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Stateside Podcast: How to stage intimacy

Two stone figures, pressed forehead to forehead.
Rebecca Watson via Flickr

In 2006 Tarana Burke popularized the term “Me Too” — a phrase that’s now synonymous with an international cultural shift. Perhaps most visibly, Me Too exposed the misogyny and sexual abuse that had become commonplace within the entertainment industry.

But it took nearly a decade for the question of staged intimacy — that is the intimacy we see in film and theater, whether it be a kiss or nudity — to gain the same scrutiny. Now, a relatively new practice known as "intimacy direction" is growing within performance spaces. Intimacy directors are tasked with not only choreographing intimate scenes, but also advocating for the people starring in them.

Two Michigan State University professors, Tina M. Newhauser and Alexis Black, wrote a new book called Supporting Staged Intimacy: A Practical Guide for Theatre Creatives, Managers and Crew.

“A lot of this work really begins in pre-production,” Black said during an interview on Stateside. “It's really about looking at that script analysis, combining those ideas of, 'What are these moments of intimacy from the perspective of the director?' … And then I have conversations with the actors prior to showing up for the first day so that they know what to expect in the room, what the director's envisioning … and have conversations with them outside of the power dynamic of the rehearsal hall to see how they feel about that.”

The book arrives during a moment when more folks are interested in employing these practices in their performances.

“People want to engage with these practices and they want to create healthier workspaces, but they don't always know how.” Black said. “This current generation of actors, student actors, are learning this, are craving it, this new approach to the work. And it really feels like a growing wave within the industry that is starting to crest.”

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Music from Blue Dot Sessions.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.