Directing desire : intimacy directing, consent, and simulated sexuality on the contemporary U.S. stage

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From 2016 to 2020, intimacy choreography transformed from a grassroots effort into a best practice accepted on film sets and Broadway productions. Influenced by fight choreography and movement direction, intimacy choreographers deploy a repertoire of consent-based practices to craft scenes of sex and sexuality for performance. Directing Desire analyzes the rise of intimacy choreographers in the twenty-first century as a product of colliding norms of consent culture and sex positivity. While intimacy choreography consciously emphasizes consent, the practice more subtly challenges a central assumption of sex positivity: that intimacy should express sexual interiority. Intimacy choreography separates performer and character; it creates what I term "simulated sexuality, " the iterative and citational performance of sexual desire in a theatrical frame. With this model, I advance theatrical intimacy beyond the logics of repression and liberation—what Michael Foucault calls the "repressive hypothesis"—that have governed the theater's treatment of sexuality since the advent of theatrical modernism in the United States. To ground theatrical intimacy historically, I analyze the spread of positivist models of sexuality in Stanislavskian and Method acting in the United States starting in the 1930s. Directors including Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner attempted to privatize theatrical intimacy as a product of the performer's individual desire. By contrast, I advance a de-privatized model of intimacy centering shared choreography and simulation, the "stylized repetition of acts" with difference. I apply this model to twenty-first-century playscripts and performances from Jeremy O. Harris, Alice Birch, Thomas Bradshaw, and Punchdrunk, among other artists. A focus on shared choreography makes intimacy more accessible to survivors of sexual violence, subjects on the asexual spectrum, and those hypersexualized and desexualized by cultural stereotypes. Beyond promoting consent, intimacy choreography can craft a "sexual commons" in which artists negotiate their relationship to intimacy in the wake of racialization and empire.


Type of resource text
Form electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
Extent 1 online resource.
Place California
Place [Stanford, California]
Publisher [Stanford University]
Copyright date 2021; ©2021
Publication date 2021; 2021
Issuance monographic
Language English


Author Barclay, Kari Bjorn Senkowski
Degree supervisor Al-Saber, Samer
Thesis advisor Al-Saber, Samer
Thesis advisor Freedman, Estelle B, 1947-
Thesis advisor Smith, Matthew Wilson
Degree committee member Freedman, Estelle B, 1947-
Degree committee member Smith, Matthew Wilson
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Theater & Performance Studies


Genre Theses
Genre Text

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Kari Barclay.
Note Submitted to the Department of Theater & Performance Studies.
Thesis Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2021.

Access conditions

© 2021 by Kari Bjorn Senkowski Barclay
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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