The National Women's Theatre Festival

Theatrical Intimacy Beyond Touch


It feels like once a month since March, I’ve had to witness some kind of comments-section showdown after someone asks “is Zoom theatre really even theatre?” Not gonna lie, I get mad! I’ve spent my career making theatre happen in parks, libraries, cafes, breweries, fields, and living rooms; so when someone tries to tell me there’s somewhere theatre can’t exist, my inner Texan comes out and has to prove them wrong. And when I was told that moving, visceral, effective, and affective scenes of intimacy weren’t possible on the virtual stage… well, I got to work.

My first role as Intimacy Advisor for Occupy 2020 was to create a list of best practices to share with our directors and actors. I shared this with everyone involved in the festival, regardless of if there was intimacy or violence in the play they were working on. The goal is not only to support the actors performing intimacy for WTF, but to ensure that as many artists as possible have access to this information moving forward. Especially while our homes, performance spaces, workplaces, and classrooms can all exist at the same desk, theatrical intimacy skills are just plain life skills. 

In fact, a lot of what I’m doing is troubleshooting for this particular moment in time. I talk with actors about processes to depersonalize their roles. I chat with directors about ways to get really intentional in how we communicate scenes of violence and intimacy. I guide conversations around cultivating a trauma-informed creative environment. This medium allows us the time to lay the groundwork for all future endeavors, and the sheer quantity of shows means we have to dig deep into the language and intention of each piece and consider how they uniquely tell intimate stories. It’s so much more than just creating for this moment.

Also, and this is my sex educator brain talking, we’ve been socialized to discount the intimacy work we see on Zoom. One: a lot of us have been taught to discredit online sexual and intimate content. We’re not taught porn literacy, so a lot of us hold misconceptions like, “all porn is bad and unethically made,” or “all cam models have no other option.” We as intimacy professionals learn so much from sex workers, we have to consider the professionals who are and have been performing intimacy long before us (and honestly, if you want to see how to expertly light around a webcam, look to cam models!). 

Two: we tend to be taught that un-partnered intimacy is less desirable, less enjoyable, and less meaningful than partnered intimacy, which means that we rely heavily on partnered touch to depict scenes of sex and violence. But that discounts the countless ways intimacy and harm can occur without touch. Ways that countless people are navigating their relationships right now, in a world where touch is dangerous. 

It has been such a gratifying process to come upon an image or gesture that involves no contact, that makes me catch my breath, tear up, blush, laugh, makes my chest tight, that moves me, affects me, and engages me. A close up of a jawline. A juicy watermelon. Eye contact. A sudden shift of the camera angle. Breath. Our reliance on touch to communicate both intimacy and violence not only puts actors in dangerous situations where consent is compromised because it feels like the only option, but it limits the innumerable ways we could communicate with and affect the audience. Removing the most predictable option means we can surprise the audience, we can unnerve and delight; and Zoom offers us a playground to experiment safely with different ways to do that. 

Come see what I’m talking about! Tickets for Occupy 2020 are on sale now at Mark your calendars for November 6-8! 

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