Why This Matters: Charlotte director Sarah Provencal is one of the seven recipients of ASC’s 2020 Creative Renewal Fellowship, which provides funding to mid-career Mecklenburg County-based creative individuals for experiences that help them explore their creative journey.
By Bernie Petit
People do their best work in spaces that empower them, said Sarah Provencal.
It’s why the Charlotte-based theater director and educator curates spaces where actors are in control when portraying characters in intimate situations.
Creating such spaces requires “consent being given at every step of the way,” from the moment a show is announced and the casting process begins through rehearsals and the final production, Provencal said.
Her consent-based philosophy is being augmented by her training in intimacy direction. An ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship, which provides funding to mid-career Mecklenburg County-based creative individuals for experiences that help them explore their creative journey, is helping provide her with the time and resources she needs to accomplish her work.
Intimacy direction is intended to make scenes involving intimacy safer for the actors involved.
“We want to stage it in a way that the actor does not feel vulnerable,” Provencal said. “The character might feel vulnerable, but the actor should not feel vulnerable.”
So, if a show calls for a scene with a kiss, or any other simulated sexual act, the intimacy director desexualizes the language and develops a specific choreography for the scene with the actors based on their boundaries.
The intimacy director “might come in and say, ‘Okay, the kiss is at this tempo and for this amount of time. The lips touch for this amount of time and this hand goes here,’” Provencal said.
“At every moment of that choreography, the intimacy director is saying, ‘Okay, Person A, how would it be for you if Person B put their hand on your shoulder?’ And then Person A can consent or say, ‘No, but a hand could go here instead.’ And so, it doesn’t take that long.”
But it is crucial to take the time to ensure actors feel respected at every step of the process.
There’s a history of actors being told to kiss on demand in the rehearsal room, with little to no direction or preparation. While not as prevalent as in years past, that still happens.
“That’s not good. That’s not safe. That’s not consent,” Provencal said. “It makes the actor vulnerable to whatever their scene partner is going to do and we don’t want that.”
It’s likely Provencal will be among the first certified intimacy choreographers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s theater community – if not the first – when she completes her training.
She’s looking forward to using the techniques she’s learned to help local directors articulate, implement and prioritize consent-based boundaries set by actors in intimate scenes.
For Provencal, it all comes down to her favorite word – consent – and providing an invitation and opportunity for actors to say no.
“We don’t want the actor to do something that’s going to be bad for their mental health and we want to make sure that every step of the way does have that opportunity for consent,” she said.
And if an actor doesn’t give their permission?
“We’re creative people,” she said. “We can figure out another way.”