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Being Authentic in a New Theatre Practice

A Conversation with Jyreika Guest

Three people standing together.

Ann James: Hello! This is an amazing moment in my life. I have been wanting to talk to you for a long time. Tell us a little bit about how you started your journey in the intimacy industry and how you started your training.

Jyreika Guest: In 2018, I started doing a lot of research on understanding movement through a dancer’s perspective and then how to infuse that with experience I have as a director, therapy in trauma-informed education, how to step into a space, and how to be able to scan situations in body language. As an actor, I'm always people watching. Not only am I watching the person and waiting and listening to them, I'm also seeing how they are moving and how they respond to questions that are given by the director and questions that are provided from other practitioners.

When it comes to blocking, we are so often told to go stage left or push this person, and sometimes we don't necessarily know the “why.” So I started to dissect each one of the pillars of intimacy to know how to present that information to actors.

Ann: And so, tell us, tell us about the five pillars.

Trust and believe that technique does not have to be negated. It's not negated. it's truly just a matter of how you protect your instrument and protect yourself and separate that effectively from the character.

Jyreika: So the Intimacy Directors and Coordinators (IDC) curriculum is based on five pillars of intimacy. Consent is something that a lot of people first start off with—very important. Knowing how to ask for permission is communication. Then I'll say choreography, which refers to the intimacy movement that's designed and agreed upon by the actors and intimacy director and scored for safe repetition. This, of course, can change with the intimacy director’s approval to make sure everyone is safe and boundaries remain respected and supported. Context is the understanding of the story and scene surrounding the intimacy, which comes from the script. Context can be utilized to empower actors to ask the question "why?" I love breaking down context and allowing people to again go to that “why” and know that they can have that conversation and discussion with their directors, thus creating more collaboration. Then, there’s closure. Closure is so very important. It’s how we navigate the world and how we know how to separate ourselves from our characters. Whenever I present closure, I always feel like there's gonna be that one method actor that's resistant. But trust and believe that technique does not have to be negated. It's not negated. it's truly just a matter of how you protect your instrument and protect yourself and separate that effectively from the character.

Ann: What has your practice taught you about your humanness, your artistry, and even your spirituality? How do you use your knowledge of consent and choreography in order to bring your humanity and artistry to life?

Jyreika: I think it goes back to just being mindful that I still work in this industry as an actor, and every day we're met with a microaggression. Every day we are met with a power dynamic. We're met with institutional privilege and marginalization. I am constantly aware of that in any room that I step into. I try to keep that in mind so that as I'm talking about consent, as I am presenting intimacy, people know that I am an actor, too. I’m mindful that first day that we're actually making contact and moving—especially now, with the pandemic. We're still navigating coming out of isolation, coming out of familiarity with each other.

That is something for artists. We have been so empathic with each other. We're still brushing off the isolation. I am bringing my humanness into the space, too, so we are on the same playing field. I try to be as honest and let people know where I'm at so that they know that we're participating in this together. My collaboration is with the people that are in the room the day that you arrived, in this hour that we're working together. If tomorrow you come in with a different sense of self, we navigate. So my expectations are high, but my expectations of what movement you are ready to jump into are low, just because I have no concept of… I mean, I don't see you for twenty-four hour a day. I see for an hour or two in that day, and I'm asking that you just meet me there. We'll figure out the rest.

My passion is driven from knowing that people are ready; and if they're not ready, they're curious.

Ann: I'm echoing a little bit. It sounds like you have this store of knowledge, but you don't enter the room with knowledge in front of you. You enter the room with the knowledge on your shoulders, and you meet people where they are that day. That is such a refreshing way to institute the pedagogy into the room. It's so refreshing, and it’s really important for everyone to understand that in your practice, while you have the knowledge, you don't lead with that knowledge. You lead with your humanity.

There is potential for artistry based on what the energy is in the room, and I think that's remarkable and what this industry needs to incorporate moving forward.

How do you keep your passion for the work alive?

Jyreika: Honestly it has come from seeing shows again, seeing my colleagues’ work. Reading plays and finding the moments that aren’t an adaptation, really finding things within plays that I missed in a first-round reading. I have found the new love or refreshed love for the work that we do simply because we were away from it. So my passion is driven from knowing that people are ready; and if they're not ready, they're curious. I try to be mindful of what I’m presenting to people, especially the quietest person in the room.

Three black women having a conversation.

Ann: Yes, yes. I mean, part of our job at Intimacy Coordinators of Color (ICOC) is to think about emotional intelligence—how you're walking into space. There's a humility in emotional intelligence that lets everybody settle and be themselves so that you can find the best way to meet people not as a group, but as individuals. Because everybody's on their own path to intimacy. Everybody has their own muscle memory, and some people also have anxiety around it.

I concentrate on listening deeply so I can use the present and the goals for the future to connect with every single person. Your approach is quite remarkable because you are clocking that different people have different expectations, anxiety, or enthusiasm around the work. Wonderful.

What excites you about the future of the intimacy field?

Jyreika: This is such an odd response. I know already that it excites me that at one point we—I'm nervous, and I’m like, “Okay, no, go for it”—at one point we won't be needed. Consent culture and the setting and respecting of boundaries will be the social norm.

Ann: I agree. As the culture of consent takes hold in younger actors and creatives, the call for intimacy professionals to introduce consent and boundary work may eventually relax into theatre ethos, releasing time for intimacy professionals to widen our expertise into other areas of the craft.

Jyreika: I hope that one day we are still choreographing, so that people know again how to desexualize the language and desexualize the movement. The shift of it is that the expectation of consent is already rooted; it will be the tradition. Because right now consent is not traditional. It has taken many years for us to get here, so it will take possibly twice, possibly thrice the number of years to undo and dismantle.

Yeah, I'm ready.

Ann: Yeah, you know I'm so excited for you and for the future and the potential that it holds for you and your work. I just appreciate you being conscious and being aware in the rooms that you walk into. I think the actors are better for it. Thank you.

Jyreika: I am humbled, so thank you.

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Thoughts from the curator

The intimacy industry is under pressure. While many creatives and artistic leaders see the benefits of intimacy direction and coordination as specific care and technical support for actors, the industry itself has not yet created an equitable and inclusive training process for marginalized people. In this series, Ann James, founder of Intimacy Coordinators of Color (ICOC), interviews eight queer and global majority intimacy specialists about the joys and challenges they face in the industry. What emerges from this series of interviews is a complex, multifaceted range of approaches, training models, and innovations for the future of intimacy that actively decenter whiteness, colonization, and appropriation.

Rebuilding for the Future: A Convergence of Thought Leaders in Intimacy Practice


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