Directors Lab West presented Directors Lab West Connects: Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Monday 25 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).
Livestreamed on this page on Monday 25 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).
Directors Lab West Connects: Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein (ASL-interpreted)
Using Intimacy Direction to Create a Culture of Consent Post-COVID
Diana Wyenn: Hi, I am Diana Wyenn, a producer at Directors Lab West. Before we begin it is Memorial Day here in the US, so let's take a moment to remember the military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Thank you. For those of you who are new to our Lab, DLW is a 20 year-old, all volunteer-run organization that, every May, provides an eight-day intensive full of workshops, panels, masterclasses and more for emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers from all over the world. But this year, because of coronavirus pandemic, we are adapting how we do what we do by creating this, Directors Lab West Connects, and we've been overwhelmed by your response and thoughtful questions. So, welcome to day three of our eight-day conversation series crafted for and by theatre directors and choreographers, live streamed by our wonderful partners at HowlRound to their website and to our Directors Lab West Facebook page. Those joining us on Facebook, please use the chat to tell us who you are and where you're logging on from and post any questions you might have for our speakers. I also want to thank Aviva. Aviva Levy, our ASL interpreter for today. Thank you so much for being here with us. And now, it is my pleasure to welcome our speakers, Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein. They'll turn on their videos and as they do, I wanna share that as an emerging activist and early career artist, Ann had the opportunity to advocate for women in warring countries by serving as executive aide to the Novel Peace Prize Laureate, Betty Williams. She has since become an internationally certified educator and stage director by learning her craft as an associate director at Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, The Alley and The Goodman, marking now her 30th year as a professional. She is now completed to make both stages and film sets safer places for people of color. To that end, she is pursuing America's first doctoral degree in Intimacy Direction for People of Color and launching Intimacy Coordinators and Directors of Color this summer. Now, Carly D. Weckstein is a theatre director, sex educator, intimacy director and community facilitator. She founded and directs the Illyrian Players, a feminist ensemble for theatre artists in Los Angeles and she works as an intimacy director for theatre companies and universities in the Los Angeles area and beyond. Carly creates at the intersection of theatre, community, healing, sexuality, art as activism, and her work champions communication and consent as an essential part of the creative process. You can find their full bios and all of our speakers' bios at directorslabwest.com. Now, Ann and Carly are gonna be in conversation for about 30 minutes, and then I'm gonna return with some questions pulled from the Facebook chat. But, before I go; for those newer to this kind of work, I wanna share with you that intimacy choreography and direction is the craft of delivering moments of staged intimacy or sexual violence with the same respect, specificity, and professionalism that we treat moments of all other movement-based storytelling. Intimacy choreographers endeavor to respect the boundaries, integrity and needs of the actors involved so that they can do their best work enthusiastically. And we also wanna acknowledge that while intimacy direction and intimacy choreography is a new and emerging toolkit and practice in our rehearsal rooms, the practice of protecting actors from the harms of unbalanced power in relation to their craft has been present in the theatre for much, much longer. So, with that, shall we dive in?
Carly D. Weckstein: Sounds great.
Ann James: Yeah!
Ann: Let’s do it, hi Carly!
Carly: Hi Ann!
Ann: Bye Diana!
Diana: Hello, all right, now that I've shared all of that, let's kick this off and I'm gonna ask you both to share with us how the pandemic has impacted you and has impacted your practice.
Ann; That’s really good. Carly, you wanna take it or you want me to take it?
Carly: Take it, take it away.
Ann: First of all, hi everyone, thank you so much and thank you to HowlRound and thank you to Directors Lab West. This has been an honor to create this communication channel and I thank you so much for supporting this. I wear the blue lipstick in solidarity with our essential workers out there, so that's why my lips are blue. Also, it's a fabulous color.
Ann: So the pandemic has impacted me in different waves. I will say right when we got the safer at home call here in California, I'm here in Los Angeles which is the ancient land of the Tongva people and we just kind of stopped everything. I was on my way, I had plane reservations to go to an EDIII conference with TIE, which is the Theater Intimacy Educators, and I was going on speaking engagements, I had Canada to look forward to and everything just stopped. So, that was the first initial shock of what was actually happening to our world. Then, I got angry. I started writing plays, I decided I was gonna write a play a day, the super-efficient, I'm gonna just crank out productivity and just be productive. Now, I'm in a phase where I have produced some plays, I am not angry anymore, and I am breathing deeply. I am breathing deeply in this moment and taking time to go deeper with research and knowledge that I have and that I wanna learn and that I want to share. So I feel very humble and very open to opportunity and I'm willing to, to listen to what the business of intimacy is saying it needs and I'm willing to share that information as I get it. So I guess I'm in a very humble place now, a very vulnerable place, but I feel strong. I feel strong about the practice and I feel that it's only going to grow larger and I'm very inspired by that and of the people who inspires me is Carly, so, Carly, how's it goin? What's up with you in this pandemic?
