At the beginning of November, Theatre Erindale premiered their first mainstage show of the 2018-2019 season, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. This survey of Greek myths and legends revolved around the theme of love. In the words of actor Liam Galway, “love is the central theme of Metamorphoses. If you were to take love out of the play, you would be left with pointless prose honestly.” In Metamorphoses, Galway played Eros, the God of sensual love and desire, and his scene partner, Rebecca MacDonald, played his wife and lover Psyche. Both Galway and MacDonald and their fellow actors Gillian Lonergan and Jacob Rutigliano were involved in some of the production’s most physically passionate scenes. Lonergan and Rutigliano portrayed Myrrha and her father Cinyras. According to Greek legend, the goddess Aphrodite curses Myrrha with an insatiable lust for her father which leads to the father and daughter engaging in the act of incest. To safely portray such explicit scenes of passion on stage, Theatre Erindale bought in intimacy coach Siobhan Richardson to direct moments of intimacy in the show. The Medium sat down with the four actors to discuss what is involved in intimacy training, how this training benefited the production process of Metamorphoses, what it was like to work with Richardson, and how intimacy training is helping to build a culture of consent and communication within Theatre Erindale and the performance industry as a whole.

Siobhan Richardson began running intimacy workshops for the Theatre and Drama Studies program last year and now the entirety of the program is trained in intimacy for the actor. Rutigliano points to the effect that this training has had on his work as a theatre student. “Had you told me a year ago I’d have to do these sorts of shows and these sorts of scenes and I had no idea that intimacy training was a thing, I would be much more scared to approach it than I am now. I’m excited to approach this sort of stuff now because I know I can do it safely, the people around me are also trained to do it safely, and with that fear out of the way, you can immediately tackle the work and hopefully end up with a better show at the end of it all.”

“Now that intimacy training is more integrated into Theatre Erindale, you can look forward to seeing more shows that can definitely be more saucy but more safe, more safely saucy,” Galway mentions.

In the most general terms, intimacy training is a way to approach intimacy in performance. “The intimacy training we did for Metamorphoses was between romantic partners,” explains Gillian Lonergan. “This training is useful for approaching moments of emotional or physical intimacy within a theatrical context because it gives you a framework in which to view the scenes instead of going in cold or not knowing what’s happening. So it gives you a process in which to approach the work.”

“The whole thing was done in the same way you choreograph a fight,” Rutigliano explains. “Siobhan came up with how that scene might go in terms of intimacy and then we were able to slowly work through it, bit by bit, building and taking apart until we found something everyone was comfortable with.”

MacDonald explains that the actors were directed in a way that allowed them to be in control of what happens to their body within the scene. “It gives more power to the actor because they are taught that you in control of your body. Putting the control back into the hands of the person whose body is being directed so that they don’t feel like they are completely under the power of someone else is really important.” MacDonald reflected that a lot of the training revolves around clear communication between actors. “We have to ask every time we touch someone in an exercise and if somebody says no, we don’t do it.”

When asked what kind of cultural impact this sort of training may have on the performance industry as a whole, Lonergan argues, “I think this kind of thing was always necessary and given the context of the day and age we’re living in, I think people are finally starting to realize that it’s necessary.” MacDonald echoes this sentiment. “I think giving people that opportunity to learn and understand and know that they are in control of their body no matter what the pay check says, no matter what the call sheet says or the official titles of the job, [is important]. It makes it so that it doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time actor, you have the power to say no, to speak up and say when you don’t like something.”