9 Dec 2018

Guidelines on getting intimate on stage and screen - Ita O'Brien

From Standing Room Only, 12:30 pm on 9 December 2018

The Independent newspaper in the UK dubbed her the world's leading sex scenes director. Ita O'Brien from the UK has the job title of 'Intimacy Cooridnator'. She teaches in some of Britain's premier acting schools, hosts Intimacy on Set and Satge Workshops for film and theatre actors around the world, and devises her own work. Ita is currently working to establish best practice for producers, directors, and actors working with scenes with sexual content.

She's in Australia and New Zealand doing events with the Equity Foundation (a professional development branch of Actors' Equity) to give actors, directors, producers, writers and crew from the stage and screen industries an opportunity to learn best practice approaches to intimacy, simulated sex scenes.

The industry she says currently has no established guidelines or accepted process. "Under-rehearsed or unsafe intimate scenes do not serve the production or keep the participants safe. There are countless examples of poor practice leaving actors with lasting damage and often compromising the production."

Ita is currently working to obtain industry adoption of the 'Intimacy on Set' guidelines.

Ita O’Brien trained as a dancer at The Royal Academy of Dancing and at Bush Davies in the UK, and followed a professional career in Musical Theatre performing on television, the West End and touring, where she was an assistant choreographer she gained a diploma in acting from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, working for eight years in theatre and television. She went on to gain her MA in Movement Studies and teach in many leading training instituions. Ita devised her first play, April's Fool which performed in 2009, and co-developed a play The Faun about Nijinsky, which performed in 2012. Her most recent work in development, Does my sex offend you? is an exploration of the dynamic of sexual abuse.

"Historically, lesbian sex scenes have predominantly been directed by men, and have a male gaze, the male fantasy of 'girl on girl action', much like that found in pornography," says Ita O'Brien

Filming sex scenes in front of a crew of sound technicians, gaffers and cinematographers has never been easy. In fact, she says, most actors seem to have a bad sex scene war story.

Now the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal has prompted Equity, the actors' union, to consider detailed guidelines governing simulated sex on screen and stage.

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.