TROY, NY – The newest innovation in theater is the presence of an intimacy choreographer, also referred to as an intimacy director or intimacy coordinator.
Before your mind races ahead of you, the term intimacy is not a synonym for sex or something used for scenes with nudity. Of course, they can be, and, in some plays and films, they do function to make steamy scenes comfortable for both the actors and the audiences.
More frequently, intimacy choreographers function almost as a dramaturg-director for romantic moments in a play. They can be compared to fight choreographers who make battle scenes real and add safety to the process. An intimacy choreographer makes actors comfortable, assures boundaries are set and the scene plays honestly and realistically.
Indeed, the Theater Institute at Russell Sage College is using intimate director Yvonne Perry to help with its production of “Stupid F # cking Bird,” which plays at the Troy college February18-20. The bird in the title is a seagull, which signals the play is a contemporary satire of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, “The Seagull.”
The play’s director, Professor David Baecker, is quick to point out that though a satire, the work by Aaron Posner is honest to the themes of Chekov about the travails of the artist and unrequited love by highly emotional individuals.
As a synopsis, Con is a would-be playwright. His mother di lui, Emma, is a famous actress, who is in love with the novelist Trig. Meanwhile Trig lusts for Nina, who is the girlfriend of Con. As you can see, there is a lot of romantic and sexual intrigue within the play. Especially if you include Mash, who secretly loves Con, and her di lei her boyfriend Dev, who loves Mash.
Despite all these romantic involvements, Baecker makes clear there is no nudity in the production and sex scenes are suggestive without being graphic. However, there is a significant amount of disrobing, romantic moments and seductions in the play.
To both protect his college-aged actors and to create as many honest romantic moments of stage he brought in Yvonne Perry, a trained, accredited intimacy director. Perry is also a well-known Equity actor with stage, film and television credits. She is an associate artistic director at the professional theater company at Capital Rep in Albany and a teacher of theater at several local colleges.
Perry trained in intimacy direction with Intimacy, Directors and Choreographers. The IDC website explains their goal as providing the entertainment industry with ‘the resources needed to create a culture of consent. ” They list their core values as “anti-racism, creativity, excellence, integrity and sustainability.”
In recent interviews with two student cast members both expressed the comfort level Perry has brought to the rehearsal process. Regina Desrosiers is a junior theater major, who plays Emma, says “Having her di lei (Perry) di lei in the room really helps.” She admits there were some scenes that seemed daunting at first but discussion with Perry and her acting partner about comfort levels and boundaries made it so much more comfortable. Because we actually choreograph a scene you know exactly what is going to happen, where you will be touched; there are no surprises. “
She adds, “Just as important, as an actor I understand why a movement or removing a garment is essential in showing the emotional state of my character. Because I feel safe on stage, I can be more in control of my character. “
Perry says the comfort factor is critical to the process. We start with conversation about boundaries, or as we call them “no fly zones.” It’s important because not every actor is willing to speak about their personal levels of discomfort, and in some cases, their inexperience. “
She points out that what might be comfortable in private is less so with hundreds of people watching you kiss someone or take off a protective level of clothing. She tells horror stories of actors who have directors who simply told their actors in a scene of passion, “Just show me what you got.” “Is there anything good that can come from that?” asks a horrified Perry.
Cameron Richardson, a Latham resident who is also a theater major, plays Con. He agrees with Desrosiers. “It’s quite an intimate process to all of a sudden be madly in love with someone you know simply as a friend or acquaintance. Yvonne helps us leave it on stage by creating the mindset that even intimate moments are acting moments. It’s not real. It’s our job to make it look real. “
Perry says she ends every session with a “closure discussion.” This is when actors feel free to discuss comfort levels, techniques and motivations of characters. However, she believes the closure moments are important in establishing to the students who have been playing other people. “It permits them to realize they’ve been acting and it’s time to get in their own bodies again,” she says.
Richardson adds, “Choregraphing a scene is also important. I know where my hands are supposed to be at all times, and I have permission to place them there. Also, angles are important. They can suggest more than what is actually happening. Yvonne has also helped us understand the story our body is really telling. It helps find the true motivation in some of the seduction scenes. “
Baecker’s hope is not only the actors gain from Perry’s contributions, but the audience does as well. “Chekhov wrote brilliantly about human emotions, he says. “The more comfortable the actors are in the private moments, the better we understand them as people. This is a contemporary adaptation, but it shows that the stories told about human nature are still with us. “
“Stupid F # cking Birds, at Russell sage College, Troy. Performances Feb. 18-20. For tickets and schedule information call (518) 244-2248 or go to theater.sage.edu. Proof of vaccination is need for entry and make must be worn inside the theater.