Interview #1 with Leslie McBay, intimacy director for Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s “In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play”

The production is directed by Victoria Shepherd, who gets a few Q&As.

Interviewed March 17, 2022 by  Alumnae’s Bloggergal/Bar co-manager Tina McCulloch.

ABOUT LESLIE (from her website https://www.lesliemcbay.ca/):

Leslie McBay (she/her) is a performer, producer, and intimacy director based in Tkaronto (Toronto). As a certified intimacy director with IDC, Leslie works for theatre companies across southern Ontario, as well as for student productions at the University of Toronto. She has also adapted her intimacy practice to work in virtual rehearsal rooms.

Leslie is invested in creating a culture of consent in our rehearsal spaces by teaching workshops, advocating for actors, and building empowering choreography. She wants every actor to know how to communicate and receive boundaries, and to have a nuanced understanding of consent, so they can dive fully into the daring work of storytelling. “No, but” is the new “Yes, and” — pass it on!

Recent intimacy director credits:

“Skin a Cat” (Pat the Dog Theatre Creation) 

“All’s Well That Ends Well” (Dauntless City Theatre) 

Professional Consultant with Hart House for University of Toronto student productions 

Coming up on April 3, Leslie is speaking on a panel discussing Stage Combat, Intimacy, and Workers Rights at Gwaandak Theatre’s Awaken Festival. 3pm YT, 6pm ET.

Festival Program here: https://www.gwaandaktheatre.ca/current-season/awaken-festival-2022

* * * *

Q:         How did you come to be attached to this production?

A:          I was referred by the previous intimacy director, who had moved out of town and couldn’t work on it anymore.  [Bloggergal note: “In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play” was in rehearsal back in March 2020, but was paused for 2 years due to COVID-19 pandemic and local health rules.]

So when rehearsals started up again, I was at the first read-through via Zoom [February 1, 2022], and then I worked with the cast in-person last week [March 1, 3, 6] – we did Act I – and I’ll go in next week [March 22, 24, 27] to work with them on Act II.

Q:         What exactly is intimacy direction? What does an intimacy director do?

A:          Intimacy directors choreograph simulated intimacy like fight directors choreograph simulated violence. Intimacy onstage can include a lot of things, like simulated sex, nudity, or other intimate physical contact between performers. It’s really vulnerable to perform intimacy onstage, so intimacy directors help advocate for actors and their boundaries, and build choreography that they feel confident performing night after night.

The field of intimacy direction exploded at the time of the #MeToo movement – there was a feeling of “We can do better to protect actors” that got buy-in from the people in power, especially in the film industry. One of the pioneers of the field is Tonia Sina (https://www.idcprofessionals.com/bios/toniasina) who, with other intimacy professionals, founded the organization IDC (Intimacy Directors & Coordinators) in the U.S. to create standards for simulating sex or intimacy on stage and film. “Intimacy Director” is the title used for people who do this for theatre/live performance, and “Intimacy Coordinator” is used in film/TV.

Q:         When did you start training for your certification as an intimacy director? How long is the course?

A:          I began training for my certification in 2018, and started assisting intimacy directors on productions. Then in 2019, I completed my advanced training at an international choreography intensive. Along with the specialized training in intimacy choreography, intimacy directors have training in Mental Health First Aid, anti-oppression, advocacy and more. I’m certified with IDC (Intimacy Directors & Coordinators) (https://www.idcprofessionals.com/).  The training and pathway to certification has been adapted for pandemic times. Now people can train online for Levels 1 and 2, and start in-person workshops for Level 3.  The whole thing might take 2-3 years, and cost several thousand dollars, and for me, because of COVID, it was a long process.

Q (from director Victoria Shepherd):      Some productions have been using fight directors as intimacy coordinators, as both intimacy and fight require careful choreography. What are your thoughts on this practice?

A:          There is certainly some overlap in the skillsets between intimacy and fight directors. Fight directors choreograph movement to tell a story in a way that is repeatable, sustainable, and safe. Where fight directors focus on physical safety, intimacy directors are sensitive to the psychological and emotional safety of the performers. Before the field of intimacy direction was well-known, sometimes a fight director would be in rehearsal for a fight and the play’s director would ask, “Oh, while you’re here – could you look at this bit of intimacy?” It’s actually something that motivated some of the pioneers of the field of intimacy, who came from a background as a fight director or stunt coordinator [for film/tv]. Now that we have specialized training for intimacy directors, and standards for approaching this work, it’s important that producers and directors do their due diligence to make sure that they are hiring people that have the training and qualifications to do the work safely. If I [as intimacy director] am working on a scene of sexual violence, I collaborate with a fight director.

Q (to “In The Next Room” director Victoria Shepherd):   I suppose it’s kind of a silly question, given the play’s subtitle – “The Vibrator Play”! – but why did you decide to use an intimacy director? How has the process been?

A:          When I was directing “August: Osage County” for Alumnae Theatre in 2016, we had a sexually charged scene that evolved into violence. As our Fight Director began working on choreographing that action, we began to talk about the intimacy in the scene. He choreographed that as if it were part of the fight, and the process was really effective.  I brought him back for a production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” that I directed in 2017, and he choreographed very sexy scenes in the play.  The actors felt comfortable because the sex scenes were all meticulously choreographed in a way that was completely non-sexual.

When I pitched to direct “In The Next Room”,  I knew that I wanted an intimacy director because of the many sexual situations in the play. When we resumed rehearsals after the Covid shutdown I needed to replace my intimacy director, and Leslie McBay was referred to us. Watching her work has frankly been revelatory – she spends a lot of time talking to the actors, checking in with them, putting them in space where they can focus  on the work, and helping them take chances in a safe and respectful way. She really creates a cocoon that fosters creativity and the end result is very convincing! Watching her work has inspired me to be a more thoughtful and careful director.  

Q:         Leslie, how do you get new business?

A:          Most of my referrals are word of mouth! Productions can hire me as an intimacy director via my website lesliemcbay.ca/intimacy. I also consult, conduct workshops, and speak on panels.

Thanks, Leslie! The next interview will focus on the specific intimacy direction she’s worked on for “In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play”.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s “In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play”, directed by Victoria Shepherd, runs April 8 – 23, 2022.

Performances Wed – Sat at 8pm • Sundays at 2pm.
Regular tickets $25 • Wednesdays 2 for 1 • Sundays PWYC.

Purchase: https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/in-the-next-room-or-the-vibrator-play.html


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