“What is OK for one person is not OK for another” – overseeing intimacy on stage

One of the key people backstage for The Long Song at Chichester Festival Theatre has been movement director and intimacy co-ordinator Angela Gasparetto.

Movement Director Angela Gasparetto in rehearsal for The Long Song -  Photo Manuel Harlan
Movement Director Angela Gasparetto in rehearsal for The Long Song - Photo Manuel Harlan

Running on the main-house stage from October 1-23, the play is directed by Charlotte Gwinner.

Angela is delighted to be back in Chichester having worked on Macbeth a couple of years ago: “It was such a pleasure to be in Chichester. They really do take care of you here. It is exceptional, and I am not just saying it because I am here. I think it is the way that they really think of everything and set up everything so that you are put in a position where you are supported. They just help you to be as available as possible for the work.”

Which in itself is a reflection of the work that Angela does with the cast, particularly when it comes to the intimacy side.

“I am from Canada and in many ways the UK is the real frontrunner in terms of the role of movement director. And there is full scope. What the movement director does is all the way from micro working with the actors and supporting their physicality in developing the characters and creating their physical vocabulary. For this show, we have got a big abstract open space. We have got multiple rooms and multiple moments in time happening. It is about how we use that space.

“It really depends on the director, but it is a collaboration. Some directors have a wonderful sense of space. Sometimes I am collaborating with them. Sometimes I am directing some of the movement myself. There is never just one way of doing it.”

The point is that we express who we are with the way we move, and the movement director helps the actors come alive as their characters within the 3D space available to them. With Chichester, an additional challenge is using “the beautiful thrust stage, thinking about how we can use it.”

As for intimacy direction: “It has been a long time coming in terms of having attention paid to it. There are a couple of fantastic women in this country that are real leaders especially in TV and film work. It is important that it is paid attention to in theatre as well.

“I am co-intimacy directing with Kev McCurdy who is also the fight director. There is quite a lot of intimacy, close contact with a sexual nuance that indicates that kind of sexual connection in some way. And there is quite a lot of violence, and there is a cross-over between the intimacy and the violence. Kev and I have discussed it with the director.”

The key is consent, to agree the boundaries, to agree the points of contact: “You have to agree what you can do to make sure that everyone feels physically safe and also emotionally safe. When you are approaching a fight, you are looking at what is the story that the fight is telling and you need to think how you can safely do that, and it is the same with intimacy.

“In the past there was not a protocol or an understanding that it was important to talk through these things; there wasn’t an understanding that you need to approach it as a piece of choreography.”

And that is the point. The fights and the intimacy have to be fixed.

“There is no improvisation. It is clearly set. I think the two most important things are the safety of the actors and then that you are telling the story, but the actors must feel safe and secure and they must know that everyone is respecting their personal boundaries.

“You have agreed points of contact before you even start, and when you have then ‘no’ is never a problem. There are always a million other ways to do something. A lot of time in the past there was perhaps an assumption that something would be OK and people just got on with it, but what is OK for one person is not OK for another. You have got to make sure that everyone who is involved is OK with what is happening.”

In the past the danger was that actors felt somehow “obliged”: “And you hear stories in the past about films where women were pushed into things they didn’t feel comfortable with. And I am sure there are men as well. But it is about breaking it down and finding the tools and the skills to make sure everybody is comfortable.”

Picture: Angela Gasparetto in rehearsal for The Long Song, photo Manuel Harlan.