Carly: Oh my gosh, Ann, you inspire me so much. Yeah, I had a similar thing where I had a lot of balls in the air of workshops and shows that I was intimacy directing for, especially a lot of university theatre programs in the area which had been really incredible. And then, yeah, everything just stopped. But I've been really trying to take this time, as we heard in yesterday's discussion that phrase from Jessica Hanna, "Invest in the pause", which I love so much. It's so good. But just to let this forced slow-down be a time to reconnect to asking and checking in why do I do theatre, what do I want to do with that when we get back into these spaces together? What stories will be really important to tell? And also in these cyberspaces right now. I think this whole thing really has reaffirmed my desire just to move away from the commercialism, capitalism, competition side of theatre in a industry that can be really exhausting. And to just double down on investing in community healing and processing and growing, and that's what theatre is really meant to be, I think, a tool for. I think all of this is just inspiring me. It's waves, it's waves, this whole thing.
Carly: But overall, it's inspiring me to be more resilient and creative and I really believe that our theatre communities can rise to meet the challenges. And just, about intimacy, I think we're going to have to be so much more mindful and considerate of actors' needs and boundaries 'cause they're gonna hugely change when we are able to get back into physical spaces together. And I'm really dedicated right now to making information about consent practices that directors can use in their rooms more accessible so we can still do some learning and growing and setting the seeds for when we can be together again. But in the meantime, I think we can really trust in our collective creativity and that we can find less naturalistic but maybe even more powerful ways to physically tell stories of intimacy on our little box screens and then we get back into spaces together, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Ann: That’s awesome, that's awesome. So, how did you get into intimacy work? What's your superhero origin story?
Carly: I love that! "Spiderman". "Into the Spider-Verse" is actually my intimacy soundtrack to pump up whenever I do this work. But my original background is I trained as an actor for many years and as a director as well, I feel like I'm a actors director. That's really a background for me 'cause I've often felt disempowered as an actor and was upset by how rehearsal rooms were run. I saw a lot of peers and friends, 'cause all of my favorite people are actors, mistreated and even turned off from theatre. And then, just before I graduated, I moved to directing from acting and everything kinda clicked. So I have really big feelings about mindfully running rehearsal rooms and how a director's job really includes taking care of your actors and respecting their integrity and boundaries and that's what gets the best work for everyone. That's what makes theatre sustainable. And so, I was on this simultaneous parallel journey of learning to be a director and learning to be a sex educator and started putting some of those back and forth into each other, the gems and nuggets that I learned from each. I've been, especially with the Illyrian Players, my ensemble, I have been directing material that's focused on sexuality for the last 10 years or so and I really love using theatre as a tool to question how our communities can collectively heal from our cultural wounds around sex, because I think we have to look at those before we can move forward and theatre's an incredible tool for that. And then I found out that intimacy directing through IDI, who's now IDC, is something that exists and I went to my first workshop with Tonia Sina and I learned amazing things and it crystallized some language and framework for this new role in theatre spaces. And so then I did various trainings of intimacy and supplemental things. I draw a lot from my sex educator background and also just from the way that I direct and operate as a director, and then I just kinda ran with it and over the last year and a half especially, or so, I've been really dedicated to making this work more accessible in smaller LA theatres. And yeah, I recently started working in a lot of university theatre programs and I just really want to give students, especially acting students, tools and language in safety that I didn't necessarily have. But I think there's so many ways to get into this field and there's not one you need to check all these boxes. How did you come to this work?
Ann: Well, surreptitiously. I was in school in the 80s, the late 80s. Actually I landed in university right at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis and, actually, our little tiny theatre department of 50 drama majors, which is now over 300 drama majors a year are coming out, we lost 14 of our friends over an 18-month period. And so, I remember sewing clothes and just weeping into the scenes of just sadness and building sets and painting sets and remembering the people who had just fallen the week before. And so my interest in intimacy started back then. I come from a time, and I know some of you older drama people out there, theatre people out there know that some of my professors were sleeping with the students and that was just de rigueur at that time. And I found it absolutely appalling.
