When clothes fly off, this intimacy coordinator steps in

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It takes a lot of people to make a film. You have the director for the overall vision, the gaffer on the lights, the set decorator to add texture to the world of the film, and the costume designer to visualize the looks of the actors.

And when those costumes come off and things get a little steamy? That’s where Jessica Steinrock comes in.

Ms. Steinrock is an Intimacy Coordinator – or Intimacy Director when she is working on theater and live performances – who facilitates the creation of scenes containing nudity, simulated sex or hyper exposure, which she defines as “something like which one may not otherwise publicly reveal, even if it is not legally nudity.” Like a stunt coordinator or a fight director, she makes sure the actors are safe throughout the process, and that the scene looks believable.

The role has come into prominence in the last five years. As the entertainment industry reeled from the abuses brought to light by the #MeToo movement, many productions were eager to publicly demonstrate their commitment to safety. Hiring an intimacy coordinator was one way to do this.

“A lot of places were really excited about the potential of this work and being ahead of the curve — showing that her company cared about its actors, cared about consent,” Ms. Steinrock said in a Zoom interview from her home in Chicago. Did.”

Ms. Steinrock – who has worked on projects including the critically acclaimed Showtime survival drama “Yellowjackets,” Netflix’s teen dramedy “Never Have I Ever” and the Hulu mini-series “Little Fires Everywhere” — have been involved in intimacy coordination since its early days. The industry took off thanks in large part to the highly publicized work of intimacy coordinator Alicia Rodis on the HBO show “The Deuce” in 2018. degree in theater at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, focuses on navigating questions of consent in that space.

“In the improv world, I was picked on a lot or kissed or grabbed, or jokes were made about me that I didn’t consent to,” she recalled in a TikTok video. “And I was really curious if there were ways to navigate that better.”

This issue was exclusively improvised, based on the philosophy of accepting and building on what your scene partners give you.

“You’re put in these uncomfortable or harmful situations because the whole culture is ‘yes, and…’,” said Valerie Robinson, head of the university’s theater department, who advised Ms. Steinrock over her master’s degree and Ph.D. “It really started to come to the forefront for him that this was a problematic way of making art.”

Ms. Steinrock and Ms. Rodis met through Ms. Steinrock’s then-boyfriend, now her husband, who is a fight director. Ms. Rodis recognized a similar spirit in Ms. Steinrock with all the qualities of a great intimacy coordinator. He mentored Ms. Steinrock at his first gig: a 40-person orgy on the TNT show “Claws”. “She was thrown into the lion’s den, and it completely broke her,” Ms Rodis recalled.

Ms. Steinrock quickly became a leader in the booming field, and now devotes much of her time to educating people about it. In April 2022, she started her TikTok account, which now has over 700,000 followers. In her videos, she criticizes “spicy” scenes in TV shows (her current favorites include “Bridgerton,” “Sex Education” and “House of the Dragon”); breaks down how such scenes are filmed; and answers frequently asked questions about her work, such as “What do you do if an actor gets an erection?” or “If two actors are in an offscreen relationship, do they still have to follow the same protocol?” She’s not only uncovering the mystery of her job, but also engaging people in a broader conversation about intimacy and consent.

The role of Intimacy Coordinator can be a tricky balancing act between choreography and caregiving, and Ms. Steinrock brings to the job an academic grounding in feminist and performance theory, combined with innate people skills.

“She’s very patient,” said Karen Kusama, a director and executive producer on the Showtime drama “Yellowjackets,” who worked with Ms. Steinrock on the show’s pilot. “She listens. She’s looking for the actor to lead… what is it that will make them feel cared for the most.

The pilot for “Yellowjackets” includes several intimate scenes, including one where two high schoolers, played by Sophie Nellis and Jack DePuy, have sex in a car, and another where a housewife, played by Melanie Lynskey, masturbates. Ms. Kusama said it was important for Ms. Steinrock to be on set for those scenes.

As a director, Ms. Kusama said she always feels a deep empathy for how vulnerable the actors are in these scenes and makes a point to investigate. Answer honestly knowing how much is on the line. An intimacy coordinator as a neutral party is more likely to get an honest answer.

“Socially, it’s really hard to talk about sex,” Ms. Steinrock said. His role is to “create more avenues of communication,” he explained, so actors feel safe discussing any issues, big or small, that may come up.

Ms. Kusama said that having an intimacy coordinator not only creates a safe environment: It also creates better, sensual art.

“It demands that you take responsibility for your story with the actors, that you really say, yes, we’re portraying sex and here’s what it means — that is, it needs to means something,’ she said. “

That’s where Ms. Steinrock’s work choreography comes in: She can offer ways to use the breath or adjust the position to make the scene more stimulating.

In just five years, intimacy coordinators have become an important part of the entertainment industry. HBO has required her in all of their productions since 2019 (Ms. Rodis oversees her schedule). At this point, Ms. Kusama said, it’s hard for her to imagine signing a project without intimate scenes.

The explosive growth of the discipline means that coordinators have to create benchmarks in real time – like building the tracks of a roller coaster as it shoots into the air. “We first have to define the role and agree what it is,” Ms. Steinrock said. “It’s Step 1 of creating a new profession. And then we have to define what it looks like to be qualified for that role.

In 2020, Ms. Steinrock, Ms. Rodis and another Intimacy Director, Mary Percy, formed the Intimacy Directors and Coordinators led by Ms. Steinrock. She had never been a chief executive before, but taught herself on the job, rapidly developing IDC into the leading training and accreditation organization in the sector. Its four-level program includes a mix of virtual and in-person classes. It is the only organization to offer certification for both impersonation coordination and direction, and it also runs workshops for other artistic professionals, such as actors or directors, who wish to bring these practices into their work.

“Jessica has created accountability structures so that we can say: ‘This is what our certification means. There’s all the education behind it. Here we have equal practices, and here we have accountability to these artists,'” Ms Rodis said.

Ms. Steinrock sees these standards advocacy as a core part of IDC’s mission. She was part of a working group organized by the Screen Actors Guild to set new safety standards for intimacy, which were published in 2020; In 2022, the association launched a registry of vetted intimacy coordinators and announced it would create a pathway to union membership for these professionals.

Ms. Steinrock said, “Intimacy coordinators are not a panacea for an industry that has historically abused its actors – and, frankly, has historically abused most people.” But integrating them into presentations is one clear step institutions can take as part of a broader commitment to safety and equity.

On Ms. Steinrock’s part, that commitment also includes working to diversify intimacy coordination. While it is a rare female-led discipline in an industry dominated by men, it is still predominantly white and straight – one of the disadvantages of a young profession that relies largely on word of mouth.

Ultimately, the hope is that intimacy coordination becomes the norm in the entertainment industry, and “that it helps us to see each other and the role of sex in our lives differently, as something rich and full of possibility.” is,” Ms. Kusama said.

Ms. Robinson is excited to bring these issues to the fore of her former student. “It’s expanding our vocabulary and giving us avenues beyond the industry to address these topics that people find so difficult,” she said. And while most of the awareness has come through TikTok, Ms. Robinson also noted that Ms. Steinrock’s dissertation had been downloaded more than 700 times — another sign of how much interest is in the area.

Ms. Steinrock invites people to re-examine how sex works in the media they consume.

“The media is so many people’s first experience with intimacy,” she said. “And when we care about how things are made, it starts a conversation about how things are working elsewhere, and I think that’s part of what people expect in their daily lives.” Could be a big impact.”

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