My homework for the week was to say no – and I couldn’t stop apologizing for it. “No, I don’t want to listen to your sad music,” I told my friend as he picked up our car’s auxiliary cord. . “I’m a driver and I want to listen to Dua Lipa. (I’m sorry.) “No, I can’t use the last seven days of PTO to go on a trip with you,” I told my mom on the phone. (My bad.) And when the editor of this story asked if my draft was ready, I limped back, “No, not yet. I need a few more days.” (Okay, in this case I was actually sorry.) I know no means no. It’s not, as Instagram infographics have informed us for years, the whole sentence. So why did I feel so bad for saying it?
The answer to this question led me to seek out Intimacy Directors and Coordinators (IDC), a two-year-old organization that teaches and educates individuals and institutions about how intimacy is presented in live performance, television and film. Although there is no formal path to becoming an Intimacy Coordinator or Director (yet), the IDC provides a certification program for Backstage Choreographers to ensure that actors are able to agree to perform staged plays during intimate scenes. The group offers four levels, all of which are required for certification, and one-off workshops such as Decolonizing and Caring in the Choreography of Intimacy and Digging Deeper Into Boundaries. I signed up for Foundations of Intimacy, a remote (due to COVID) workshop that ran for four weeks in three-hour classes.
It shows how EuphoriaUncertain, and Sexual education they all have intimacy coordinators on set. (When professionals work for stage productions, not those on screen, they’re called intimate directors.) And some of them have extraordinary reputations: Ita O’Brien was praised for her work staging realistic connections between inexperienced teens in Normal peopleand all that Bridgerton Bodice rips stayed safe thanks to coordinator Lizzy Talbot.
If you consider more than 130 years of film history, this is a relatively new work. Just this summer, SAG-AFTRA, the union representing film and television artists, opened its membership to about 40 intimacy coordinators. But there have always been behind-the-scenes advocates—they just didn’t always get paid for it.
“People have been doing this work anecdotally for a long time on TV and in movies and in rehearsal.”
room,” says Karim Muasher, a New York-based director of intimacy for two years who began his career as an actor and theater educator. “Maybe it was someone in wardrobe making sure the actor changed into a gown between takes. shooting a sex scene, a fight director being asked to choreograph a scene of sexual violence, or an inspector checking in with an actor after a rehearsal to make sure they’re really happy with the partial nudity the director is asking for.”
But, Muasher adds, many point to Tony Sin’s 2006 graduate thesis, “Intimacy Encounters: Staging Intimacy and Sensuality,” which applied fight choreography principles to staging safer-sex scenes, as key to turning this helping position into a legitimate career choice . Especially since #MeToo has exposed the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment and exploitation in Hollywood, producers have been scrambling to hire intimacy professionals.
These professionals engage in agency, placing autonomy in the hands of actors and crew on stage or set. For my own narrative, in the scenes of my work and personal life, I wanted to learn how to demand more. Jessica Steinrock, PhD, Intimacy Coordinator and CEO of IDC, says paradoxically, asking for more starts with saying yes to less. “There is a historical expectation that women have to manage the emotions of the people around them,” she explains. “There’s a host mentality where it’s our responsibility to make sure everyone has a good time.”
It is possible to escape from this trap. Dr. Steinrock says she has become much better at enforcing boundaries by considering consent. She’s learned that saying no to things she just doesn’t want can be an act of kindness to others, even if they don’t realize it at first. “It
it helps me to be aware and polite,” he says. “I can protect myself and set boundaries for how I want to be treated.”
My IDC class consisted of me and a few dozen people who met on Thursday evenings. We learned the pillars of consent: context (everyone needs to understand the story they are going to perform); communication (between directors, actors and intimacy coordinator/director); consent (which is freely given and may be withdrawn at any time); choreography (every intimacy scene must be done the same way for every shot); and closure (a small exercise such as breath work, performers try to indicate that they are moving on at the end of a rehearsal).
The class was mostly actors, but a few directors, college professors and mental health professionals signed up as well. All instructors were directors and coordinators working for intimacy. We listened to their lectures and also worked in small groups to talk with agreement about our experiences in our lives and in the workplace. We played games that revolved around saying no. One was like tag, where the “it” had to go around and ask classmates if they wanted to take over. We learned to be patient, walk around and respect no until someone decided (freely and without coercion) to take over. We took notes. We learned the basics of what an intimacy professional does: advocate, connect and choreograph. We reflected on past experiences in which we could have done more to create a “mutual space,” or a place where consent can be freely given, withheld, or withdrawn. We looked back on times when we had power in our own lives and regretted not using it to lift others up with us.
Many of us came into the classroom with the best of intentions. We wanted people to be “comfortable”. This is a mistake, said our teacher. So often producers hire intimacy professionals to make sure everyone is comfortable on set, but as our teacher pointed out, good art doesn’t come from comfort. The job of an intimacy professional is to make sure that even if people are a little uncomfortable, they never feel unsafe. “The biggest misconception is that intimacy directors and coordinators are the sex police,” Muasher tells me. “We’re not here to say no to everything and censor content. Our goal is to find a way to get to yes while working within everyone’s boundaries.”