Ann: And the whole idea of a casting couch was absolutely appalling to me. And so I developed this system called circles of intimacy that I developed while I was working with actors that I would cast for directing experiences that I was having while a junior and senior in college. So the circles of intimacy really dealt with casting members in our department who were HIV-positive and the fear of touching them, the understanding that it was okay to be touched, certainly influenced my, my experience as a director. And so I've carried that with me all these years of 30 years this year in the business. But what was so interesting and Tonia, there's this big heart for you if you're out there; what was so cool about running into, and I literally ran into IDI, just on my research looking for something to connect as I moved here to LA, is that it gives a language and it gives, it gives a moment to rest in the fact that actors are the foundation of our craft and that if we can't care for them and we can't protect them, then our house is broken. And building the foundation of protecting actors and making sure that the power dynamic in the rehearsal room and, quite frankly, here in Hollywood on sets is vital to the success and the health of the industry. So, I'm moving forward with the understanding that while this foundation has been created, we're kind of in the second wave of the intimacy industry and I would like to personally, my personal quest as a superhero in this field is to bring more people of color into the leadership of the field. Not only in intimacy direction, which, for those of you who don't know, is more geared towards theatre, then also intimacy coordination which is more geared toward film and television. So, I really want to open those doors of inclusivity and diversity in the field of intimacy direction, but I couldn't be happier and much respect to those who have created a great foundation for what is going to lead us into the future.
Carly: Absolutely, that's so beautifully said. And that brings up something else I'd really love to ask you about how do we ensure that the community of intimacy directors is as diverse as our community of humans? And does this involve making training access more available? Does it involve making more awareness of this role? What could better accessibility in this field look like and how can we make sure we shift, as we move in the second wave of this field off of the beautiful foundation, how do we make sure that diversity and inclusion are real practices and not just a buzz word?
Ann: That is a lot of questions!
Carly: I know!
[They both laugh.]
Ann: Okay, let's unpack it, let's unpack it. I do have some notes, I've taken some notes. A lot of organizations, pre-pandemic, were suffering from this idea that white, male, patriarchal society was the benchmark for the advancement of the performing arts. So I'll just let that rest there for a moment. Artistic directors are statistically white and male, film directors, writers, white and male, so they kind of have a control over what we see as audience members and that is only a natural thing. It's not a good thing, it's not a bad thing, it's just the way it is. Moving into what we can be and how we can reflect society in the world of intimacy direction is to have people of color in a place of leadership in those rehearsal rooms and on set. And I'll tell you why, because I really actually feel that if you have someone in the foundation of a production, something like an intimacy director, who holds a space for people in the room at their most vulnerable, and I'm talking about the actors; I'm actually also talking about the directors and helping to support their work 'cause that's what we're doing. We're not there to be the sex police, we're not there to be don't use profanity, don't do this, don't, we're not there to do that. Our job is to hold space for the actors so that their natural voice can be heard about their boundaries and consent. So if we allow a person of color to come into the room, and almost specifically care for the people who are acting and sharing their craft, I venture to say, and this might be a little radical, but hello, I'm wearing blue lipstick. It might elevate the emotional intelligence of our craft and I say that in a very organic way and a very holistic way, that if we can give leadership to people of color in this way in intimacy direction and coordination that there might be more understanding, more compassion, more acceptance from the foundation of that production. So it is my desire to bring that to the forefront in the mind and I'm not saying let's change everything immediately. I'm saying we need to take this time in this global pandemic to think about what we wanna put forward in the world, what we want to create in the world and how we want to mirror society. Black people and people of color just don't exist in the world. We have an artistic point of view, we have thousands of years of culture to share, but because we've been colonized all over the world, our stories have been suppressed and I feel like it's time, now that the earth has put us on timeout.
Ann: Literally, Gaia has said, "Sit down", that maybe when we come back that we will be more fruitful and more understanding about the power dynamics of art and hopefully that will encourage more people of color in positions like intimacy direction and intimacy work in general to help elevate our society in a very foundational way.
Carly: Wow, amazing, yes, amen!
Ann: Little bit of hope, we got out fingers crossed!
Carly: I believe, I believe. I love this idea of using pause to plant the seeds of what we want to see in the future, how we want to keep growing together.
Carly: Our theatre community is a reflection of the larger global community too.
Ann: Well, let's talk about that. Okay, so when you're in the rehearsal room, you've got lots of experience with being in the rehearsal room. Let's talk a little bit about the power dynamics and privilege in the rehearsal room. This idea of leading, how do you lead? What do you think of when you are helping directors and choreographers?
