Long before there was a title for Intimacy Directors & Choreographers, plays and films still had scenes full of intimacy. The stories we tell are dramatic: full of scenes that are high-energy, high-stakes, and high-emotion. The relationships between characters offer a clear way to introduce conflict and build dramatic tension in the narratives. When everything rises to a peak, violence and intimacy are two avenues by which that tension is released- and sometimes they can even happen alongside each other.
In the early days, directors who understood the importance and challenge of intimate scenes would ask for Richard’s help with what they called “delicate” or “personal” choreography. At the time, this wasn’t a well-known specialty with established best-practices in the industry. It was a bunch of humans trying to do their best to behave professionally while finding that sense of “chemistry” that audiences expect from characters in love.
In some ways, performing a fight scene can be far less intimidating than an intimate scene. Closing down to protect ourselves in a fight is a much more natural reaction than to open up an be vulnerable with somebody we don’t know very well. “Practicing” violence is relatively common in our world: whether that’s roughhousing as children, training in self-defense and martial arts, or in sports like wrestling, boxing and fencing. We have experience viewing these violence-adjacent interactions in a similar way to many other games or contests. We understand we’re not really trying to hurt each other, just trying to win. We also accept that violence isn’t always personal; we know what it’s like to fight over something- from money in a vault to control of a city.
This sense of practice isn’t as established for intimacy. With the possible exception of a child’s game of ‘House’, we don’t typically play at being friends or lovers. It can be unusual, confusing, and hurtful if we sense that we are being used for ‘relationship practice’. Without these opportunities to practice, actors working in theatre and film can find themselves struggling to unblur the lines between their characters and their own personal relationships as coworkers. Lack of communication and boundaries resulted in a range of problems, from misinterpreting the on-stage action as genuine intimate interest to deliberate abuse by less scrupulous performers.
Luckily, Richard had years of youth-counseling experience and the practice of Flowing Dragon Swords to call upon. Flowing Dragon Swords (FDS) is a game which encourages its players to practice that deep sense of interpersonal connection. It invites people into a space where they can deliberately and consensually attempt to navigate the experience of being open and present with one another. It supports them to be their full and unique selves and to respect and accept their fellow players for who they are. Players can be more willing to explore these potentially vulnerable interactions during Flowing Dragon Swords, confident that the rules of the game provide a structure in which to practice safely.
Because Flowing Dragon Swords was already an integrated part of Richard’s stage combat work, actors and directors on these shows were already exposed to it. Together, Richard and the casts he worked with began to realize FDS as a tool that could help build the “chemistry” that audiences routinely associate with physical intimacy. Combined with Richard’s experience in youth counseling, this formed the basis for encouraging reflection and frank discussion of the performers’ experiences in and out of scenes. This communication contributed to a greater overall sense of comfort, consent, and clarity within the work.