Let's Get Intimate: How Has Intimacy Coordination Changed Since the Pandemic?
Don't get within six feet of anyone. Since March 2020, that is the rule we all immediately began to live by. Slowly but surely, however, after a year and a half of living by that standard, we are starting to get closer again. While we may not be shaking hands, we have started fist-bumping. We are, as a society, slowly but surely making our way towards normalcy.
However, not everyone has had the luxury of a slow readjustment back towards normalcy including the actors on your favorite shows. The stars of You, Penn Badgely and Victoria Pedretti spoke to EW about the tough transition back to playing an intimate married couple after the events of the last year. Pedretti said, "We played a couple before, but it didn't just immediately come back after being in a global pandemic." The responsibility to bring television couples back to the height of cinematic relationship realism has fallen largely on the shoulders of intimacy coordinators.
The work of intimacy coordinators, those that work to safely choreograph romantic or intimate scenes, is relatively new. Intimacy coordination started back in 2018. Since that time, it's impact has made a major difference to actors across a variety of shows. Phoebe Dynevor from the hit series Bridgerton mentioned to Harper's Bazaar:
It really was like shooting a stunt. It looked real, but we've got padding on. The angles are very ... I mean, I've shot intimacy scenes before in the past without any of that. And I can't believe really how new this all is, because it just changed the game. We felt super safe and it just meant that when we got on set, we already knew exactly what we're doing. We'd blocked it all so specifically. I knew exactly where his hand was going to go at what point.
This specific choreography that operates within the personal boundaries of the actors leaves everyone feeling safe in a way that allows them to bring their best work to the forefront. The power of intimacy coordinators and directors was felt by all that came in contact with them, both on Broadway and in Hollywood. When the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt, the field of intimacy coordination and direction kept going.
While one would assume that it has become exponentially more difficult to choreograph intimate scenes since the pandemic, professionals have stated that this was not the case. We had an opportunity to talk to the CEO and CCO, Jessica Steinrock and Marie C. Percy, of IDC. IDC, which stands for Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, "is the leading organization pioneering a variety of best practices for performed intimacy, simulated sex, nudity, and hyper exposed scene work for theatre, live performance, tv, and film." Both Steinrock and Percy have been at the forefront of this field since the beginning, and both concluded that the changes in the work since the pandemic have been minimal. Percy commented:
Intimacy Direction at its core is the same in the pandemic. Intimacy Directors are still working as advocates for actors, choreographers of intimate material, and communication liaisons to all departments about the intimate moments. What has changed is the choreographic options that are safely available and the needs of the actors. Context is the first pillar. We're doing the same thing, and adapting it to this new context.
It is not that the work has changed. The world has changed. This global context helps to inform what tools can be used to tell certain stories on the stage. Percy specializes in intimacy direction, which is specifically for the theater. She expressed that the Covid Era changes have not been a hindrance. They have been a creative challenge that she has risen to and found joy in.
I've actually had a lot of fun finding creative ways to tell the same story given the covid safety protocols. Right now I'm working on a quirky production of The 39 Steps at Connecticut Repertory Theater where both actors performing the intimacy will be wearing face masks for the entire production. We've found lots of fun ways to use classic film silhouettes and shapes to imply that a kiss is happening while using clever masking techniques to hide the fact that they aren't actually kissing. The Intimacy Director's job is to use the boundaries of the performers as a jumping-off point to create dynamic choreography that tells the story. Those boundaries are definitely influenced by covid, but again the job stays the same at its core. It's up to the covid safety officer, administration, or whoever is in charge of covid compliance to let me know what those covid safety protocols are, and then we go from there.
The changes in boundaries since the pandemic is consistent in both intimacy direction and intimacy coordination. Steinrock, who focuses on intimacy coordination, agreed that while the work has not changed, the pandemic has had an influence on the global and interpersonal context of the situation. Steinrock commented:
And while not a change in intimacy coordination specifically, One thing I'd like to add is that the pandemic has brought a heightened cultural awareness with regard to touch and consent. What I've noticed is that people are more cautious about physical space and content, and are no longer assuming that things like hugs or handshakes are ok. COVID-19 has taught many of us to ask first - things like, are you hugging right now? Should I wear my mask at your house? etc. We're exploring new ways that consent can support communication and collaboration. When thinking about how that applies to intimacy coordination, it opens the door for more conversations about touch and how we're going to operate in the space, because we want to keep each other safe.
The entire field of intimacy coordination and direction was established with the goal of making everyone working on a project feel safe. In a strange way, the pandemic emphasized people's sensitivity to this notion. Many have been slow to embrace the importance of intimacy work, but, through the events of the eighteen months, it has become a non-negotiable part of our everyday lives.
Intimacy coordination is about learning the individual boundaries no matter what. We don't assume what is or isn't ok, we always ask rather than assume. An individual's boundaries are theirs and never need justification. That boundary maybe because of COVID-19 or it may be because of something else, that part is none of my business. My job is to protect their boundary no matter what and to find a way of telling the story beautifully that empowers each artist to do their best work safely and confidently.
When everyone feels safer, the work gets better. We, as audience members, have seen this first hand. Shows such as You, Bridgerton, Normal People, and Game of Thrones have done more powerfully intimate storytelling than we have seen before. The intricacy and impact of these shows must be credited to the work of intimacy directors and coordinators across the world. They have made acting safer for actors and have made shows far more interesting for viewers. (It's almost as if people do better work when their boundaries are respected! Radical, right?)