Carly: Great question. I can speak from experience through intimacy direction and also from direction leading a room, and I think one of the most important things is just this foundation of directors need this awareness of the power that they have in the room and that actors are conditioned and trained in a lot of ways to please the director at the expense of their personal boundaries and integrity sometimes. There's this stigma around actors saying no or pushing back and it makes you difficult or a diva and I think as a director, part of acknowledging the power that you have in a room or an intimacy director, it's really powerful to actively undo that and practice naming at the beginning based on the culture you wanna create in your rehearsal room, name the actors are not gonna be punished by asking for what they need to do their best work, and rather wanting to encourage that and say, "You can speak up "and you're not going to be fired or punished "or have a reputation as a difficult actor "just because you ask for what you need "to do your best work." Actors, as you said, are the most vulnerable folks in the room. Their work lives in their bodies, that's incredibly vulnerable. And so I think it's really important to take care of them and give them permission to communicate their needs. A practice that I love and have done since the beginning of my experience as a director and offer to directors as an intimacy director, because I think intimacy directors, as you said, we're not the sex police , we're here to empower the directors and the actors to have better communication, to really tell the story they want to tell and to create a culture of consent in their rehearsal room. And one of my favorite tools for that is just taking the time to make group agreements with your actors at the top. What does this group telling this story in this context need to make sure that everyone can expect safety, dignity, and belonging when they come into the rehearsal room? Let's take the time—
Ann: Love that.
Carly: —yes, let's invest in a conversation and let people activate their voices and I always suggest putting ask for what you need as one of those agreements. So I think that's a really powerful way that directors can, can start to advocate for actors in a different way and acknowledge their power. I also think that it's really essential for directors, intimacy directors, artists of all kinds, to engage in reading and reflecting on the privileges that each of us personally has as a human in this world around race, gender, ability, size, and more; and just to be aware of how that plays into the power you have as a director. Or an intimacy director when you're telling actors what to do with their bodies, because we don't make theatre in a vacuum. And I think it's essential to acknowledge that. For instance, staging intimacy could be a lot more charged and vulnerable for an actor who's the only woman in the room and so that's a great opportunity if you're a male director and you're directing that scene to consciously, mindfully say, "I'm gonna bring in a woman intimacy director" in that situation. And also—
Carly: Go ahead.
Ann: Just building on that, I think there's no reason why we should censor writers, playwrights, screenwriters. There's no reason we should censor their stories and as stories come to the surface that are gonna get greenlit, are gonna get produced, that have stories of intrinsic trauma to people of color, to women, to our trans community, I feel that it might serve intimacy direction and the craft to incorporate more of our family, the intersectionality of our family into the space. I just think it's just gonna be a natural progression, to be fair. The more that the classes start to become available I think, and even of creating, I love the idea of creating affinity space for the initial training of different people in our intersectioned world. But then also, there's also this looking out into the community and saying, "This is us and this how we "share our intimate moments "and this how we tell the story of our cultural sexuality." I think that that's gonna be really important moving forward and I think it will give power to the people who we want to share the story to, our larger audience.
Carly: Yes, amazing. I think just, yeah, making these tools available for more folks and having folks feel empowered to be like, "Even if I'm not an expert, "I'm gonna add a few things in my tool belt "so that I can be more mindful of power and privilege "and consent in the spaces that I run." I would love to talk about, since we are in this really intense time and a lot of us as theatre artists are drawn to very charged or challenging work; how do we navigate spaces and how do we balance where artists and intimacy directors specifically aren't therapists, but we're still exploring and opening up our emotions, especially in everything that will be very charged around touch in the aftermath of this pandemic and physical distancing?
Ann: That’s a great question. As we wake up out of this pandemic, and now I just read an article this morning. Theatres are being very reticent about opening up in the summer, they're not opening summer, now they're thinking fall, it's not gonna happen, they're pushing it back to the spring, shows have been canceled. Because we're really trying to create space for healing and for understanding, especially coming from our leadership. The information is so confusing and so I think we just need to all take a breath and realize that we may be in this format, these boxes, we may be in these boxes for a while. I think we have to be very sensitive to people's personal clocks. We have to be sensitive to actors' clocks and I say that because when we get back into a rehearsal space and we are sharing spaces, we're going to have to think about protecting ourselves and protecting our co-actors, our crews, our designers, anybody in that space. I feel that we're going to have to have safety measures and I know that equity is working on this around the clock, I know that SAG-AFTRA is working on this, trying to improve the guidelines that they've put forth already. I think that it's going to be a very interesting time as we open back up. Things like masks and PPE and testing, temperature-taking; all of those things are going to have to come into effect in order for us to do our craft. I don't like saying, "The new normal." I think it's a progression, I think it's an evolution. I really do believe that people who didn't necessarily have access to the arts are going to create and find interesting spaces to do theatre. I'm a big, big student of Grotowski's work and the poor theatre and Peter Brook's work with "The Conference of the Birds" and how this troupe of marauding performers will come and lay out a blanket and perform for a small village. I really, really believe in that and I believe that theatre has been kidnapped by financial crazy town. It's so expensive to do a show now. And now, even no matter how much you throw money at this pandemic, it will still cause harm. And so I think those big institutions and those big engines and those big theatres... I just hope that if you're a director out there, I know we have 96% of you out there are directors and producers out there, yes, we love you, we love you, and we know you wanna get started again; but I please hope that you can breathe with us and reach across the table to artists who are dying to do something for you and find a way to do it in a protective, healthy, sanitized way.
