Ann James: Hi, Adi! Thanks for taking some time at the end of the semester to talk about where you are in your intimacy, consent, and boundary practice. Thank you for going there, as I like to say in these moments. First, I want to ask you the question, because I don’t know the answer. What brought you to the world of intimacy work?
Adi Cabral: I did my MFA in Theater (Performance) at Arizona State University, where Chelsea Pace was my classmate. I got to work with Chelsea when she began developing her approach to intimacy work. Simultaneously, my research focused on the intersections of voice, sexuality, and sexual identity. These thematic overlaps kept us in close contact. When Chelsea developed Theatrical Intimacy Education, I was enamored. As an educator and actor who has gone through… I think everyone who comes to intimacy can tell a little trauma story about their experience as an actor that called them to this work. Harm prevention is an impetus for me. I want to create a safe and brave space for my students and the next generation of actors.
Ann: Such a great scope of your entrée into this field. Thank you. I’m wondering how you bring equity, diversity, and inclusion into your work.
Adi: Equity, diversity, and inclusion are inherent parts of everything I do as an educator and artist. You can’t have intimacy without them. If don’t consider the individual experiences of every artist in the room, then I’m not doing my work as an intimacy professional. If I’m looking at you as just a body, then I haven’t figured out the humanity within the work on top of the choreography. I want to create concrete, desexualized, specific, and repeatable choreography that considers your individual needs around this material.
This requires me to broaden my scope past my lens. I’m socialized as male but am a non-binary person living a queer experience. I come to my work with my specific lens. My experience can’t overshadow or negate the individual perspectives of the artists I work with. So, I want to bring cultural competency, accessibility, gender diversity, and religious competency into my work. Because I think when we acknowledge people’s fullest selves, they can bring their full selves to their art safely. When I don’t do that, I’m creating damaging spaces for people and counteracting the purpose of having an intimacy director in the first place.
Harm prevention is an impetus for me. I want to create a safe and brave space for my students and the next generation of actors.
Ann: Letting ego get in the way of artistry has always been problematic. I tell the people I mentor, “Strive to be the most emotionally intelligent person in the room.” And that means looking at identity, cultural context, and the text or work itself—looking at the power dynamics within a room. It means getting in where you fit in, not coming in to protect and save the actors. Because that is a slippery slope. Come in with an understanding of who you are, and I know you know who you are. It’s one of the reasons why we are collaborators and co-conspirators in this intimacy world. I’ve felt that from you from the beginning, and watching you grow has been incredible.
Tell me about how your humanity or spirituality manifests in the work you do.
Adi: Do you know what’s funny? I’ve done a lot of work to remove myself from the work, and I’m learning to put it back in now. I am a Reiki healer and a witch who does rituals in practice for myself. But as an intimacy professional, I decide that’s not relevant and I need to focus on, “This is the choreography. This is what we do. These are your boundaries, and here’s how we move forward effectively in five minutes.” But when I take a step back and look at it, I can say, “No. Creating a positive, energetic space is something you do in your body and practice every day. Why do yourself and your fellow artists the disservice of keeping that opportunity from them?”
Ann: Or holding back a part of your identity.
Adi: Exactly! And I’m learning so much from you. When you did the workshop on Afrocentric Intimacy Principles, it was such an eye-opening moment for me. I have this language of energy, imagination, mythology, and spirit—
Ann: But why aren’t you bringing that to the table when it’s the most fun part of our personalities?
Ann: I have a human resources person, a director, and a producer living within me, and these are very tactical positions. The goddess in me, the spirit in me, the ancestors in my DNA—these things bring me joy and enthusiasm, and I’m willing to bring them to the table now. That is an idea I’m bringing forth in a book that’s been enriching for my practice moving forward.
I want to ask you: what inspires you in the classroom right now and gives you hope for the future?
Adi: I love watching my students take risks while taking care of one another. It’s the quick check-in between two actors:
“Hey, we’re about to run this scene together and I was thinking about doing this physical action. How does that work for you today?”
“That sounds great. Let’s do it!”
It seems like such a small shift. But when we look back at historical practices in higher education or theatre training studios it has been, “What can I trick my scene partner into doing today? How can I change their circumstance? How can I affect them on the most guttural level?” No.