Touchy Subject

Image: Chloe Dallimoren the set of Between Two Worlds with Director Michael Hurst and actors Melanie Jarnson and Tom Dalzell

Behind the scenes with Debora Krizak.

The #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on some of the power imbalances and fraught territory that, until recent times, had co-existed between actors and creatives for decades in Australia. Debora Krizak explores the new world of intimacy co-ordinaton.

Most people remember their first kiss. I have two memories. One was a high school crush at 16 and the other is buried beneath a murky surface. You see, my first kiss happened on stage. I was 13 and my scene partner was almost triple my age.

I still recall the nerves and feelings of nausea. But I was Cinderella, and he was Prince Charming, and that’s what you did in fairy tales. It was on that stage that I experienced what I later confessed to my mother as my first “French kiss”. It wasn’t mutual. I’ll leave it there.

Fast forward to 2022 and we are no longer permitted to fumble our way around in the dark. Intimacy co-ordinators are employed in theatre and on film and TV sets, with consent and boundaries openly discussed amongst cast, crew, and creatives.

Looking back over the last five years in our industry, a lot has changed as seen by recent high profile court cases surrounding actors and alleged sexual misconduct charges.

Having worked for years in musical theatre, I recognize that the culture needed improving. I’m also acutely aware of the “touchy, feely” nature of our industry and how it struggles to fit into the standard code of ethics.

Image: On the set of Heartbreak High

One thing I’ve always loved about my profession is our openness. Performing eight shows a week, we refer to our colleagues as “our tribe”. We mourn each other when the show closes and some of the “showmances” lead to either lifelong partnerships or are abandoned at stage door as quickly as they began.

Theatre folk used to greet each other with a warm, lingering hug or a peck on the lips or cheek – but not anymore. Intimate scenes were often navigated on the spot and the degree of detail surrounding them was often determined by which side an actor’s mic was positioned so it didn’t interfere with the sound quality when locking lips.

There were discussions about stay fast lipstick and an assumption that one would be courteous enough to avoid strong garlic between shows and keep a supply of breath mints on hand. Anything other than these factors were done on the fly.

I’ve had my fair share of romantic scene partners and stage kisses. I’ve played a femme fatale and have had various intimate scenes with actors - one of whom also happened to be my best mate’s husband. Awkward.

Then there’s the moral dilemma of being cast in roles where my character’s object of affection is a man half my age. We don’t often see the older woman/younger man scenario play out in theatre and I shudder at the thought of all the innuendo and inappropriate banter that were infused into all these roles.

Enter Chloe Dallimore – Intimacy co-ordinator, business owner and a star in her own right. Former president of Actor’s Equity, she’s been described as “a fearless leader and a champion of performers”.

During her time at MEAA, Chloe helped develop the Sexual Harassment and Bullying Code which then led to her starting her own Intimacy Co-ordination business, appropriately titled ‘Head Over Heals’.

“The Sexual Harassment and Bullying Code was developed when we asked actors to participate in a survey around their experiences with harassment and bullying in the workplace. This enabled us to qualify and quantify what was occurring in our industry. There was a very clear issue. After Weinstein, people had the confidence that they could speak up and be heard. But this wasn’t just about women. We had every gender and sexual orientation take part in the survey and this started the conversation about what we could actively do to bring about positive change in the industry”

Having worked professionally on stage in musical theatre and as a trained dancer since she can remember, Chloe’s own experience in the industry and helped shape her role as an intimacy co-ordinator.

“As a dancer, I was very conscious that we bypassed conversations around how we were touching one another and where we were touching one another. It was something I became aware of from a very young age. I have always been very tall which would make me appear somewhat older for my age and it was often assumed that I was OK with language and conversations that I really shouldn’t have been exposed to. I think as I became a professional, I realized that dancers and actors are so used to saying yes and doing what we’re told that we are never really encouraged to have a voice around what our character choices are when referring to touch and how these choices infiltrate into what the actor or dancer, as a human, is comfortable with”.

Chloe first noticed the benefits of clear communication regarding touch when she began her own business as a Pilates instructor at Xtend Barre.

“I became very aware of what touch does and how the intention of touch can change how someone responds to you when I’m tactile correcting a client. If you tell them why you are doing something or what you are going to do, they are instantly open to what you’re suggesting, both mentally and physically. I’ve seen this power of language in relation to touch for many years. Being able to formalize it and create a platform to professionalise how we interact in the intimate landscape has been a no-brainer for me”.

Having done her initial training with Ita O’Brien from the UK’s ‘Intimacy on Set”, Chloe’s love of talking with people and finding out what makes them feel good when they move and connect with each other, has led to an unexpected career path that she says is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding jobs of her life.

She has worked on George Miller’s 3000 Years of Longing, in children’s TV for the ABC, on Wakefield, on stage for Belvoir, Opera Australia and GFO and is currently working on the feature film Blacksnow.

Her role as an intimacy co-ordinator on these productions has involved consulting with actors and creatives, initiating consent sessions with actors, and  sculpting or choreographing simulated sex scenes. Chloe liaises with legal teams to create nudity riders, talks with child actors and their guardians about the best way to approach intimate content, as well as working with psychologists, sexologists, disability experts and even costume departments – to make sure that the physicality within each scene can be achieved effectively.

“I feel all the experience I have had in the industry feeds into my role. There was an assumption when it comes to intimate content that we should all know how to do it with a complete stranger. That’s where we come in. Every awkward conversation that might need to be had, is had, and I can be there to advocate for everyone.”

It all seems like a lot to consider and negotiate, especially when none of these discussions were implemented in the past.

“I always ask people to come to work with a curiosity as opposed to a knowing, because then we can continue that learning and growth. Four years ago I would need to explain my role as an intimacy co-ordinator at length. Now I’m offered work on recommendation and am involved in conversations much earlier in the creative process. My work is about facilitating the writer and director’s vision to create a space for everyone to feel comfortable. Where we were once considered the ‘exception’ to the rule in terms of crew members on set, we are now considered the norm”.

Being an intimacy co-ordinator has certainly informed and changed Chloe – as a person, performer, and business owner.

“Consent is a human issue and intimacy co-ordinators in the workplace help us all to become better humans overall. Having these conversations inspire us to become consciously kinder, more patient and more understanding of one another. The entertainment industry is a business and a workplace, and we should all be able to go to and from work, always feeling physically and mentally safe”.

Chloe is currently working on the new season of The Bachelor. It’s the first reality show in Australia to engage an intimacy co-ordinator to work with the crew, contestants and the Bachelors themselves!

Chloe spear-headed the creation of the Australia Performing Arts Industry's first Intimacy Guidelines, which are now the foundation of best practice in Arts workplaces and are an important resource for Producers and performers as they cover best practice from the very first Audition brief, to Audition practises, to contracting, to filming on the day.