Intimacy Direction, A New Industry Standard
If you’ve ever watched a play or musical with a sex scene, you may have wondered “How did they rehearse that? Wasn’t it awkward?”. That’s where an Intimacy Director comes in handy. “Intimacy Director” is a relatively new role in the arts world but a vital part of the industry’s move toward becoming a safer, more equitable space-- something we can all get on board with!
So what is an Intimacy Director, exactly? An Intimacy Director (sometimes called an ID) is a person specially trained to support a creative team with the crafting of sex scenes, moments of nudity, and other potentially sensitive material in a performance. And while intimate scenes are certainly the main work of an ID, IDs can help with all kinds of non-sexual sensitive material as well. For example, my last project as an ID (shout out to That Pretty Pretty at Brooklyn College!) contained moments where a character gave birth, a character urinated on a hotel bed, and a character wore a burqa-- all non-sexual content that required additional mindfulness and support.
So why this new role? Can’t directors just do this themselves?
While it’s true that many directors are skilled and confident at handling intimate moments, just as many are not or would rather bring in an expert for added help. This is a collaborative art form, after all, so I’m always of the opinion that the more brains working toward a shared vision, the better! I’m sure everyone working in theatre or film has seen or experienced some horribly mis-handled intimacy, either in a rehearsal room or on stage. I have horror stories for days-- and those are just from high school! Having an Intimacy Director around can help to keep things professional, make sure everyone’s boundaries are respected, and dissipate the pressure that can come with the actor/director power dynamic.
Many folks come to this work from the perspective of being an actor wanting to advocate for other actors, but my journey to Intimacy Directing looked a little different. I spent years teaching Sex Ed to high schoolers and became passionate about destigmatizing conversations about sex. This has helped a lot in my ID work because I’m always thinking about how we can make talking about sex less weird. After all, with both real and staged sex, clear communication is essential to a positive, consensual experience for all involved!
As I began my directing career and started navigating sex scenes in plays, I found that the candid approach I cultivated as a Sex Ed teacher was actually super helpful. I’ve always gravitated toward bolder material as a director-- for example, my second full length production ever was a Sarah Kane play featuring a sexual assault that occurred just a few feet from the audience. Stepping up my skills for tackling this material became not just a personal passion, but a necessity to safely and responsibly handle my own work.
Just like every director brings a bit of themselves to their plays, I like to think I bring a bit of myself to my Intimacy Directing. All Intimacy Directors are there to carefully choreograph intimate moments and foster a safe, consent-based environment for performers, but coming from my perspective as a queer woman, my Intimacy work also prioritizes authenticity, dramaturgical utility, and being intentional about our gaze. I remember watching an evening of one-act plays in a tiny off off Broadway house and seeing a play written by a straight man, directed by a straight man, featuring extremely gratuitous lesbian sex. You could feel the energy in the room sour as these women acted out a thinly-veiled vehicle for this man’s fantasy. The staging did not reflect my lived queer experience (can a girl get some authentic representation around here?) and the performers seemed genuinely uncomfortable. Basically, it was awkward and unfortunate all around.
I’m passionate about this work because I’m helping take the “awkward” and “unfortunate” out of the equation so we can tell bold stories without causing performers harm. If you’re interested in learning more about Intimacy Directing (or possibly becoming one yourself!), I recommend checking out Intimacy Director and Choreographers (IDC) and Theatrical Intimacy Education (TIE). These organizations are doing incredible work providing advocacy and training to create a consent-based industry. I have loved all the training I’ve done with these inspiring folks. Next time you see nudity or intimacy in a play, movie, or on your favorite HBO show, you can think about what went into crafting that moment-- I bet an Intimacy Director was there!
DANIELLA CAGGIANO is a freelance director and intimacy director originally from New York City. She is a former MTC Directing Fellow, Drama League Resident, and alum of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. Favorite projects include a site-appropriate Fun Home in a funeral home, Next To Normal, Vinegar Tom, Macbeth, Tumacho (Assistant, dir. Leigh Silverman) and School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play (Associate, dir. Rebecca Taichman). Some productions for which she has choreographed intimacy include: That Pretty Pretty, Or The Rape Play, Macbeth, Vinegar Tom, Surfacing, A Roller Rink Temptation, novaya zemlya, and Kodachrome. She has trained with Theatrical Intimacy Education (TIE), is certified in Mental Health First Aid, and is continuing her journey with Intimacy Directors and Choreographers (IDC) to obtain her formal certification. Daniella brings a queer, feminist perspective to this work. She believes that a consent-based, trauma-informed approach to handling onstage intimacy and nudity is essential to creating a safe working environment where performers are confident to take risks and do their most daring work. MFA from The New School and a from BA Sarah Lawrence College www.daniellacaggiano.com