Laura Rikard on intimacy coordination in film, TV and theater

TRAILBLAZER: Asheville resident Laura Rikard, who's been at the forefront of intimacy coordination for over 15 years, presented at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival in February. Photo by Dana Patrick

It took the #MeToo movement in 2017 for film, TV and theater industries to recognize the need for intimacy coordinators and choreographers. By then, Laura Rikard, an Asheville-based screen and theater professional and co-founder of Theatrical Intimacy Education, had been sustaining such work for nearly a decade.

“I think people originally thought this work was very prescriptive and that the intimacy coordinator or intimacy choreographer comes in and sets every move and tells the actors exactly where they’re going to put their hands. That intimacy coordinators were there to police people if they were doing something wrong but we are really there to be a resource for positive solutions,” Rikard says.

“The job is to be a good collaborator. You come in, and if folks aren’t sure how to speak up or ask for what they need, they can come to you no matter what. And you give them the tools to ask for what they need  or you ask for them.”

In February, Rikard spoke at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival about intimacy coordination and her work in spearheading these efforts in the entertainment industry. According to Rikard, she is the first intimacy coordinator invited to present at the film festival.

Before hopping on a plane to Europe, Rikard spoke with Xpress about her work in a rapidly evolving field and the differences it’s making.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

When did you start exploring intimacy coordination?

It really started in 2008, when I was a graduate instructor at the University of Virginia, where I was getting my MFA in acting. When I got to be the leader of the classroom, I started noticing that students were intimidated by me, just because of the setup of the power dynamics modeled in the industry. I wanted to start developing tools that may help them feel more empowered as they were training as actors.

Originally, I was calling this work “instilling self-care in actor training.” And then that transitioned, and what I was doing was actually looking at broad consent-based practices. Then I became an acting and movement professor, and I would be asked to come in and work on the movement scene for shows, and I would show up, and it would be the intimate scene. And so I started putting together the consent-based practices along with the choreographing of intimacy.

I met my research partner in 2014 who was really honing in on the physical choreography aspect of it. We combined our research to form Theatrical Intimacy Education a venue for what we were discovering. We didn’t have a plan for where this work would lead. We would present on it at conferences and support folks when they reached out. And then after the #MeToo movement, the industry got really interested in the work.

What’s an example of a regular day on set?

In staging intimacy, that’s different depending upon the actor you’re working with. Some actors want to have a lot of say and really want to talk it through with you. Some actors just want you to tell them where to put their hands. Most of the time, it’s a collaboration where you have ideas, they have ideas, and you’re double-checking that everything’s working for everybody’s boundaries.

I think in the beginning, people thought this was a role to come in and double-check that everybody was on their best behavior. But now people are understanding we’re collaborators that help move this process along.

One of the most important things that we do is that we are a mediator that helps manage the power dynamic. Sometimes just wearing the title of director can be intimidating to other people. Being able to come to me and say, “How many more times are we going to do [this scene]? I don’t know if I want to take my top off that many more times.”

And then I can be the one that says [to the director], “For the sake of the actors there is a request for only a few more takes, how do you feel about that?” And usually the director wants what’s best for talent and they hear the request. One of our most important roles is being a calm voice that can mediate concerns.

Generally, how prevalent is intimacy work within the acting field?

SAG-AFTRA has recommended that all productions seek one out and if an actor requests an intimacy coordinator that production hires one. But no production has to have one. SAG-AFTRA has lent its voice to saying, “We think they’re a good idea,” but mainly for scenes that go beyond basic kisses and handholds.

I think the big mistake folks made in the beginning was they thought we would be the fixers of the #MeToo movement. The wound of the #MeToo movement is going to take a lot more than only hiring an intimacy coordinator, but we’re definitely a good conversation starter — and I think it has reached a point where it’s normal to hire an intimacy coordinator, particularly on anything with a larger budget. I don’t think it will be long before the cultural response is, “Yeah, of course we hire an intimacy coordinator.”

Does your work involve a lot of travel?

I’m also a tenured professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, so I travel all the time.

Intimacy coordinator work has been a little slower since the SAG-AFTRA strike, but it’s picking back up again since the strike ended in November. I go to Wilmington a lot. I go to New York [City] quite often — every now and then LA, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. Often, once people work with you, if they like working with you, they will call you again and again, even if they have to fly you in from somewhere.

I have also started doing a lot more local theater work. I head up the intimacy work for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts [in Winston-Salem] and I travel to Europe once or twice a year. I’ll be heading back over again this summer to train the coordinators in Europe.

How did the opportunity to speak at the Berlin festival arise?

About four years ago, the German Actors Union did a study of the different organizations that were training people to be intimacy coordinators. And from that study, they were going to pick who they wanted to come to Germany to train intimacy coordinators, and they picked Theatrical Intimacy Education. I, along with one of our team member, Kim Shively, have been to Germany twice to train the intimacy coordinators from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

That led to me actually being invited to speak at the festival last year over Zoom. After that, they were like, “We want you in person this year.” Productions have had a good experiences with the intimacy coordinators I’ve trained.

What’s the personal significance of getting to present at Berlin?

It’s a big deal because it’s one of the most important film festivals in the world — and maybe the most important one in Europe. I’m part of a part of the festival that’s called “Power to Transform” that homes in and focuses on women and nonbinary people that they feel are transforming the industry. So, it’s not just an honor to get to go to the film festival itself, but it’s an honor to be uplifted in this particular subpocket of the festival.

What do you hope attendees take away from your talk?

Interview the person that they hire and make sure that they’re the appropriate collaborator for that story and for the production team. Because not every intimacy coordinator is the right intimacy coordinator for every film — just like every director isn’t the right director for every script.

I also hope they see the positive and really useful aspects [of this work] and how this role can help alleviate stress for the leaders on set. To have the opportunity to share this research that I’ve spent, gosh, almost 15 years working on, is in itself humbling and an honor.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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