Ann: Don’t need to rush back into something just because of financial decay. I think we just need to let that happen and focus on the health of our spaces, focus on the health of our audiences that come and see us, and think about innovative ways to deliver theatre because theatre will never die.
Carly: Absolutely, theatre has survived many plagues and I think this is incredible—
Carly: —at a really tragic and horrific cost also, but that we can also see there's an incredible opportunity to tear some things that weren't working to the ground and come back to this core of what you were saying. What do we really need? What is the essentials that tell this story? What are the essential stories? How are we using them to connect and feel with communities? We don't need these huge budget, expensive productions to do that and I think there will be some power in grassroots theatre when we can be in physical spaces. But in the meantime, I think we can still be creative in these boxes and that we can even, I think as we talked about before on the phone, there could be some amazing ways to get creative in staging intimacy in Zoom theatre in this pause away from our stages and--
Ann: Go with that, go with that. We're in this box, how do we share intimate moments when, often, the actors aren't even in the same room and that we're on this virtual landscape that is now Zoom, and hopefully, something better soon? Sorry, Zoom.
Carly: And I think this can all be applied both to the Zoom boxes and then when we go back out, is that let's lean into the magic of our medium which is theatre, which doesn't have to be naturalism. We can be so creative and we can tell stories in these non-literal ways that can sometimes be more powerful. Just in the Zoom box, there's the distance to the camera. That also could be a very comedic kiss if that's the story you're telling.
Carly: There’s leaning off of the screen.
Carly: But just using, reaching, spatial relationship, breath, muscle tension, design. Design can be incredible with light and sound I think is gonna be a big part of that. Even in the before times, one of my favorite sex scenes I've ever staged didn't have literal simulated sex. There was just kissing and touching of arms and hands, and there can be something just as powerful, sometimes more powerful, by having a creative theatrical interpretation of an intimate moment.
Ann: Yeah, building on that; depending on how long we're in these boxes, some people are in the school of don't make theatre, stop doing it in these boxes, it's not theatre! And I understand, appreciate and respect that 100%. I think people are rushing to these boxes to just keep content going and to remain present and to say I was the first two and we did a play, which is great and I understand that and I believe that that is a fervor that I think we're maybe pulling back from, I don't know, maybe it's getting stronger. But I think we can create a choreography, we can devise a vocabulary for intimacy in Zoom. That's an interesting thing to me. Are we going to have a moment where a kiss is, is demonstrated by a certain specific type of choreography? Are we gonna have a vocabulary and a vernacular for the things that we do normally when we're in rehearsal, but through a Zoom lens, literally? See what I did there? I think that it would be really fun and interesting to investigate a new vocabulary or at least an interim vocabulary for what we're doing to display intimacy on these screens. I think it might be interesting for directors to investigate that, interesting for designers and for actors to investigate how we're gonna create language around performing theatre in these boxes.
Carly: Yeah, that's amazing. And I think some of our discoveries in that can be taken back to our physical spaces even after. One more thought I've been having about intimacy and some of the practices of intimacy direction in Zoom theatre; one, I think we need to still be mindful of consent when we're asking actors to tell sexualized stories and not assume just 'cause they're not touching anyone else that consent is automatic. And because especially, even with privacy, when something's on the internet you have less control over it. So I think we have to be mindful of that. And then, one of my favorite practices from the field of intimacy direction which is something I've engaged in as a director for many years, before that is the practices of IDC calls it closure, TIE calls I de-rolling.
Carly: Regrounding away from, back to yourself as a person and releasing of the character after charged work. I think that it's so important for when directors through Zoom open something vulnerable up in actors that we close it at the end, that we bookmark it and making sure to leave this practice of regrounding into self after Zoom performances if we go deep into charged work; especially because we need to ritualize the separation 'cause actors are performing in their homes, in their rooms, and we really need to not encourage actors to bring the trauma of their characters into their personal bodies and into their home spaces.
