There are lots of reasons actors are timid to be truthful with their own gravity. Help actors ground by trying some contact improvisation or weight sharing with partners.
It might seem a little out there, but nothing teaches grounding like squats. I know. Bear with me.
I highly recommend actors learn how to squat. Maybe even with a little (or a lot) of weight. The movement requires a supported core and causes the actor to literally drop their weight and engage their musculature. Pushing out of the bottom of a well-executed squat is a perfect opportunity to practice being fully grounded. Obviously, this isn’t an option for everyone, but it is one of my favorite shortcuts.
With any exercise-type of suggestion, I always drive home that this is about strengthening their instrument, not about physical appearance. Contact the student wellness center or a local gym and find a qualified instructor so everyone is working with excellent form.
“Acting sexy” lends itself to hyper extended thoracic spines for everyone! Focus on alignment and allowing the head to float to reduce the thoracic thrust forward. A good roll up and down the spine solves a lot of problems.
Nervous actors speed everything up and telling them to relax just makes it worse. Give them clear instructions about slower tempo to help tell the story of a more confident seduction. Or vary the tempo of a simple movement to help physically shape the story. If “slower” and “faster” aren’t doing it, try counts. For example: “That gesture is happening over about a three-count right now. Could we try an eight-count a big, low breath?”
The Confidence Trick
It can be tempting to encourage confidence in an actor when they seem reluctant to let their “sexy” mask go. Resist the urge to address their confidence. A nervous performer being told to be confident gets even more nervous. A performer that genuinely felt confident will now worry that they aren’t enough. Skip all of that worry and address the physical symptoms instead.
Images of sexualized bodies inundate us every day. Those ideas make their way onto stage, and we see real bodies trying to Photoshop themselves to look “sexy.”
Talk story, not sex. Talk physical choices, not confidence. You can break them out of their “acting sexy” box and it will serve them well throughout their training.
Need more? Reach out.
This past August I attended The Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was invited to present a demonstration for the Directing Focus Group's pre-conference in which I guided the audience through a series of exercises that I take all of my acting students through before they are allowed to work with a partner on scenes for class. Additionally, I also presented these guidelines as a member of the panel, “Acting Sexy,” sponsored by the Association of Theatre Movement Educators.
After returning from the conference many theatre educators reached out to me for this list, so I am publishing these tips here for all to access. While many of us have developed our own way of handling the tricky stuff in our classrooms, at ATHE, many theatre practitioners expressed that they felt these tips helped them articulate their own process to students.
These guidelines have been proofed and approved by the Title IX office at the University of Miami. If you are unsure if they serve the guidelines of your program I encourage you to reach out to the Title IX office in your institution. This work is available in more detail through a Theatrical Intimacy Education workshop and will be part of our workshops (coming this spring).
The following tips are the guidelines that my students learn and must practice when working on scenes for class.
- Accept that you have to work in an open, vulnerable and neutral stance. Take a few moments to silently stand in an open neutral position (without touching) and take in your partner.
Be specific and clear about boundaries – especially physical boundaries. While we recommend establishing boundaries through a physical exercise that we teach in our workshops, boundaries can be reinforced verbally. We like to say areas that are off limit to touch have "fences." This way the partner can physically visualize the boundary of a fence and remember not to cross the boundary established by their partner.
Self-Care cue – agree on an word that will be used by anyone to stop the action when the actors feel there may be something amiss in the choreography or the if the actor needs a moment for mental self-care. When the cue is used by anyone, all action should stop and physical concerns and issues should be addressed. If this is for a moment of mental self-care, allow the actor to have a moment alone and move on when ready. Full permission from each partner should be given before rehearsal can start again. I suggest picking a cue line that is not related to the show, for example, "New Orleans" is not a great self-care cue if you are working on a production of A Streetcar Named Desire
When new contact occurs for the first time ask for permission. Receive clear, affirmative permission before initiating touch.
Use “I” language. Remember to offer ideas, do not direct.
Always work towards telling the story. Clarify the objectives for physical action.
When you find complicated physical touch in a scene make sure you repeat with a slow pace. Continuing work at a slow pace until it is completely safe to move to performance pace.
Take breaks during the rehearsal in order to address each action with the following phrase:
“As my character I want to (state the character’s intention), as the actor I am going to (describe in detail how to physically accomplish).”
Always keep working towards telling the story, do not allow yourself to get caught up in showing clever ideas.
Never leave the rehearsal without discussing what you achieved.
Be honest with your partner about you how you feel about the outcome of what was achieved in rehearsal. Be honest about how you feel about the way you and your scene partner worked together. If you do not feel you can be open with your partner immediately contact your teacher, director, or stage manager to discuss your feelings.
Make sure you are in agreement about how the scene is working. Never leave the rehearsal with unanswered questions for your partner.
