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Consent in Performance: Bringing The Craft of Intimacy Direction to Purchase  

by Dayna Blanchard  

 


This spring, Purchase introduced “Consent in Performance,” an introductory intimacy direction course in the theater and performance department. As Purchase’s first intimacy direction course, Consent in Performance will start an important conversation on how to recognize, state, and respect boundaries not only in the entertainment world, but in our daily lives.  

 

Consent in Performance focuses on “consent work,” defined by Professor Lauren, as a class to train “consent forward artists”—artists who put their performers’ boundaries and consent before the product, whatever that might be. 

 

“‘Yes’ is not the only thing that means we can move forward,” said Deleon, “‘no’ is a very viable option that gives us the opportunity to look at other ways of doing things right.” 

 

Deleon explains the course’s aim as “taking our ‘yes, and’ world and turning it into a ‘no, but’ world where ‘yes’ is not the only way we can continue to work,” underlining the importance of recognizing the neutrality of the word “no” and removing its heavy stigma.  

 

Deleon is a former Purchase alum with a bachelors in theater and performance. Her journey back to Purchase started at Sarah Lawrence College where she co-taught a class called “Intimacy and Performance,” inspiring Deleon to create her own course with her extensive knowledge of and experience in the field of intimacy direction.  

 

“It was an opportunity to take my thesis work and the work I’ve learned teaching other classes and things along those lines to create a course that I thought would benefit [Purchase students],” says Deleon. “What I would’ve liked to have been able to take at Purchase.”   

 

To teach her students to detach the negative emotion associated with the word “no” and how to work with respect to it, Deleon empowers her students to take ownership of their bodies through enforcing their boundaries. 

 

Abigail Luis, a junior in the Film BFA, is one of these students. After Deleon hosted an intimacy direction workshop in the fall, Luis’ interest in the discipline was piqued. As she explains, “that conversation has always kind of been around amongst our program because as a directing and writing based program, we’ve had to take note of [intimate] scenes like that and how we would go about directing those types of scenes.”  

 

Rather than directly learning to film and direct intimate styles, Luis describes the coursework as “movement-based”, catered towards performers in the first half of the semester. Deleon used meditative and physical exercises that, in Luis’ words, “explored the body and explored consent with a partner”. Some exercises include “something like staring into your partner’s eyes for five minutes in silence while she’s [Professor Deleon] guiding you through different prompts you might see in relationships in film and theater,” Luis shares. “Or it might be having your partner touch different parts of your body with specific pressures of touch to see what comes up for you emotionally.”  

 

Deleon explains the ethos behind the interesting structure of her class as a culmination of her experience in the field and academic thought. While creating the coursework, she kept in mind the questions that she wanted her students to be asking themselves. Questions like “what happens to my physical body when I go through this experience?” are meant to illustrate the experience of the actor and help students empathize with the position of the actor/performer. To become an intimacy coordinator/director, further schooling and certification is needed; but as Luis says, “the goal of the class was not for us to walk out being intimacy coordinators, but for us to walk out with more awareness about the body and how the body can respond to these intimate practices, and then consent work with that going forward.”  

 

As documentaries like Quiet on Set bring more attention to the sexual abuse occurring behind the scenes of popular movies and television shows, industry professionals can better recognize the need for intimacy coordination and consent work in these industries. “Power dynamics, for so long, have [had] such an impact on us,” Deleon explains, “like, if anybody watched Quiet on Set, you can see how that power manifests… Power is not inherently bad or good in any way: it just is, and we have to be aware of it to work with it and understand the impact that it has on us.” In recognizing the importance of consent work in neutralizing the power dynamics between artists, we return agency back to the performers whose work we enjoy; and in this lies the importance of intimacy direction as a discipline, and the key to healing the relationship between director, performer, and audience.  

 

But learning this lesson may not have been possible without Jordan Schildcrout, a distinguished professor of theater and performance here at Purchase and Deleon’s former professor. While talking to Professor Schildcrout about her interest in teaching and professorships, Schildcrout’s advice to Deleon encouraged her to pursue an opportunity to teach intimacy direction as Purchase. As Deleon recalls, “Jordan basically had been like, if there’s something you really want to explore, like get really into, this is a great opportunity to do so by teaching a class in terms of an academic standpoint.” 

 

From Schildcrout’s perspective, “she’s [Deleon] really at the forefront of a certain approach to intimacy direction... This kind of level of intellectual analysis of real scholarly thought that she’s bringing to the profession, and then sharing with the students in this kind of course- this to me is just ideal.”  

 

In recognizing that Purchase’s theater and film department students could only benefit from Deleon’s expertise, Schildcrout underlines the importance of the discipline overall. “What she’s really doing is introducing the practice [intimacy direction] and, really, the thought behind the practice, and this is what makes it so valuable.”  

 

Schildcrout’s own expertise in the field of theater lends further credence to the positive impact of Deleon’s class in the industry. “To me, it’s an issue about art. It’s an issue about representation. It’s also an issue about social justice and power within the artistic process.”  

 

Learning to balance the intersectionality within the intimacy directing profession may be difficult, but students like Luis prove that it not only be done effectively, but benefit students outside of a film/theater context. “I’m not a hugger… they can be a great friend, but I just don’t like hugs,” Luis divulges. “This class has given me this foundation to say, ‘I’d rather not have a hug, but we could do a fist-bump instead?’”   

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