Ann: I could not agree more.
Carly: Yeah, and this is just a period that's a really intense strain on mental health in general, so let's use this practice to destigmatize mental health and talk about it and encourage actors to take care of that.
Ann: I could not agree more, that was very well said. Being in our own homes and not being able to tap out physically with our co-actors; how far should intimacy go as far as theatre is concerned?
Carly: What do you mean?
Ann: I mean if we're in these boxes and people want to push the intimate worlds of their characters, how do we differentiate between intimacy and, say, pornography? Where is that line when we're in our rooms and we have an audience? How are we going to, as intimacy facilitators, going to draw the line in this time of the pandemic about what is intimacy and the theatrical use of intimacy and what is flipping over into pornography?
Carly: Right, that's an amazing question. I see Diana's back, hi!
Ann: Oh, hi, hi, hi! End scene.
Diana: Hi! Oh, no, no, no, no. It's a really, really good question and maybe it also, there's been an amazing conversation happening in the chat and I've got some great questions here, so—
Diana: —feel free to continue that because I feel like I'm gonna grab this one.
Ann: Go for it.
Diana: Laura Carlin asks "When a mistake has been made "by a performer in the creation process, "how do you help them learn or grow "and simultaneously make amends? "Do you draw from restorative justice practices?"
Carly: Great question, do you wanna start, Ann?
Ann: Yeah, I think it's like, “oops, uh-oh, I'm sorry.” Right? Are we here, are we here? I think you have to acknowledge that something has not gone quite right. Acknowledge it with that person and then apologize. I think the process of not shaming and not ignoring or glazing over it like, "Oh, get over it, you'll be fine!" I think we're beyond that in the rehearsal room and in the rehearsal process. I think we live in a cancel culture, unfortunately, or at least we did; hopefully we won't in the future. But we live in a very blasé kind of culture of, "Oh, just grow up", but I think when we're working in a vulnerable space that we have to acknowledge that a mistake has been made and then we have to apologize for that. Maybe, Carly, you can build on that.
Carly: Yeah, that's really beautifully said and just so resonant with how I'm feeling about that. I think there absolutely has to be acknowledgment. I definitely use the practice and often include it in group agreements at the top of ouch, oops, I'm sorry, move forward; which is something I originally learned from a Gender Justice LA training. But just a chance for someone to say, "Ow, that hurt me." Oops and I'm sorry, acknowledge that you made a mistake and apologize. Don't say, "Oh, but I didn't mean to" because intent is not the same as actual impact. And so, I think having space for, we're humans, we mess up. We try things and we mess up, especially as we learn and grow and it can be messy. But I think part of accountability is acknowledging it and then learning from it is not repeating that behavior. I think that's what becomes important and different ouches, that sounds kind of reductive, but they require different levels of accountability and interference or not. But I think a way for things that are smaller, I think that just acknowledging that this was a mistake and apologizing and then not repeating it can go so far. And I love what—
Carly: Go ahead.
Ann: Go ahead.
Carly: I love what you said about cancel culture. I am very not into cancel culture, I think it's violent and I don't think it helps us overall. One of the best things I've ever heard about this is on one of my favorite podcasts; it's called "How to Survive the End of the World" with two sisters who are sci-fi writers and social justice activists, adrienne maree brown and Autumn Meghan Brown. But they talked about the violence of cancel culture and how that doesn't leave room for us to grow and heal. If we take somebody who messes up and just put them away forever, they're done, we don't get better as a whole and they have no chance to grow or heal and the person who's been harmed in that community doesn't have that chance. So I think accountability's essential, but I don't think we need to full-on cancel people every time that they make a mistake and their humanity. This could be a whole other--
Diana: Yes! All of these could be a whole other. Let me throw in another question from the audience out there. A couple of people asked this in different iterations across Facebook and in our registration questions, but do you feel that in a production, the roles of director and intimacy director should be separate, or is it okay to combine? Why?
Ann: I could start. As a stage director, as a trained stage director with hundreds of shows under my belt, I feel as though, yes, you can have the beauty of having an intimacy director in the room and I encourage if the budget allows and the timeframe allows that you should 100% have an intimacy director in the room. However, if you can take, and these are directors, I know you're out there, hi, I'm one of your clan. If you can look at the study of consent and boundaries and, actually... There's a book called "Staging Sex".
Carly: So good.
