Like the bandaged place, many plays and musicals require moments of physical violence and/or intimacy on stage. From Romeo’s sword fight with Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet to the single-gunshot murder that opens A Soldier’s Play, many stage productions are faced with the challenge of choreographing moments of physical violence on stage in ways that support the storytelling, keep the actors safe, and be replicable for eight shows a week. Similarly, moments of physical intimacy, like a kiss or a sex scene, must also tell the story while keeping the actors safe, and be repeatable show after show. Read on to learn more about these jobs, and check out this interview with Rocío Mendez, who is credited with fight direction and intimacy for the bandaged place.
What does a fight director do?
Fight directors choreograph and direct all stage combat in a production. According to The Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD), a leading governing body in the field, “Stage combat is a broad term that covers acts of conflict, danger and/or violence performed for entertainment. A slap to the face, a fall down some stairs, an epic fifteen-person battle with swords and axes – all of these are stage combat.”
Fight directors work closely with the director to choreograph a sequence that tells the right story and teach the actors as they learn to execute that sequence. Imagine a scene in which the protagonist is initially caught off-guard by the villain but discovers her strength and by the end has defeated her attacker. Each movement by the actors within the stage fight should support that narrative. Additionally, fight directors must take into account the historical or social context in which the combat is occurring. What weapons would the characters have had access to? What were their cultural norms around fighting – for example, did they require a fair start, or could one sneak up on the other?
How do you become a fight director?
The path to a career as a fight director begins with studying stage combat, often as part of an actor training program. (Many, like Rocío Mendez, have also studied martial arts.) Colleges, universities, and theatre organizations offer these courses. Additionally, there are stage combat-specific clubs and organizations around the country where aspirants can train. Aspiring fight directors study and take skills-based exams in combat with different weapons, like rapier, knife, and dagger, three stage combat weapons Mendez is certified in.
Fight directors continue to study and train throughout their career. For many, fight direction is just one part of a multi-faceted career as an actor, director, stunt person, intimacy coordinator, or a mix of all of the above. Fight directors may choose to gain additional SAFD credentials, including Certified Fight Teacher, Fight Master, or Fight Director.
The field of intimacy coordination or direction is relatively young, and language around titles and how they are used is developing. For this article, we’ll focus on the job function rather than what it is called.
What is intimacy on stage?
Intimacy on stage includes, but is not limited to, any type of sexual scene. It could also include, for example, a scene of someone giving birth, or a scene that involves non-sexual nudity, such as the final moments of Wit.
What does the person charged with making sure that intimacy is safe do?
As with fight direction, intimacy coordination (the term favored for film or television work) or intimacy direction (the term more often used for the stage) begins with understanding the demands of the script and the director’s vision. Intimacy coordination or direction involves working with the entire team to develop a culture of consent in the production and assessing each actor's level of comfort with different possibilities of a scene prior to exploring, then meticulously choreographing, each movement, and ensuring that it is repeated exactly as planned throughout the run of the show. Working in this way protects actors from feeling pressured to do things they aren’t comfortable with and helps prevent any blurring of lines between real life and acting. Additionally, the person in charge of intimacy direction or coordination may collaborate with the costume designer on specific modesty garments or barriers needed for such scenes.
What is the career path for someone interested in this work?
There are a number of organizations that offer training in the field of intimacy direction or coordination, including Theatrical Intimacy Education, which offers workshops and seeks to make consent-based intimacy practices universal in the industry and not subject to a hierarchy of certification. Intimacy for Stage and Screen offers training and certifications, as does Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, Inc.
Upstage GuideReturn to the Table of Contents and learn more.
Bennett, Andrea. “A Day in the Life: An Intimacy Co-Ordinator for Screen and Stage.” The Tyee, 23 Sept. 2022.
Campanella, Tonia Sina. “Intimate Encounters: Staging Intimacy and Sensuality.” 2008. Virginia Commonwealth University, Master of Fine Arts dissertation. VCU Scholars Compass.
“Intimacy Directors and Coordinators.” Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, N.D.
Pace, Chelsea. “The Certification Question.” The Journal of Consent-Based Performance, Theatrical Intimacy Education , 1 June 2021.