I have to confess that this week’s I Wish I Knew post is somewhat selfish on my part. Since the minute I heard the phrase “Intimacy Direction” I have been intrigued. Maybe it’s because I am a black, female actor who has been in way too many uncomfortable situations in a rehearsal room, maybe it’s because it seems like a job I might love, maybe it’s because I am curious about all things theatre-related…whatever it is, I am THRILLED to know an intimacy director who would answer all my most pressing questions.
Meet Sarah Lozoff (she/her/hers), a freelance movement artist, movement director, choreographer, birth doula/childbirth educator, ballet instructor, Gyrotonic trainer, and intimacy director with a background in EDI (Equity Diversity and Inclusion) work. She is such a model for delving into the things you’re curious about, learning about them, and pursuing your many passions!
Sarah is originally from Miami, Florida and now lives in Ashland, Oregon where she uses all of her many gifts to serve this incredible (I’m biased because…Oregon Shakespeare Festival) community.
I first met Sarah in 2016 when I was living in Ashland. In my brain, she was a dance instructor (one of her many talents). I remember listening to all the dancers in The Wiz talking about getting up early to catch her ballet class and thinking, “I wish I was that disciplined” and “Why did I quit dance, I could be in The Wiz right now”. My most important thought, however, was “I need to get to know Sarah” because everyone was always gushing about how wonderful and talented she was. I am so happy to have had this opportunity to interview her because now I understand how multifaceted she truly is.
If you are like me and have been wondering what intimacy directors do or even how you could become one yourself, read on. The world is changing and we are having conversations we have needed to speak on for years and solving problems that need to be addressed if we truly want our industry to move forward and thrive. This conversation with Sarah will open your eyes to how you can help be a part of the future, even if it means just being more informed.
Q: Who are you and what is your profession?
Sarah Lozoff, she/her/hers. I am a freelance movement artist. I am a certified intimacy director, as well as movement director, choreographer, ballet instructor, and Gyrotonic trainer.
Q: How does your background in Dance, Birth Work and/or EDI Work (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) influence your work as an intimacy director?
This is such a great question because I truly utilize all three with this work.
My dance background is what I rely on when creating and teaching the actual choreography of an intimate scene, as well as when describing the quality of the movement needed.
My time in the birth world is also integral to intimacy direction for two reasons: this is where I first truly understood what informed consent is, AND births are where I learned how to create safe, intimate spaces in otherwise crowded rooms.
To have a strong grasp on EDI work is crucial for an intimacy director, because first and foremost we are doing advocacy work. By creating room for artists to have agency and voice, without fear of punitive action, we are shifting power dynamics in rehearsal halls, and across the theatre landscape.
Q: When did you first hear about Intimacy Direction and why were you interested in it?
I read a New York Times article about Tonia Sina and intimacy direction in 2017. I immediately sent it to a friend and said, “I want to take one of these trainings!” It struck me as a perfect coming together of all the professions that I’ve most loved.
Q: In your opinion, how can Intimacy Direction be utilized within the industry?
This industry demands great vulnerability of the artist. Intimacy direction creates healthier spaces in which to explore that vulnerability. By setting parameters and encouraging artists to establish their own boundaries, we end up making better art without any of us having to sacrifice our mental, emotional health, or physical health to do so. Also, on a more basic level, when we take the time to craft these moments of staged intimacy, we get more specific and intentional storytelling.
Q: What do you love most about being an Intimacy Director?
I love the collaboration between artists. I love holding space for others in a room. I love building mutual trust and boundaries with actors, and then getting out of the way to watch them explore and reshape those boundaries together.
Q: What is your biggest challenge associated with being an Intimacy Director?
Honestly, right now it’s the contracting side of things. This is a field that hasn’t been on most companies’ radars in the past, so often times people aren’t sure what to do with us, where to put us (artistic or production dept), nor why they need us. Not only are we explaining to folks why this is important, and how it can improve both the art and the culture of a company, but we’re also explaining why we should be billed as intimacy choreographers or directors, rather than consultants or coaches. We have to convince theaters that are already struggling monetarily that we’re worth adding a new budget line to their season. Hopefully, this is a finite struggle though, with intimacy direction becoming more common place.
Q: What are the steps you take from getting a scene to choreograph/direct to having a final product performed onstage?
- Read through the script to bookmark the obviously intimate scenes and the possibly intimate scenes, while noting questions.
- Discuss artistic intent and vision for the process with the director.
- Attend production meetings where needed and cast’s first table read.
- Talk through intimacy direction with the cast, director, and stage management team (i.e. why we do what we do, what I am there to do, and what I am not there to do).
- Engage cast in exercises to learn about and practice consent.
- Clarify context and boundaries for specific scene.
- Guide exploration of a scene with the director before refining and eventually setting choreography for physical intimacy within the scene.
- Develop and explain protocol and contingency plans for the duration of the run, ensuring the full company has language and practices to be able to modify physical intimacy based on emotional/physical health.
- Ensure that stage management, understudies, and ideally run crew, all have an understanding of this work in order to fully support the production while maintaining their own boundaries and health.
- Enjoy and celebrate at the opening!
Q: What are some things you wish you knew before you became an Intimacy Director?
- How important self-care practices (not just to suggest to other artists, but for myself) would be.
- How hard, but very necessary, it would be to create boundaries (especially in this constantly connected digital age), around truly taking a day or two off at a time.
- How much I’d long to be in a bigger city where I could see the work of other intimacy directors and be inspired by their art on a regular basis.
- How often I’d be asked (with a chuckle) if I’m a sex coach/therapist.
- More about LORT and SDC to better understand the negotiations that come up in contracting for a “new” field.
- How often I’d be asking people to say no to me and celebrating when they do.
- How deeply collaborative the phrase “no, but…” can be.
- Fight direction, even on a basic level.
- How much I’d end up relying on and cherishing the network of colleagues I have in this field.
- That breathe mints and hand sanitizer would become essential tools for my craft!
Q: If someone was interested in becoming an Intimacy Director, where would they start?
They can go to www.teamidi.org/workshops and find a workshop you can get to! If you don’t see one in your area, contact IDI to ask about getting one there.
Q: What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?
When things don’t go as planned, “breathe…. and pivot.” Those last three words have become somewhat of a mantra for me. Thank you, Alicia Rodis!
Q: Where can people find out more about you?