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Call for new ‘intimacy director’ role to safeguard actors in sex scenes

Ita O'Brien and Chris Carey are calling on the industry to do more to protect performers during sex scenes Ita O'Brien and Chris Carey are calling on the industry to do more to protect performers during sex scenes
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A set of guidelines intended to prevent actors from being exploited during sex scenes has been drawn up, as part of a campaign also calling on the theatre industry to employ dedicated staff to oversee sexual content in shows.

Movement director Ita O’Brien has been developing the Sex on Set guidelines over the past four years, and has already started implementing them in her theatre, television and film work. She also describes herself as the UK’s first ‘intimacy director’.

Along with her agents, Chris Carey and Sam Dodd from Carey Dodd Associates, O’Brien is calling on the industry to do more to protect performers during scenes that involve sex or nudity, particularly actors at the beginning of their careers.

O’Brien said the guiding principles were “transparency, openness, agreement and consent”, meaning that the actor could trust what is being asked of them. She has already used the guidelines on productions include the Orange Tree Theatre’s recent Low Level Panic, for which she was movement director, as well as implementing them in drama schools.

However, O’Brien has said she now hopes the guidelines will be adopted more widely by theatres, TV and film producers, claiming it is an issue that needs urgently addressing.

The guidelines cover stage and screen productions from auditions to rehearsals and performance, including post-production for television and film work.

They put forward practical measures that should be taking place at each point, including banning nudity or simulated sex from auditions, having contracts that clearly state expectations regarding nudity and sexual content, agreeing to closed sets for sex scenes and employing a specific individual as an intimacy director.

O’Brien is proposing that productions employ an intimacy director in the same way they would a fight director or choreographer, to ensure the measures are put into practice.

“There is an assumption that people don’t know how to fight with swords, so you get somebody in to teach them, and people assume you don’t know how to do a foxtrot, so you get a choreographer in, but the thing with sexual contact and sexual expression is the idea that everybody knows how to do it so we don’t have to take care.

“Invariably whenever there isn’t transparency, whenever everybody isn’t in agreement and knows what’s going on, that’s when actors are left vulnerable.”

O’Brien and Carey Dodd Associates are in the process of developing a course in intimacy direction, to enable others to receive training, and is seeking backing from the industry.

Carey said: “It’s about implementing a safe system of work that doesn’t exist in the industry. Although it’s a new initiative for us, it shouldn’t be new. Every other area has got a code of practice but the industry has failed on this. I understand it’s a big change, but it’s a necessary change.”

He added they had been trying to seek support for their venture for a number of months, including from Equity, which he said had been “quite slow on the uptake” but had now invited them to a meeting.

“We have been disappointed with Equity’s response to it, but we’re pleased that they have been in touch and we want to get round the table with them.”

Equity declined to comment on the situation.

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