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Staging Intimacy: Creating a Safe Environment for Actors

Renaissance Theaterworks Facebook
Photo from the upcoming production, Sex With Strangers, which opens later this week.

The stated mission of Tonia Sina’s organization, Intimacy Directors International, is to “create safe places for dangerous work." The dangerous work in question is intimacy on stage, which at first glance might not seem terribly dangerous. But if not handled correctly, intimate scenes can place actors in awkward, uncomfortable, or even abusive situations - even when no malice was intended.

Sina started out as a fight choreographer but early in her academic career noticed that no one was choreographing actors when they had an intimate scene. “I was looking at things on stage that were choreographed awkwardly or that the actors weren’t handled properly or that I didn’t believe the scene or it just looked like they [the actors] were uncomfortable.”

So she decided to change that.

“My thesis was essentially researching a method that I could teach actors and other directors and other choreographers to handle this information safely so that it is choreographed and not improvised," she explains. 

And so Intimacy Directors International was born. The organization now works with theatre companies worldwide to stage sexual or other intimate scenes so that the actors are protected and the audience gets a believable scene to watch.

“We need to have consent from the actors," Sina says. "You have to be able to consent to somebody touching you. We need to communicate that consent properly. We also need to choreograph it from the outsides perspective, from a coach or some outside person that is not the actors. And then, mostly from there we hand it over to the stage manager who continues that process on and that way it stays safe for everybody."

Audiences will see Sina's work on stage in Renaissance Theaterworks' season opener Sex With Strangers. Sina is based in Oklahoma City, but she’s been working remotely with the cast, Marti Gobel and Nick Narcisi, and intimacy director Christopher Elst (who is also a highly skilled fight choreographer). She says not being in the rehearsal room herself is new to her, but she's not worried.

"Chris is a fantastic choreographer."

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.