Preparing For A Kiss Like An Eviscerating Slash – As Boringly As Possible


By: Joe Patti

A recent development in theater, television and film performance, in terms of theory and practice, is the role of intimacy director.

There was a video on The Atlantic which frames it as emerging out of a recognition that performance situations were being used to provide a veneer of legitimacy to sexual assault.

I don’t think anyone questions that it is of paramount concern to safeguard the physical, emotional and mental well-being of performers, but it is important not to think of intimacy direction as a concession to recent social and political trends. It acknowledges imperfections in the creative process that should have been addressed long ago.

As one of the pioneers in the field, Tonia Sina, has written, intimacy direction, like fight direction, is about providing authentic appearing intimate moments while ensuring the safety of participants.  There has been a long history of choreographing fight scenes, both barehanded and with various weapons, where every moment is examined with meticulous detail. When it comes to kisses, sex scenes, stripping, etc, actors are often given vague direction like “rolling heat” or told to go off and figure it out themselves.

What Sina says often happens is that the actor(s) either feels uncomfortable with what they must do and that awkwardness is apparent to the audience, making them uncomfortable as well. Or the actor(s) drop all barriers between their character and themselves and naked authenticity of the moment makes the audience uncomfortable and disengaged from the story.

The latter scenario can be additionally problematic on many levels for the actors, especially when the performance run ends and the actors recognize that their relationship with each other was partially based on personae that no longer exist.

Productions have long appointed a fight captain and dance captain to lead the cast through warm ups and practice movement to prepare their bodies before every single performance. If something has happened where someone can’t do it the same way they did yesterday, adjustments are made.  Until recently, intimate moments haven’t been subject to that same preparation.

Intimacy direction invests the same attention to detail that fight choreography has long employed. There are conversations about physical comfort and range of motion, communication about who will be doing what, how things will transition, where the points of physical contact will be, etc.  Like staged combat, the process is largely boring and mundane so that all participants become so familiar and comfortable with what will occur that there are no surprises and no one gets hurt.

Additional information about intimacy direction, how to hire someone or become trained can be found on Intimacy Directors International website. In addition to the articles by Tonia Sina and American Theater cited here, there are other stories and case studies about the role of intimacy direction on the site.

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Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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