Ann: I highly recommend it. It's by Chelsea Pace and Laura Rikard of TIE and they really give you a practical knowledge if you can't have an intimacy director in the room with you at all times. How to navigate intimacy in a healthy way with your actors forward and I highly recommend that you snap that up and take a look at it because it gives you practical ideas and practical theory about putting intimacy work into a scope that has consent and boundary work incorporated into it. It's a beautiful book and a beautiful study. So, if you can have an intimacy director, absolutely do. Make sure they're vetted, but if you cannot, then I highly recommend you do the deep work that it takes to actually understand what intimacy, consent and boundaries in your rehearsal room actually mean. Yeah, so that's kinda my thing about that.
Carly: Amazing, that makes me think of a few other things. One, yes, that book is a really amazing resource for directors and I believe that these basic tools and practices, they're great for just all directors to have. It's another thing to put in your tool belt. It doesn't make you an intimacy director, but I think it's just like, oh, I have a director that has a few basic skills around, like fight choreography. That's another thing for your tool belt. I think there's something very analogous to it. I think it really is situational when you should bring in an intimacy director. Yes, if you can afford it and if you feel you need one, and if you've done real reflection and said, "I don't have the tools to handle this" then it's really important to bring someone in. I think there's a lot of specifics. It depends on the context of the story, the actors, the context of the production; is it a university, is it a what? And so, just to ask yourself, "Do I feel confident with my knowledge "in staging this specific kind of scene?" And if you're like, "I'm not totally sure", whether it's about that actual sexual practice or whether it just feels intimidating, whether it's about wanting somebody to come in and give you some specific choreography tools; though some directors feel really solid about choreography but they might want support with negotiation and consent and actors' needs. Those are two different skills that an intimacy director can bring.
Ann: Also, if they’re—subtle as looking at, we're not therapists, but it behooves intimacy directors to have training in mental health first aid. So, if you can see one of your actors distributing or displaying dissociative behavior you'll know how to talk that person back in. Not saying that you should do that without training, but there's something you should do to look at how the work and how the art is physically resonating within the actor in that moment. So, those are things that intimacy directors are trained to do and certified to do, but yes, you can notice those things and you can, in that moment, recognize that maybe you need to pause, take a pause for a moment and allow that actor to redistribute that energy a little bit.
Diana: That’s amazing.
Carly: And there's also some situations where if you're working with two actors who have personal history or conflict, that's a great time to bring in an intimacy director. If you're working with a company or a group that has a history of consent violations or has had some issues, that's a great time to bring someone in, just if you feel over your head with the specifics. You're like, "Well, I can totally stage, "I feel confident with a makeout scene, "but I don't feel confident staging "this BDSM kinky sex scene." Everybody is a director, it's a powerful thing to look in and be like, self-reflection: what do I feel confident about and what do I want support with? And intimacy directors aren't gonna take your job away or police you; they're there to collaborate, I really believe, and help you realize your vision while keeping your actors safe.
Diana: You two have been such a wealth of knowledge and I'm excited to take so many of the things that I'm hearing into my own practice and we've got so many more questions and we talked in our pre-conversation about—
Diana: —I’m gonna send you all of the questions that I'm not able to get to right now and you two are game to share some knowledge and I think they have some plans about how they might be sharing that knowledge, but we'll definitely throw stuff onto the Facebook page that becomes available, and check our website 'cause we'll add additional resources. I know, Ann, you've got some specific resources that you're gonna share with our audience today and Carly as well. So, because of time, I wish we could go on for so much longer.
Ann: It went so fast, how's that even possible?!
Diana: I don't know, I don't know! But in closing, would you briefly, we're asking everybody this; would you briefly share something that you have learned or discovered during this quarantine period that you plan to incorporate into your practice as an artist?
Ann: There’s so much. What I'm learning, what I think is an unfolding process, like a flower that is blooming... Is that no-one wants to hurt another person intentionally and that in this time of sensitivity and pandemic, I really feel that artists are going to lead the way in healing and this is a time where writers are writing. I can feel them writing. I feel them writing plays, I feel them writing screenplays. I feel that there will be a historic collection of what is happening now and I personally want to be ready to absorb those things, learn from those things, and then as an artist, I have nothing that stops me from wanting to share those things with the planet. And for me in this pandemic, I have to be resolute and understand that this is going to go day by day and that there are no true answers except what we know, what we learn, 10 years from now, five years from now, two years from now; we can't be in the knowing and in the experiencing at the same time. So, I'm learning to breathe with that, I'm learning to talk to colleagues that have the same flow of energy that I do, directors, producers, actors, interested people, allies, all of our intersectional love bunnies out there, I just want us all to breathe together and learn how to treat one another better during this timeout.
