The Role of Intimacy Directors on Broadway



“A Strange Loop” is an award-winning Broadway musical with an intimacy director in the cast. Photo by Elena Luwa Yin

Nudity and love scenes on stage are nothing new. But a burgeoning profession that is lesser known is gaining importance on Broadway: intimacy director.

To help avoid instances where actors feel uncomfortable or even unsafe performing certain parts, intimacy directors guide people through romantic movements and help facilitate communication between actors and directors. There are some even trained in trauma-informed work, mental health advocacy, gender sensitivity and choreography. But in a niche profession that is relatively new, the training for intimacy direction is not standardized, raising concerns among some in the industry that the profession is lacking adequate guidelines.

“This is a new discipline that did not exist five years ago,” said Claire Warden, who is considered to be the first intimacy director for Broadway theater. “It’s still finding and forming itself.”

In 2019, Warden was hired to work on “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” as an intimacy director, the first time the position was cast, said Warden, who’s currently working with another Broadway show. 

Intimacy directors, also called intimacy choreographers, don’t have to get certified in order to work for a show, and but some certifications are available.

The profession mostly relies on referrals, said Laura Rikard, an intimacy director and co-founder of Theatrical Intimacy Education, a consulting and teaching firm for intimacy direction in theater. Intimacy directors are usually hired by the producing companies who need help with an intimate scene, said Rikard, adding that they are often recommended to a show by actors, stage managers or directors.

Rikard said many shows hire intimacy directors out of fear of doing things inappropriately and being reprimanded by the “call-out” culture, she said, adding that intimacy directors are being hired to “check a box” so directors can feel like they’re absolved of any wrongdoing.

On occasion, Rikard said she has been called the “sex police” by actors who have had problematic collaborations with other intimacy specialists. But instead of telling actors what to do, she offers a space for them to talk openly about their boundaries, in a profession that historically has been rewarded for not having boundaries, she said.

Her company, Theatrical Intimacy Education, is based in North Carolina, and provides services online and in-person. Rikard has worked on several shows, including  “Spring Awakening,” “Omnium Gatherum,” “Scenes from an Execution,” and “Three Guys and Brenda.”

Amiya English, a theater student at the University of South Carolina Upstate, has studied under Rikard who teachers a class there, and said Rikard’s methods “changed everything.” English remembered her first stage kiss that initially made her nervous.

English said Rikard asked her where she felt comfortable being touched on her body and how long she thought the kiss should be. “It really did make it less weird,” said English.

But some intimacy directors want more than qualified teachers.

Ann James is an African American intimacy director and the founder of Intimacy Coordinators of Color.

“Right now, people just can say, ‘Oh, I’m an intimacy director,’” said James. “Are you?”

James said there needs to be unification across the board for leadership and accreditation.“If you don’t have any experience, but you have a piece of paper, what good is a piece of paper if you’ve never met your instructors in person?”

James also wants the industry to be more diverse.

As the first Black intimacy director on Broadway, Ann James published a series of articles to address equity in the industry. She said many stories are told through a white lens and pointed out the importance of diversity among intimacy direction specialists.

Antwayn Hopper, a Black actor from the Broadway show “A Strange Loop,” has worked with an intimacy director. The award-winning show is about a Black, Queer artist and his perception of his desires and identity.

Hopper said intimacy direction is about all the details. “I never considered the different meanings behind something as small as a hand on my chest versus my hand on my wrist,” he said. “Having an intimacy director in the team is a luxury because they contribute many colors to this powerful storytelling that delves into real life through physicality, voice and speech.”

As Broadway sets an example in intimacy direction, James said she wants smaller theaters exposed to the profession, so they understand the importance of having intimacy directors on set.

“Being small doesn’t stop those theaters from being good,” she said. “An oak tree grows from an acorn.”