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  • Yarit Dor

Honouring the lineage of stage combat in contemporary intimacy practice

So before I jump into the topic of this blog post, I'll begin first by lightly explaining what I mean by 'contemporary intimacy'.

'Contemporary Intimacy'

For me, this refers to intimacy practice that was developed by practitioners in the 21st century.

Many articles interviewing directors or actors talking about sex scenes before 2017 don't give a lot of information and no step-by-step process. However when reading those, you can piece together some approaches that they used such as rehearsals, talking through the action before the filming day, closing the set and using modesty garments. For example, Jake Gyllanhaal said in an interview that Jennifer Aniston introduced him to the 'pillow technique' during the shooting for their 2002 film The Good Girl by putting a pillow between them. This is strikingly similar to some of the External Barrier techniques many use nowadays. Since 2002, the equipment has obviously developed but the safety concept of using an external barrier for simulated sex actions is not new.

Stage Combat & Intimacy Practice

There are many pathways to train to work as an intimacy director or intimacy coordinator. Some practitioners were Advanced Actor Combatants or Certified Stage Combat Teachers or Stunt Performers before training in intimacy practices.

I myself am a BASSC Certified Stage Combat Teacher and still work as a fight director. The intimacy practice has enhanced my consent-based fight creation process and the fight direction has equipped me with safety concepts tools used also in intimacy choreography. For example: how to choreograph two characters 'crashing into a wall while kissing and making out'. Stage combat instruction skills are really useful to help performers not injure themselves during such action.

At the beginning of contemporary intimacy practice for the stage many intimacy directors (including me) explained their role's necessities and meaning through the similarities it has to the role of the fight director. Why? Well, when chatting with producers and unions, it was easier to compare it to a role that they already knew. The fact that both roles are health & safety roles made the comparison almost automatic.

And yet in recent years there's been a shift in perspective. Some intimacy practitioners or intimacy organisations remove the lineage of stage combat in this work in order to allow intimacy practice to stand on its 'own two feet'. I won't lie, I acknowledge that there are definitely pros and cons to this approach. But deep inside my bones I feel that I can't do that. Erasing that is like erasing part of myself. So I want to take a moment to highlight this lineage and to honour it because many of the safety concepts used in intimacy choreography are from stage combat.

Thank you to the stage combat worldwide community and to those intimacy practitioners that took what they learned about staging violence and modified it to be used in intimacy practice. I was going to thank people by name but I won't just in case they don't want others to know they come from that background. So I'll just write:

Thank you to some IDI members, some IDC members, some TIE members, some BIK members, some NSIP members, some ICC members, some Moving Body Arts members, some IPEC members and many more.

Thank you to Vanessa Ewan (UK movement director) that used stage combat concepts when developing her chapter ‘Choreography guidelines for scenes involving sex and violence’ (Actor Movement book published in 2014).

Thank you to the SAFD, BASSC, BADC, SCD, NSFS, SAFDi, APC, FDC and many others that developed stage combat and kept it alive. Your work and research on ways to stage violence is not forgotten. Thank you to stage combat organisations and individuals that supported the intimacy movement in its beginning.

I'm thrilled to know that consent based practices from contemporary intimacy work have seeped into the stage combat classrooms and into fight direction. It feels as though we have now come full circle - taking from stage combat into intimacy + taking from intimacy into stage combat. How beautiful.

Sending love, gratitude and pretend punches to all you stage combateers.

En Garde and Love.

Copyright 2023, Yarit Dor. All right reserved. If you wish to quote Yarit's blog in your article, research or any other format, you cannot use any of the above out of the context it was originally written. For info on how you can quote from this blog, see:

Photo from An Unfinished Man, The Yard Theatre, Director Taio Lawson, Fight Director Yarit Dor.


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