Journal the process. It is important to have a written record of the rehearsal process. In rehearsal for a production the stage manager will do this but in a private rehearsal for class you need to journal. This will help you keep a clear idea of the intimacy choreography created during the rehearsal. This will help you journal your process as an actor. This will also serve as a record of agreement or disagreement about what was achieved in rehearsal that can be compared with your scene partner’s record if needed. Title IX officials suggest always having a third party present when rehearsing scenes for class but because that is not always a possibility, a journal is the next best option.
TIE offers a comprehensive approach to staging and teaching theatrical intimacy. These tips are a great starting point for any class exercise. For more detail on these tips, reach out to Laura.
For information about our more in-depth workshops or general inquiries, contact us.
Hi. I'm Chelsea. This is Theatrical Intimacy Education.
We stage intimacy.
We want to teach you how to do it.
Actually, we want to teach your whole department how to do it.
That's why we started a company.
We're here to make it all less weird.
We began this work because we saw a problem and we are here to fix it.
So many theatre artists have had experiences with insensitive, unethical, awkward, or traumatizing direction in scenes that involve physical intimacy, nudity, or sexual violence. So many were left wondering if they did something wrong, or worse, if they should just toughen up and take it. Incoming freshman at colleges and universities have already seen enough “just kiss her’s” to last them a lifetime. The professional theatre echoes this awfulness back to us hundredfold.
We are here to end it.
That’s why we choose to focus on changing educational theatre. By working from within the educational system, we can change the profession. By training emerging artists in ethical, efficient, and decidedly desexualized practices, we can take out the creepy weirdness of staging intimacy in our profession for good.
The Guiding Principles: Ethically, Efficiently, Effectively
Desexualized language and consensual choreography is the backbone of the progression we teach. We will be thinking about finding an oppositional rock with their partner, opening and closing distance, visible power shifts, and weight of contact. We don’t talk sex positions or use sexual language. We don’t need to. We give the power back to the performers and give you the tools to create safe, professional, dynamic choreography that meets everyone's needs, all while respecting the boundaries of the artists in the room.
Our work establishing clear boundaries will delight your Title IX office, and fewer students will cry in yours.
Our work will never grind your process to a halt. If our methods can’t save a director time, they won't use them. If they don’t use them, we aren’t getting our progression out there. We teach you how to use our progression so that your department’s precious resources can go towards things your department needs. By working from a tested progression with easy to follow steps, any director, regardless of experience, can make staging intimacy an easy part of their process.
We make you the expert to save everyone time and money in the long run.
A scene built on feelings won’t last. A scene built on solid choreography can withstand tech week, finals week, and will hold up through closing night. A progression that empowers the performers to approach intimacy the way they approach every other scene allows them to focus on storytelling, rather than worrying if their scene partner is trying to make out with them. It makes for better rehearsals, better productions, and moves us towards a more impactful theatre.
We give you the tools to choreograph exactly what you need to tell your story without turning your rehearsal room into group therapy.
We are Theatrical Intimacy Education.
We are dedicated to empowering artists with the tools to ethically, efficiently, and effectively stage intimacy and sexual violence in educational theatre. We teach workshops, train faculty, guide students, and stage quite a bit of intimacy ourselves. We are scholars, artists, directors, and educators.
Our goal is to change the industry from the inside out. We each have a story about how we ended up here, but we are here to change the story for students. If staging intimacy ethically, efficiently, and effectively can be as natural in your department as thanking a stage manager, we will have done our job.
We are here to help. Reach out. Send us a message. Let's get started.
Welcome back to a new academic year. Everywhere actors in training are reading plays and working on that first scene presentation in acting class. A teacher may assign, suggest, and/or agree to a scene that you are super excited to work on. You rush from class, check the play out from the library, go straight to the scene, and there it is, the stage direction that reads, “they kiss.”
Honestly, starting with a kiss is complicated, however, I am starting our blog with this because “how do I stage a kiss?” is one of the most frequent questions teachers, directors, and actors come to me with looking for answers.
You might be one of the lucky ones for whom performing a stage kiss is no big deal. Or maybe this is your first ever stage kiss and you have no idea how to approach it. Maybe you are just looking for a better way. No matter your perspective and experience, having a protocol for how to approach any staged intimacy more safe and fun.
Because kissing classmates isn't automatically safe and fun. Maybe you have a cold, or a cold sore, or you don't really know your partner that well. Maybe you don't want to kiss anyone for scene work. That's all ok! Seriously.
COMMUNICATION is the key to performing all theatrical intimacy.
The first thing is to talk about it. If you do not want to work on a scene in class with a kiss, tell your teacher. The teacher may decide to assign you another scene, or help you find another acting choice besides a kiss that will serve the story. There are always ways around it.
If you do decide to go through with the kiss, the following guidelines will help you communicate with your scene partner, teacher and/or director so that you can perform the kiss safely, consensually, and stress free.
