South Florida’s premier intimacy director finds valuable work in a post-MeToo world
Kissing, heavy petting and other carnal acts have been a part of live theatre since the days of Aristophanes, not to mention Shakespeare on up to Tennessee Williams. But only in the past decade or so have professional standards developed around intimacy choreography, ensuring that physical touch between actors serves the story’s needs in a way that respects consent.
Tonia Sina, Siobhan Richardson and Alicia Rodis founded Intimacy Directors International in 2017, which happened to be the same year #MeToo began trending on social media. With awareness of inappropriate behavior in the workplace at an all-time high, intimacy direction has risen from a niche specialty to an essential element for producers who see the value in staging sexy the right way.
In the world of South Florida theatre, dancer, choreographer and teacher Nicole Perry has emerged, over the past three years, as the profession’s go-to artist helping companies navigate the “Five Pillars” of intimacy direction: Consent, Context, Communication, Choreography and Closure. The Plantation resident has worked for companies including Theatre Lab at FAU and Measure for Measure Theatre, and had been contracted at Main Street Players in Miami Lakes and Maltz Jupiter Theatre before the coronavirus blacked out theaters everywhere.
While Perry has lost some income to the virus, she believes that when productions resume again, her job may be more important than ever. She expects to discuss questions such as “What choices do we have that we don’t have to touch and can keep it distant? How do we talk about boundaries and consent, so that everybody feels they have the option to say no? Hopefully people will see the importance of it, and not go back to old patterns.”
What drew you to this field?
I was working as a high school theatre and dance teacher, and had a student who had to kiss another student. And she was very nervous about it, because she had never done that in real life. I always say, it’s not a prerequisite—there’s plenty of things you haven’t done in real life. We don’t expect you to have had a swordfight. We teach you how to do those things. So I Googled “teaching teenagers to kiss”—which you should probably never Google—and it was through that that I heard about intimacy direction. … I went to a one-day workshop at the University of Miami that spring , and I was hooked. I thought, this is something our industry definitely needs.
What tendencies do actors exhibit that are improper—that you need to correct?
I think some of the wrongness of intimacy comes from a lack of clarity. The director’s like, “and then you kiss.” That’s why choreography is one of the pillars. It should be said that each actor knows what is going to happen to their body throughout the course of a scene. It should be repeatable, so every audience gets the same show. And it should tell the story that we want to tell. So it’s not so much wrongness on the actor’s or the director’s side. It’s just having a vocabulary to talk about it, and having a comfort level to talk about it.
Oftentimes in this market, straight actors play LGBTQ roles, or vice versa. Is part of your job to make actors feel comfortable doing certain things onstage that they would not experience in their offstage life?
Yeah. It comes down to movement, and that’s how I talk about it. This hand goes here, this hand goes there, it’s done for this many beats, we’re going to close the space, we’re going to open the space… it becomes choreography.
It’s not about, do you like this other person? It’s about, can the two of you execute movement properly?
Are there “bucket list” shows you’d like to work on?
For musicals, I would love to do “Gypsy.” … The stripteases in that could be such fun. Play-wise, “In the Next Room (Or the Vibrator Play)” is the highest on my list. “Hair” needs one. … There’s all sorts of shows that desperately need them.
If an onstage fight is done well, it has the illusion of real conflict, and we don’t see the staginess. If you do your job well, should your work also be invisible?
Yes. It’s a little bit of a joke between my friends. With the first two shows I did, I didn’t get mentioned in any of the reviews. People skipped over my name in the program. I’m kind of fine with it. It means they don’t actually know what my job was, which means I did it well.