Part of the practice of Artist Wellbeing is about identifying risks and developing the skill of being able to recognise when creative risks become dangerous to physical, mental and/or spiritual wellbeing. This recognition, definition and relationship to risk assessment seems vital when working with sex and intimacy in the arts.
Ita O'Brien is an established movement director and intimacy director for film, television, and theatre. Ita and I met 2015. She had heard about my role as an artist wellbeing practitioner and invited me into a theatre R&D/devising process she was working on. Watching Ita work then was nothing short of inspiring. She has a grounded, authentic and attuned presence that is a joy to witness. The R&D process had strong themes of sex and intimacy within it and took safe creative risks.
Ita has spent the last four years developing best and safe practice for producers, directors, and actors working with scenes of sexual content in theatre, film and television. In March 2018 she has published 'Sex Scenes of Set Guidelines: Best Practice When Working with Intimacy, Simulated Sex Scenes, and Nudity'. Click here to see the full guidelines.
Ita explains: "These guidelines are not a constraint, but an improvement on current practice. They free the actor to embody the character whilst delivering repeatable and safe scenes that facilitate the Director's vision." I believe, that it is not only the actor that is freed by these guidelines. Directors, producers, dramaturgs, choreographers, set designers, costume - okay, pretty much everyone working on a piece of theatre, film and TV - will become more free in their roles if taking conscious responsibility of how to work with intimacy and sex.
Moreover, these guidelines are so essential as we swim in the #metoo and #timesup seas of rightful change. The guidelines have deep potential to provide an anchor, a piece of solid land from which artists can work safely and at their fullest creative potential. Risks are known, highlighted, managed and navigated with conscious appreciation of ethical boundaries.
Watch the short film Ita made that talks about her work as an intimacy director and her Sex Scenes on Set Guidelines.
I don't think these guidelines should stop at theatre, film and TV. I believe these could extend out into the sometimes more risk-averse world of performance art and fine art. Perhaps gallery spaces are a "set" too.
Of course, it is not the guidelines themselves that will bring about safe and ethical practice. It is the people that choose to use them wisely that can bring about change and more creative freedom.