1. TALK ABOUT THE SCENE WITH YOUR SCENE PARTNER BEFORE YOU DO IT IN REHEARSAL.
Before your partner try the scene, make sure you both have a strong understanding of the story, both of you are in agreement that a kiss is needed, and talk about what that kiss looks like. Here are some questions to consider:
o What are the given circumstances for the kiss?
o Do you need a long passionate kiss or a short sweet kiss?
o How do each of you imagine the kiss starts?
o How long do you think it will last? 3 seconds or 10? (If you have different opinions on how the scene is to be performed, agree to try it different ways)
o When do you want to start rehearsing the kiss? (You can wait until the final rehearsal before class to do so, more on this below).
2. CLOSED MOUTH KISSING ONLY
For all in class scene work, I have a closed mouth kissing policy. Actors simply do not have enough rehearsal time for preparing scenes for class to make a kiss open mouthed. Regardless, brush your teeth.
3. STATE SPECIFIC BOUNDARIES FOR YOUR BODY
Both scene partners should state where they are comfortable and not comfortable with physical touch during the kiss. Professor Adam Noble of the University of Houston uses the phrase “No Fly Zones” to identify off limit areas of touch for the actor’s body. You can also show your partner with your hands where you are comfortable being touched. Either way, be specific. (ex: I am ok if you put your hands on my shoulders, the cheeks of my face, my arms, and my hands. Please do not touch my thighs or my ears.) No matter what they are, you need to accept your partner’s boundaries. Do not try to convince your scene partner that their character must let your character touch them somewhere they do not wish to be touched. There is always a way.
4. DECIDE WHEN AND HOW OFTEN YOU WISH TO REHEARSE THE KISS
You don't need to rehearse the kiss at every rehearsal but you should rehearse it at least once before presenting the scene in class. Have a few members of class watch the scene at least once before performing so the experience of kissing in front of an audience doesn't happen for the first time in class. This will make you feel less nervous and you will be more prepared.
5. BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR HEALTH (ESPECIALLY COLD SORES)
Talk with your partner about your current health! Legally, you do not have to disclose any medical condition to anyone, but out of mutual respect for your partner’s acting instrument, if you know you are not feeling well please choose not to rehearse the kiss until you feel better. If you have recently had the flu or a cold you may want to volunteer this information to your partner. They will appreciate you keeping your germs to yourself, and you can wait to rehearse the kiss.
If you get cold sores and are having an outbreak, don't rehearse a kiss. You do not have tell your partner about this medical condition but you should be respectful of not possibly giving your partner a cold sore. Tell your partner you don't want to do a kiss (which is totally fine for any reason, anyway). Your acting teacher can help you find another way to tell the story without the kiss.
So, you've talked about it.
You have set yourself up to have a safe, creative, and productive rehearsal. Few more tips:
Just like in stage combat, you should work slowly at first. Make sure you and your partner are working at the same speed. If you aren't sure if you are going too fast, talk about it! You can lose a tooth if you go to quickly. Save yourself the trip to the dentist and work slowly.
AFTER YOU REHEARSE
Yep. More talking about it. Rehearsal is never over until you check in with your partner about how the kiss is working. Let your scene partner know if there is anything that feels uncomfortable. Or if they have bad breath. Be nice, have a sense of humor, but be honest. It is critical that both partners are honest about how they feel about the outcome and exploration of rehearsal.
DOCUMENT YOUR REHEARSAL PROCESS
Journal your rehearsal process. Not only will you have a record of your growth and process as an actor, but you will also have a record of what was achieved at the rehearsal. Title IX experts suggest always having a third party present for intimate work. That can be tough, so if you can't partner up with another group, document!
WIND DOWN WITH YOUR SCENE PARTNER
Just check in with each other. If anything uncomfortable took place that you feel cannot be discussed with your partner you should immediately reach out to the appropriate person (i.e. counselor, teacher) for support.
THERE MAY BE ANOTHER CHOICE BESIDES KISSING
There is always another way. Many actors do not want to do kissing scenes in training. Not wanting to do kisses shouldn't limit your scene choices. Find stuff you love and then find another way. Be honest about your preferences and your teachers should support you. Maybe a kiss becomes a hug, or no touch with a long stare into each other’s eyes. Lots of choices can express the truth and core of the scene without kissing. So don't get hung up on it.
This might seem like a lot.
You might feel it will take up too much time in rehearsal to talk about a little kiss. But it won’t. It does not take long to have a specific, clear conversation about boundaries. And it will lead to a more open and trusting relationship with your scene partner.
Teachers and directors?
Try not to be too hung up on how you feel a scene must be performed. Allow yourself to be open to what a new actor can bring to the work. I have had students work on scenes where I could not imagine the characters not kissing and my students always surprise. If you trust in your ability to teach them analytical skills and good acting techniques that honor the story, I have no doubt your students will surprise you.