Intimacy coordinator in “Shakespeare’s R&J” production supports actors
By Abigail Knoop | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter
Indiana University Southeast, Freshman
Theatergoers often see a new title in playbills when they go to a show: intimacy director or intimacy coordinator. With this new term, “Are there sex scenes in this?” might be among the first questions that come to mind. But not really, say those behind Kentucky Shakespeare and Pandora Productions’ staging of “Shakespeare’s R&J,” which runs through Aug. 27 at the Henry Clay Theatre.
This modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy takes place in a restrictive Catholic boarding school and the play’s four actors bring the story to life while never leaving the stage. Behind the stage, however, this production had the support of intimacy coordinator Hannah Pruitt.
Shaquille Towns (Student #2) and Brennen Amonett (Student #1), foreground, and Tyler Tate (Student #4) and Zachary Burrell (Student #3), background, in "Shakespeare's R&J." Photo by Bill Brymer. Courtesy Kentucky Shakespeare and Pandora Productions.
Intimacy coordinators, who help actors operate in emotional and intimate encounters, aren’t a brand-new idea. In the past five years, there are more working in Hollywood and now on Broadway. Lately, these roles have trickled down to the 502 as more Louisville productions have them. While it’s a new role, it’s a very vital one according to Pruitt.
Arts Angle Vantage: What does an intimacy coordinator do? How long have you been working as an intimacy coordinator? What drew you to it?
Hannah Pruitt: Intimacy directors who work in live theatre act as resources for everyone involved in the creative process — artists, directors, designers, etc. — to foster an environment centered on consent and communication. Their role in the process can help actors advocate for and establish boundaries, choreograph moments of intimacy on stage just like a combat choreographer, or even work through tricky interpersonal interactions regarding the creative process.
I began my training in late 2021 with Intimacy Directors & Coordinators Inc. and am still in the process of getting my full certification. I had heard about this work and it just clicked into my own values of creating art, being of help to others, and making positive change for all generations in theatre.
AAV: What do you specifically do in this production as the intimacy coordinator?
Pruitt: With “R&J,” I served as the intimacy consultant where I met with the team to establish the needs of the production, share resources and helped the artists learn how to communicate their needs, and clarify the choreography for the physical journey of these four characters.
AAV: How do you apply your role as intimacy coordinator differently seeing as though the characters, instead of actors, are minors?
Pruitt: I approached it through the eyes of young love — everything is new, exciting, and a little bit scary. The moments started
Hannah Pruitt, Kentucky Shakespeare Director
of Creative Engagement and Intimacy
Coordinator, Courtesy Kentucky Shakespeare.
with the idea of mimicking things that they may have seen from others or what they imagined might happen and morphed into something that was natural and true to those characters. That discovery was so beautiful. I definitely thought about the young people who I work with at Kentucky Shakespeare's Camp Shakespeare — what I would want them to know about consent and how I hope that they can find a place to be their authentic selves.
AAV: Why is this job necessary for this production?
Pruitt: This production blends a traditional play with a lot of stylized physical storytelling which means communication is key for everyone. The clearer and more specific that we can be means that not only is it great storytelling but also it means that the actors involved are always safe and supported.
AAV: What would you tell people who assume intimacy immediately means having to deal with sexual content?
Pruitt: I would say that, frankly, they couldn't be more wrong. Intimacy can be anything — a handshake, a hug between family members, a look shared between characters, etc. It doesn't have to have a sexual context at all. The ability to have someone with an eye specifically aimed toward intimacy in a production can only add to the depth of connection, meaning and impact that your story has on your audience. Also, the presence of someone in the room to navigate consent, the power dynamics, and the safety and comfort of everyone involved cannot be overvalued.
AAV: What’s special about this production to you?
Pruitt: This production will always have a special place in my heart — not only because it was the first one that I was able to work on in this capacity, but also because everyone involved was such a joy to work with. They brought their whole selves to this process and the magic that they create is something to behold.
Abigail Knoop is a freshman at Indiana University Southeast studying journalism and theater. She is a 2022 graduate of New Albany High School, where she was a section editor for the school newspaper, The Blotter, and in numerous productions through NAHS Theatre Arts. She participated in Arts Angle Vantage workshops covering “Mean Girls” and “Hamilton.”