When the cast for “Camp Morning Wood,” a staged-in-the-buff musical comedy that chronicles life in a gay nudist retreat, rehearsed one of the final times last week, they received plenty of feedback from a host of professionals involved with the show, from the creator to the music director.
But as the actors worked on one particularly intimate scene involving sexual massage, they turned to a different sort of dramatic expert—namely, an intimacy director.
“I’m here to make sure it’s about the work and not the other person’s body,” said Mitch McCoy, the 30-year-old intimacy director hired for the production. “Camp Morning Wood,” created and directed by Marc Eardley, opened in previews this past weekend at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in Midtown Manhattan.
Mr. McCoy, a New York-based theater specialist who has been providing such direction for a year, added that his job involves choreography and a little bit of stage magic. That is, he will carefully block out scenes that call for simulated sex or other moments of close contact, such as that massage.
And he will do so in a way t
hat looks convincing to an audience, even if the actors involved aren’t actually touching each other as implied. A well-placed towel or other barrier is often paramount to an intimacy director’s strategy.
These days, more theatrical productions are making use of experts such as Mr. McCoy, particularly in light of the #MeToo movement and workplace concerns regarding sexual harassment. The intimacy directors work with a traditional director, much as a fight director is brought in on a show to assist with a scene involving a sword battle.
The current Broadway revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” a two-character play that opens with a scene of simulated sex, has an intimacy specialist, Claire Warden.
Similarly, the Gallery Players, a Brooklyn-based company, hired Chelsea Pace, another intimacy director, for its recent production of “Spring Awakening,” a musical that explores teenage sexuality.
Ms. Pace, author of a forthcoming book called “Staging Sex,” said that in the past it usually fell to directors, not specialists, to guide actors through any scene involving sexual or romantic contact. And their solution, more often that not, was to let the actors improvise, she added.
That sometimes led to actors crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed, Ms. Pace said. But even when the actors remained respectful of one another, the moments often didn’t have the requisite spark because the performers weren’t working with a playbook that guaranteed a well-crafted scene, night after night.
“We have a saying that passion fades, but choreography is forever,” she said.
Intimacy specialists have become significant enough in the theater community that they now have their own association, the Oklahoma-based Intimacy Directors International. The organization provides training in the field, with 18 intimacy directors having received certification through it.
For the cast of “Camp Morning Wood,” Mr. McCoy has been a welcome presence—not just during that final rehearsal day, but also a little earlier in the process.
Najee Gabay-Knight, one of the performers, said it has made everyone on stage feel comfortable, especially given the nudity throughout the show.
“We’re people, not just actors,” said Mr. Gabay-Knight. “We need to feel safe.”