Intimacy coaches, coordinators and consultants are increasingly swung into the theatre’s arsenal of resources, offering vital tips to ensure that performances involving the portrayal of physical or sexual content are both realistic and safe. The “cradle of Canadian theatre” is now offering these consultants to student actors in the U of T Drama Coalition.

Acting is based on trust. It involves a tremendous amount of courage and sensitivity to bring a script to life. Portraying scenes with physical or sexual content is challenging and, at worst, it can erode that sense of trust and damage actors’ and audiences’ feelings of safety.

Doug Floyd, , Director of Theatre and Performing Arts, Hart House Theatre

A new kind of assistance has come to the fore over the last five to ten years to prevent concerns and ensure safety: The intimacy consultant. “Hart House Theatre, the focal point for performing arts at the University of Toronto, is offering this specialized kind of support to all U of T students in the U of T Drama Coalition. This is a vital, pan-University resource for all those interested in the stage,” Doug Floyd, Director of Theatre and Performing Art, emphasizes.

He explains the impetus: “We thought the community could use support in this area. Hart House Theatre is a leader here, on the forefront of creating best practices for intimacy support in the theatrical environment. Consultation has extended and benefitted safety and consent in the rehearsal room and on the performance stages ... And that's just another way Hart House has major impact outside of its walls.”

Doug describes how the need for this resource has grown over time. “Intimacy work quickly evolved from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have.’ Students were introduced to these supports, and this quickly became something they sought out. We knew we needed to do this and found a way to fold it into our best practices,” he says, adding, “It’s something the entire team is really proud of.”

Hart House Theatre used intimacy consultations for its 22/23 production of "The Gray: A Wilde Musical in Concert".

The Theatre used intimacy consultations for its 22/23 production of The Gray: A Wilde Musical in Concert and other productions throughout its recent Seasons.

Doug emphasizes how this work has helped actors to navigate what’s sometimes difficult terrain. “Consent is so important and to have someone come into the rehearsal room to work with the actors on the intimacy scenes, or any aspect that could be defined as intimate, is crucial.”

He notes that some actors feel afraid to object to a director’s input or suggestion. “That's why having these professionals come in, as a third party, with an arm’s length relationship to the rest of the production, is key.”

Meet the Consultant

One of the consultants to whom Doug turned was actor and coach Corey Tazmania. Flying back and forth between Toronto and New York, Corey has focused her career in this area.

Corey Tazmania. Photo credit: Joe Gaffney

Like Doug, she underscores the importance of this work: “Actors are an interesting group in that they’re lending their own humanity to their art. They need to be prepared for intimacy scenes so that they feel psychologically safe to make bold, dynamic choices with their embodiment of a story.”

She explains the different roles: Intimacy coordinators are for film and television. Intimacy directors are for live performance.

“When it comes to intimacy coaching or consulting, it has to do with the amount of time that a production has allotted or the level of the needs of the production,” she says. “So, for instance, if the actors have clear boundaries, great communication skills and are able to advocate for themselves, then perhaps having a consultation is all that’s needed to help tell a story in a way that feels dynamic and enthusiastic to all parties.”

Seeing the Actors’ Confidence and Delight

This past year, Corey worked on Into the Woods by St. Michael's College Troubadours (SMCT).

Corey worked on "Into the Woods" by SMCT.

"That was such a lovely process. The actors, director, musical director and stage management team … we all had a fabulous time developing a collaborative agreement together where we could play in the space. The director provided a lot of breadth for us to work together, and the actors were clear about their partnership, both on an intellectual and physical level. The work that we did was incredibly expansive and joyous.”

She enjoyed seeing the actors’ delight. “They loved practicing it. They were so excited. You could see the joy on their faces because they had freedom. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they were able to advocate for themselves. Their confidence levels had grown so much.”

Response Resoundingly Positive

This past year, intimacy consultations (Corey and others) were hired for eight productions, including SMCT’s Cabaret; University of Toronto Scarborough’s The Last Time I Saw You; and University College’s Follies’ Rocky Horror Shadowcast.

The response has been resoundingly positive. Shannora Lankanathar, the Director of The Last Time I Saw You, said, “[The Intimacy Consultant] was so welcoming and created a safe space for us to choreograph a scene and made our actors very comfortable!”

Hart House Theatre “Creates a Space Where Actors can Flourish”

This kind of response does not surprise Corey, and she applauds the Theatre for taking the lead in this area. “The fact that this Theatre recognizes the importance of this work and wants to create a space where actors can flourish, is huge. Hart House Theatre has been a pioneer.”

She makes no secret about holding this Theatre in high esteem. “The organization is incredibly well run. They are such generous, kind and communicative people. The front of house staff is awesome. Every time I go, I feel so good. The space itself is warm and welcoming. The fact that their programming goes beyond U of T students and alumni, and goes into the community, is great.”

Read more about Hart House Theatre.