Intimacy Training for Performers - An Introduction

As part of the effort to build safety resources for individuals and groups working in the performing arts the Kaivalya Plays team aims to share information about the most commonly asked topics.

This document will give you an introduction to understanding how to facilitate a safe environment for performers to create and execute intimate scene work. This includes scenes of a sexual nature or that deal with physical touching between performers. I was introduces to the majority of the practices here from Stephen Davidson and Lucy Fennel’s “Creating Safe Intimacy in Improv” course.

One useful resource to look at before getting into the activities we can do to facilitate intimate scenes is the Pillars of Intimacy. As outlined by Siobhan Richardson, the 5 C’s of Intimacy are Context, Communication, Consent, Choreography, and Closure. You can read the linked article to get wider definitions of all of these.

What is Intimacy?

Being able to create a safe working environment where actors can explore scenes of a physical nature may be one definition of exploring intimacy in the performing arts. It may very well not apply to you. As an example, my need to discuss safe intimacy practices without the context of a specific scene or production is to:

  • Empower the performers in the room to make choices

  • Communicate emotional and physical boundaries

  • Work on scenes safely

  • Build a comfort within the group about the work

  • Create enhanced and believable scenes of physical and emotional intimacy

An intimate scene in a play, film set, or dance performance can consist of a moment with physical proximity where performers have to express vulnerability in complete silence. It may also be the performers separated by a great deal of space and yelling at each other in loud voices. The majority of the time we may not be worried about the scene with physical distance versus the scene where the performers embrace in silence. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that many of the principles that explore intimacy in performance come from ideas generated in fight choreography. But, then again, it also points to the obvious importance we give physical safety while perhaps overlooking the psychological safety of performers doing intimate work. In this blog I will try to talk about physical and emotional intimacy through a series of activities. This guide is meant to be an introduction and is in no way a substitute for a course, but it should remove the stigma in trying to apply these practices and taking a course for yourself or your arts organization.

Image from Planned Parenthood

According to Planned Parenthood, CONSENT can be defined with the acronym FRIES:

🍟 FREELY GIVEN: Consent is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation or under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Consent cannot be validly given by a person who is incapacitated.

🍟RETRACTABLE: Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, at any time. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if it was your idea in the first place.

🍟 INFORMED: Your partner must know what they’re consenting to. If a partner was to remove a condom, without informing the other, that is not consent. A person cannot give consent if they are drunk, asleep or otherwise incapacitated.

🍟 ENTHUSIASTIC: You should want to do whatever it is that you’re consenting to, not because you feel under pressure or as if you’re expected to because you “led someone on.” You don’t owe anyone your consent..

🍟 SPECIFIC: Be sure that you are clear with what your partner is consenting to. Going back to someone’s home could mean many things to different people.

FRIES is designed to define consent in sexual encounters but the same principles can be applied to scene work of any kind. Any of the rules above could function just as easily in a rehearsal space. It is important to remember that something a performer may have agreed to do in a previous scene is not an action a co-performer can assume is ok to do in another scene. For example, an actor consenting to a kiss in one scene doesn’t mean they have consented to being kissed in another scene (see Context in the 5 C’s). As a director and a co-performer it is important to ask each time for consent for any kind of physical contact. This may sound unusual for improvisers or devisers who make things up on the spot, but the following activities can clarify how you can clear up rules of consent before starting a scene even without pre-available text.

A short message before introducing these activities. Do make sure that each activity has a director or facilitator observing outside the scene, at least, initially to make sure the performers have someone besides their co-performer to vocalise their reactions or concerns

Body Scan : Go / No-Go

A simple practice is to use your hands starting from the top of your head and as you touch each part indicate whether it is a “Go” area (ok to touch or interact with) or “No Go” (not ok to touch or interact with).As you continue to do this start indicating what type of interaction you are or are not comfortable with. For example, “My neck is a go area, but no pinching, squeezing or poking.” or “Avoid any areas that are covered by underwear and please no fingers in any holes: nose, mouth, ears or anywhere else.’

Image by Ashleigh Green

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