Department of Theatre hosts first statewide Intimacy Directing Workshop Featured

October 16 2019
Jessica Steinrock, assisted by Sarah Shippobotham | Brandon Cruz Photography Jessica Steinrock, assisted by Sarah Shippobotham | Brandon Cruz Photography

by Josiane Dubois

Performing artist students, faculty, and professionals from all over the state of Utah participated in the first statewide Intimacy Directing Workshop Weekend, October 12-13 hosted by the University of Utah Department of Theatre with support by the College of Fine Arts and Southern Utah University’s Department of Theatre.

Through the guidance of Intimacy Directors International (IDI) instructors Jessica Steinrock and Rachel Flesher, the workshops explored choreography techniques and broad self-care strategies through IDI’s pillars of intimacy. By focusing on respecting physical and psychological safety, each intimacy pillar guided the participants through context, communication, consent, choreography, and closure. The main objective of the workshops was to introduce and integrate intimacy practice with an emphasis on consent in the rehearsal and performance space for all who participate. 

The demand for intimacy choreographers, directors, and coordinators has risen since the #MeToo movement exposed abuse in the entertainment industry as writer Clare Warden explained in an article published in American Theatre Magazine. 

In July, the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced that it will collaborate with Alicia Rodis, the associate director and co-founder of IDI, intimacy coordinators with IDI, and other trained professionals to standardize, codify, and implement guidelines for on-set intimacy coordinators. As organizations nationwide aim to establish guidelines and standards that address the dangerous culture and power imbalances that contribute to harassment and sexual violence, the U’s Department of Theatre is taking the lead by teaching best practices for staging theatrical intimacy.

“IDI was the first organization I heard of that was doing this work with intimacy choreography. I’d always been interested in the responsibility that comes with doing this work, and when I found out that my friend Clare Warden was working with IDI and leading a workshop in London, I applied to take part,” said Actor Training Program Professor, Sarah Shippobotham, who has been doing this work now for some time

It was Shippobotham who introduced choreographing scenes of intimacy to many in the Department of Theatre which caught the attention of department chair, Harris Smith, who advocated to start hosting workshops back in the Spring semester for faculty in the department. 

“It’s exciting to have a faculty member in our department who has recognized the importance of this subject and the impact it will have on our students and faculty,” Smith said. 

As the flagship institution of higher learning in Utah, Smith believed it would be fundamental for the University of Utah to host workshops where artists from all over the state could attend.

The department contacted several universities and colleges with Theatre programs, multiple professional theatre companies including Salt Lake Acting Company and Pioneer Theatre Company, and invited faculty and students from each area of the U’s College of Fine Arts. 

“Attending the workshop was an amazing opportunity,” said U Actor Training Program sophomore student Danny Borba about his experience during the Intimacy Directing Workshop Weekend. “This type of cutting-edge training is a priceless opportunity as an acting student, and helps me to become a better and more employable actor.” 

“The future of entertainment is going in a path where intimacy direction will be part of any production, and will eventually lead to faculty positions at universities that are tied to performance intimacy pedagogy,” said Smith. “My hope is that the next generation of artists will feel empowered to change a culture, not just the choreography.”