We sat down with Samantha Jeffery, one of our 2020 Nordic & Cloutier Family Innovation Award recipients. This annual award provides one local artist, group, or company with up to $2,500 in funding towards professional development, training, innovation, and/or special project development.
Samantha Jeffery (she/her) is an Edmonton-based Intimacy Director/Coordinator, actor, fighter, and teacher. She is currently an Apprentice with Intimacy Directors International.
This award provides you funding toward innovation and special project development. Tell us about your project.
I travelled to Toronto to take part in the International Intimacy Choreographers Intensive held by Intimacy Directors International. The Intensive was a 9-day workshop geared towards experienced intimacy directors looking for further techniques and training, enabling us to further develop our own aesthetics and ways of working while upholding the standards of the field.
Tell us a bit about your background in the arts.
I started in theatre as an actor, graduating from the BFA Acting program at the University of Alberta. Since then I have been finding my niche – still working as an actor, but branching out as well. I’ve delved into a lot of different fields! I’ve worked as a fighter and fight director, garnering a Sterling nod for my fight direction of Henry V (the first fight direction nomination for a woman in Edmonton, actually!). I’ve produced and developed new works as the co-artistic director of StoneMarrow Theatre. I’ve also done a fair bit of devised and site-specific work, especially new plays. Edmonton has been my home ground for a lot of it, but I’ve also worked in Calgary, Toronto, Lethbridge, and quite a few other Albertan communities.
What prompted your journey into studying intimacy for the stage?
I’ve always had an interest in how we can make sexuality on stage better. I believe that good intimacy brings the audience further into the story, not out of it. I’ve heard actors told in rehearsal to make something ‘sexier’ and lost track of how many times chemistry or choreography has made me uncomfortable as an audience member. I don’t remember when I first heard the term “intimacy director,” but I do remember thinking: “ohhhhhhhhh!”
Theatrically, I started out doing a lot of performance that many would consider ‘risque’ – A Thought In Three Parts, a few films, some naughty clown turns, and performances at Nextfest’s SMUT Cabaret. Being onstage in roles like that makes you starkly (pun intended) aware of how vulnerable you are as a performer. I was very lucky to work with a lot of directors and companies that were supportive and aware of consent, but not everyone I knew was, and I was constantly trying to figure out how it could be better next time, or what worked that time.
Separately from my practice as an actor, I started working in sexual and mental health, volunteering for the sexual assault crisis line, creating new work around mental health, and curating/creating pieces. I was able to curate the SMUT Cabaret for two years, and also created the Heavy Petting Zoo – part installation, part performance art, part sexual exploration about explicit verbal consent. I learned a lot in those years about consent, boundaries, exploring sexuality, and holding space for people to do that work safely.
From there, it was just hearing that Intimacy Direction was a new field coming into existence. I knew immediately it was a path I had to follow…and here I am!
What were some of the most important lessons you took away from the International Intimacy Choreographers Intensive?
It’s hard to sum up the lessons I learned! In a lot of ways, I think I’ll be digesting these lessons for quite a while, the same way that lessons from theatre schools sometimes pop up – ‘oh, that’s what that lesson was getting at.’
A big takeaway for me was community, and how having one can both support you and hold you accountable. Finding the network of professionals across North America and beyond who have been working professionally as Intimacy Directors and Coordinators was an incredibly emotional experience for me. It can be very easy to feel alone in the arts, no matter what your role is, and intimacy is no different. When you feel alone, it can be tempting to act like you know everything – because often, being the ‘expert’ in your field is the qualification that gets you a job. The truth is that we’re all still learning and growing and finding the best ways forwards, and denying that only perpetuates harmful practices. The important thing is to constantly be learning from both your experiences and the people around you, and acknowledging that there is always more to learn.
How do you hope that this experience will benefit your artistic practice overall?
I’ve gained so many tools – from working as an Intimacy Director and Coordinator, but also as an actor, fight director, producer, and artist. I’ve developed methods to work with different rooms and different directing styles, depending on the needs of the room – and I hope that this allows me to work with groups that wouldn’t otherwise think of utilizing my services!
I’ve also been fortunate enough to already benefit from the workshop. Since returning from Toronto, I’ve been hired in Vancouver, Calgary, and the Rockies as an Intimacy Coordinator and Director. The connections that I made at the intensive in Toronto were integral and led directly to working on a full season of a TV series out in Vancouver. So there’s a lot already in the works!
What is the long term goal of your project?
The long-term goal (which is very similar to the short-term goal!) is to become a certified Intimacy Director and Coordinator with Intimacy Directors International and work with professional productions in Alberta and beyond. I hope that productions bring me in, understanding that I can bring a lot to a process, including being an advocate for the actors, helping the chemistry and choreography be natural and repeatable, and ensuring the show is aesthetically and artistically the absolute best it can be.