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The Sex Scene Evolves for the #MeToo Era

The specifics of every scene tend to differ so much from project to project, however, that it’s more common to employ a more flexible problem-solving approach than to import isolated moves whole-cloth. An intimacy coordinator’s most specialized skill is less a technical trick you could teach in an hour and more a way of talking and describing movement to elicit a particular quality of response. This is extremely difficult to do well — a bit like being an advanced teacher of dance or yoga combined with being an astute and savvy coach. What do you say to an athlete midgame, in a moment of tension or uncertainty, to get his or her body to move differently, better, with more nuance?

Pace uses simple vocabulary terms when instructing the actors on how to perform — like ‘‘circles,’’ for what someone might do with his pelvis, or ‘‘visible power shift,’’ for switches in position. The body moves more realistically when it is responding to descriptive language, it turns out, than it does while being cued with the words for sex positions. If this sounds counterintuitive, picture a director telling an actor to ‘‘make it a little sexier’’ — which is about what the director sees, not what the actor feels — versus an intimacy coordinator instructing her to walk more slowly and deliberately, or to close the distance between her body and her scene partner’s.

When it comes to depiction itself, intimacy coordination doesn’t lead to markedly different visual treatments of sex: A director’s vision, and a network’s restrictions, are still paramount, and intimacy coordination is designed to help fulfill whatever a director’s visual and dramatic goals for a scene might be. On HBO’s ‘‘Euphoria,’’ for example, a series about teenagers grappling with various forms of addiction and abuse, this season intimacy coordinators helped facilitate unflinchingly graphic depictions of sex performed by very young actors; on FX’s ‘‘Pose,’’ about the gay and transgender ballroom community, they facilitated a love scene between two H.I.V.-positive characters that was groundbreaking in its subject matter but shot in the tastefully banal way of most cinematic intercourse, in a quick-cutting, nipple-grazing montage. I sometimes wondered, though, whether having a sex-positive, consent-educated, inspiringly unafraid person toting nipple covers in many skin shades might eventually have some palpable effect on how intimacy looked by the time it reached a viewer. Intimacy coordination creates choreography specific not only to a director’s vision but also to a role, taking into account how both the character and the actor playing her might feel. If Hollywood stories are indeed moving away from those told largely by cisgender white men, that shift seems as if it would inevitably be hastened by the presence of a professional whose job it is to suggest subtler revelations about the physical and psychological experiences of sex.

Katja Blichfeld, a creator of ‘‘High Maintenance,’’ HBO’s gently transgressive episodic comedy about an unnamed weed dealer and the New Yorkers who make up his clientele, told me that this season, she and her co-writer Isaac Oliver initially wrote a scene with stage instructions that read, ‘‘so-and-so eats so-and-so’s ass on the terrace,’’ she recalled, laughing. Her background in casting makes her primarily attuned to the way actors define a scene, and as a result, she says, she approaches writing loosely: ‘‘My first thought is like, what’s fun, what’s funny?’’ Before shooting, Rodis, newly hired to coordinate the show, reviewed the script. Her questions, posed to help make the scene look more realistic — ‘‘How is this touch or physical act deepening the narrative?’’ — made Blichfeld question why she needed that sex act. What did it reveal about the characters? Ultimately, she said, she realized she didn’t need it: It was extraneous to the story, and she came up with something else — a close-cropped make-out scene — before the actors even got to set. Some intimacy coordinators even hope that they might participate in script writing in the future; Pace offers consultations on postproduction.

Late last September, the intimacy coordinator Mitchell McCoy arrived at the New School for Drama Theater in Manhattan to work a scene between two sophomores in the B.F.A. program who were just starting rehearsals on an adaptation of ‘‘Fuenteovejuna,’’ a 17th-century Lope de Vega play about Spanish villagers who overthrow a villainous military commander. Programs like the Yale School of Drama, Juilliard and the New School have been integrating intimacy coordination more regularly into their curriculums; both actors in this rehearsal had been introduced to the discipline during a workshop their freshman year. Neither had worked with an intimacy director yet, though. As faculty members watched from folding chairs, McCoy and the actors sat cross-legged on the floor. That day, he explained, he would be breaking their first kiss into what he called a ‘‘rough skeletal structure.’’

Mouth corners twitching, the two actors, Chace Chester and Malaika Wilson, who are 20, stood to assume their embrace. Chester, who previously studied acting at the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts, later said he had never actually kissed anyone onstage before. When he first heard about the discipline, he was ‘‘confused,’’ he told me. ‘‘I thought, you know, you just kiss the kiss.’’ After being cast in the production, ‘‘I thought I would be comfortable with it,’’ he said. It wasn’t until he was standing there in front of Wilson that he realized he had no idea what to do with his hands.

‘‘You should have both hands come around the bottom rib height,’’ McCoy told him. To Wilson, he said, ‘‘If you’re both O.K. with it, slide your right hand downstage over the left trapezius, basically coming up to the back of his neck.’’ McCoy asked them to try holding the pose for 10 seconds. ‘‘So basically coming into sort of like the awkward high school dance hug.’’ They stood primly, then broke away. ‘‘Awesome!’’ he said.

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