We exercise intimacy in everyday life—when we hug our friend, kiss our lover, fight with our family or have a tough discussion with a coworker. In theater, intimacy is often taken for granted. Theater can make you feel in ways you don’t expect, but how do you make sure everyone has consented to the more intimate actions onstage? Turns out, there are multiple ways you can direct a play without using certain aggressive words. You can prevent someone from leaving without touching them and communicate love without any physical contact.
Christopher Daniels, executive director of Good Luck Macbeth Theater Company, took a workshop this month from Theatrical Intimacy Education, a consulting group that teaches theater artists to ethically stage intimacy, nudity, and sexual violence. He shared some takeaways with me, and talked about how GLM might incorporate some new “best practices” into future productions.
What made you want to take the workshops?
Both as an individual and as a company we’re always striving to be better and do better. And one of the things that I’ve noticed within the art scene … is that there is a lot of non-consensual behavior that’s happening. There’s a lot of boundary violations.
We talk about wanting to make our spaces as safe as possible. Really, what does that even mean? Art is such a deeply vulnerable space that we ask people to go into, and we want to ensure that we’re doing everything that we can to provide spaces for people to feel they can bring their whole selves into the space, that they know what their boundaries are, that they can communicate their boundaries and do so in a way that they don’t fear repercussion or any punitive consequences taken against them.
Are the classes purely about sexual intimacy, or is it different aspects of intimacy?
Intimacy, it’s not just physical. Like, you can be intimate in familial relationships, coworkers can be intimate, friends can have moments of intimacy. … Often we ask actors to come into spaces to do these really deeply emotional moments, and we don’t give them the proper guidance to do it.
How do you convey the message of the play while using the practice of intimacy choreography?
So, one of the examples they give is, as opposed to telling an actor, “Oh, this is a sexy moment, go straddle them and give them a lap dance.” That’s very sexualized and loaded language. …
We want you to place your hands with a light touch on this area of their thigh for a three beat count. We then want you to take their hands and move them to this part of their chest that they’ve identified that they’re comfortable with, and you’re going to hold it there for two seconds. So it really is about you choreographing a dance.
I’m able to remove myself from it, which is also part of the work. This is what the character’s doing, and this is what I’m doing. And they’re not the same thing. … So, it is a new language, and it’s a new way of directing.
There can be a power dynamic between directors and actors. How do you plan on giving actors a space where they know they can say no?
Directors are often perceived as—this is their show. This is their space. This is their vision. We’re implementing their vision, creatively and artistically. I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but you’re also, like, a manager. Understand the values of our company and our organization.
If you have a boundary, and you feel like that boundary has been transgressed, it’s not for me to question that boundary and ask why was it violated. … Because it feels attacking. And it feels like I’m putting the pressure on you to justify yourself instead. My role, and really anyone’s role, whether they are in a leadership position or not—is to go, OK let’s take a breath, what would feel nurturing and supportive right now? What do you feel like it is that you need in order to move forward?
Allow that person space to self-reflect and go, this is what I need. And sometimes it might just be, “I got lost and I just needed a moment to catch up.” So we, as staff members and board members, need to model that behavior. And everyone’s on board, and everyone is collectively doing it, as opposed to, “Well, here’s a tool for you as an actor to use, but there’s not that institutional support.”
Changing how we do things from the get-go at the audition process, working with directors to reformat how we run rehearsal rooms and how we market. We’re putting content warnings, and we’ll do that during the audition process, communicating that to the community. So no one feels like they’re coming into a show that could potentially be triggering for them. We want our audiences, when they come in [to know] this is a consent-based space across the board.
This interview has been edited for length.
Upcoming events at Good Luck Macbeth include the “Big Coming Out Show” featuring Miss Ginger Devine July 23-24 and “Splattered,” a production by local dance group Around the Stage, July 30-31. Ticket info is expected to be released soon on GLM’s website and Instagram.