Carly: That’s so beautiful. I think for me, one of the biggest things is in this pause you're slowing down and just this reconnection with life is short and beautiful and precious and the world is a wild place and what do we want to do with our time? What brings us fulfillment, what's in line with our integrity, what gifts can we share with others, and how can we use art? And I believe that so many of us are drawn to theatre, I certainly am, because it's such a communal creative craft in the communities that are around theatremaking. And so I think in this time it's a brilliant chance to say "What do I really wanna do, what's important to me?" and the importance of reaching out and connecting and the balance of taking time by ourselves, 'cause that is inevitable, but also not forgetting, and sometimes it can feel exhausting and overwhelming in this time, but not forgetting to reach out and connect. And not necessarily with the goal of productivity in mind, but just in hearing and inspiring each other and dreaming and scheming for the future; the uncertain future, but that we can be in together and look forward to.
Diana: Thank you.
Ann: I love that.
Diana: Thank you so much, so thank you to our fantastic speakers and I wanna thank, again, our partners at HowlRound and Travis on our tech, amazing. Aviva Levy handling the ASL interpretation, thank you so much. You might be over here or you might be here or you might be, I don't know where you are for everyone else, but I just wanna say thank you for being here and all the good work that you're doing. We'd also like to acknowledge our longstanding partners at the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Pasadena Playhouse and Boston Court Pasadena and we really look forward to reuniting with them next year when, hopefully, we'll be together again in person. This conversation and all the conversations are gonna be archived and available with closed captions on both howlround.com and directorslabwest.com so you can head there for that and to see any of the conversations you might've missed. And with that, I guess I'll say I hope you'll join us again tomorrow for a conversation between Laura Lawson and myself as we discuss disability and equity as creative forces. So, thank you so much for being here with us today. We hope this conversation sparks many, many more and with that, be well. Thank you.
This conversation is presented as part of Directors Lab West Connects, an 8-day series of livestreamed conversations and Q&As crafted for and by theater directors and choreographers that will reflect upon, explore, and inspire paths forward in the transformed and transforming nature of live theater. Curated to reflect a wide range of topics, each session will feature speakers sharing their unique perspectives for 30 minutes, followed by a live moderated 15-minute Q&A.
RSVP for this conversation, read speaker bios, and submit questions ahead of time at directorslabwest.com.
Directors Lab West Connects will be livestreaming on howlround.tv and on the Directors Lab West Facebook page, where viewers can engage with peers and ask additional questions in the chat. Each session will be archived on both HowlRound and Directors Lab West’s website.
The full Directors Lab West Connects schedule of conversations is:
Saturday 23 May 2020
Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps: A Discussion of Institutional Perspectives, Connections, and Support
Sunday 24 May 2020
Anne Bogart and Jessica Hanna: A Conversation about Creative Practice and the Shifting Landscape
Monday 25 May 2020
Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein: Using Intimacy Direction to Create a Culture of Consent Post-COVID
Tuesday 26 May 2020
Laurel Lawson and Diana Wyenn: Disability and Equity as Creative Forces
Wednesday 27 May 2020
Daniela Atiencia, Gianna Formicone, and Makiko Shibuya: Global Perspectives from DLW’s International Alumni
Thursday 28 May 2020
Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman: Reimagining Liveness and Connection for Virtual Space
Friday 20 May 2020
Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery: Reflections on “Remote” Teaching and Community Engagement
Saturday 30 May 2020
Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin: The Power of the Arts — Theater and Dance in Systems-Impacted Communities
- ASL Interpretation will be available on both the HowlRound and Directors Lab West Facebook livestreams.
- Closed captioning and ASL Interpretation will be provided on the archived video on both the Directors Lab West and HowlRound websites.
See the other archived videos that belong to the Directors Lab West Connects livestream series.
ABOUT DIRECTORS LAB WEST
Founded in 2000, Directors Lab West brings together dedicated emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers together with master artists for an eight-day long intensive filled with workshops, conversations, panels, and symposia enabling them to inspire each other to dream and create the future of American Theatre. Now entering its third decade, the Lab's alumni network is comprised of over 600 theater artists from all over the world. Directors Lab West is presented with artistic partners in Pasadena and Los Angeles and is supported by the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. www.directorslabwest.com
Directors Lab West Connects is produced by Che’Rae Adams, Douglas Clayton, Ernest Figueroa, Martin Jago, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Randee Trabitz, and Diana Wyenn, with additional support from Emily Claeys and Reena Dutt.
About HowlRound TV
HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email [email protected], or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.