If you see “The Bridges of Madison County” twice at the Omaha Community Playhouse, you might notice subtle differences in a couple of scenes from one show to the next.
That includes a scene featuring a fairly sexy and explicit song after a tasteful romp in the bedroom.
The theater has four people playing the two main characters, housewife Francesca and photographer Robert. They fall in love over a weekend, then return to their real lives.
Before any of them stepped onstage, they had an “intimacy rehearsal,” a conversation with director Kimberly Faith Hickman about their boundaries, comfort levels and vision for several steamy scenes.
Hickman takes her cues from her actors’ interpretations, so that resulted in minor differences depending on who was in the roles on any given night.
Such discussions are common in the theater, both here and elsewhere. Several Omaha directors interviewed said they have varying approaches to the issue of onstage intimacy, but all said their goal is to foster a respectful and nurturing environment for everyone involved in a show.
“The most important thing is to create a space in which the artists feel safe, protected and supported to do work that has such intimacy in it,” said Susan Clement-Toberer, artistic director at the Blue Barn Theatre.
Onstage safety has always been important in live theater, but as more plays featured sexual scenes, it took on a dimension beyond making sure no one got physically hurt. The Internet is filled with posts about the issue written over the past several years, many coinciding with the focus on the #MeToo movement.
Sometimes — notably in New York and other larger cities — shows engage an “intimacy choreographer” or “intimacy director” to painstakingly plan every move during sexually charged scenes. There’s a whole trade group devoted to the craft: Intimacy Directors International, a nonprofit that studies and develops “the most effective methods for performing simulated sex, intimacy and nudity for theatre and film,” according to its website, which was copyrighted in 2016.
Local directors and actors liken intimacy directors to fight directors, who definitively map out onstage brawls, duels and other violence to ensure nobody gets hurt.
For intimacy shows, local directors said they usually do that mapping process themselves with input from their actors.
But in one show, said director Roxanne Wach of the Shelterbelt Theatre, she used a fight director who also choreographed sexual scenes.
“For ‘Hand to God,’ violence was foreplay,” she said. “We had a whole evening (during rehearsals) when we just did those scenes with the fight choreographer.”
Directors have several styles when it comes to the timing of the intimacy discussion and the handling of intimate scenes during rehearsals.
The Playhouse’s Hickman, for instance, had the discussion at the very beginning of the rehearsal process.
“For any sort of show that relies heavily on a sexual relationship, the level of comfort has to be established early on,” she said. “A safety conversation is essential for (the success of) the show.”
It was a frank talk about boundaries, said Hickman, who is artistic director of the playhouse, and actors Angela Jenson Frey and Thomas Gjere, two of the four actors in the lead roles.
They will be paired every time they perform — there’s safety in knowing the actor opposite you will have consistent reactions, Hickman said, and Frey agreed.
“It’s easier to trust the same partner,” Frey said.
Added Gjere: “We set ground rules for what we were comfortable with and what we were not.”
Completely believable and natural love scenes, sometimes with Frey in a slip and Gjere shirtless, were the result. If Gjere and Frey were nervous on preview night, it didn’t show.
Toberer had her first intimacy rehearsal at the Blue Barn in 2012 for “Spring Awakening,” a coming-of-age story about teens exploring their sexuality. It included R-rated lyrics and explicit scenes.
“There was no nudity or anything, but definitely an intimate connection between the two lead characters,” she said. “Prior to even casting them, we spoke about the things that would be needed to fulfill the story we needed to tell to see if they were comfortable with that kind of intimacy onstage.”
One of the leads was younger than 18, so Toberer also spoke at length with her parents to be sure they were on board.
Then she created a safe space for rehearsals, agreeing that at least one parent of the girl would be in the room at all times. No one else but Toberer and the actors would be there — no stage manager, no assistant director.
“I put signs on the door: ‘Intimacy rehearsal in process. Do not enter.’ and announced it to staff,” she said.
She’s following the same course for “Indecent,” a show that features a lesbian romance, though her leads are veteran actors. It opens March 21.
Intimacy rehearsals, however, are starting later in the process for the coming show, because Toberer had never worked with Leanne Hill Carlson and Suzanne Withem, the women who play the leads, and she wanted to learn about their work styles and how comfortable they are taking directions when intimacy isn’t involved.
In both instances, the discussion resulted in a detailed plan for what happens in intimate scenes, so there are no surprises.
Sign up for the Go newsletter
This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.
“It can’t be just up in the air,” she said. “It would be irresponsible to do any scenes of intimacy onstage without a true moment-to-moment template.”
Wach, who directed “Fun Home” at the Playhouse earlier this season, has an approach that’s similar to Toberer’s. She isolates the room to essential people until she feels actors are comfortable enough to perform in front of others.
The director said she encourages actors to speak up immediately if they feel uncomfortable at rehearsals or something happens afterward.
“Nobody should feel harassed or pressured into vulnerable acting moments,” she said. “That’s not fair.”
To that end, she makes sure everyone who signs on for a part involving intimacy knows what they’re getting into.
For “Fun Home,” she said, she bluntly told women at auditions that it was a show in which girls kiss and clothes are removed (though no nudity is involved). Lots of actresses turned her down because that was beyond their comfort level. She understood that; she once turned down a role for the same reason.
Hickman acknowledges that the popularity of the intimacy rehearsal and even intimacy directors is growing across the theater world because of the current climate. That’s a good thing, she said — when things were more free-wheeling, actors pulled pranks during performances or other things occurred onstage that now seem suspect.
“You think back, ‘Oh, that probably shouldn’t have happened,’ ” she said.
Toberer said she realized the importance of creating safe spaces in college during the 1980s. But she’s glad it’s getting more attention.
“It has brought awareness to theaters across the nation that might not have had any protocol as far as approaching scenes with intimacy,” she said. “I think it’s a very, very good thing that it’s at the forefront of theater-makers’ minds.”
1 of 107
The moon rose over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in the early morning hours.
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Ed Morrissette a 95-year-old WWII veteran of Papillion, reminisced while toasting to his fallen comrades with a drink accompanied by John Adams, Tom Demro, Antonio Chickinelli and Jeff Hadden at Patriarch Distillers Inc. in La Vista, Nebraska, Thursday, June 6, 2019. Morrissette who was part of the second wave on D-Day at Omaha Beach drank a Canada Dry while the others had Soldier Valley Omaha Beach D-Day 75th anniversary bourbon whiskey.
Major League Baseball debuted in Omaha on Thursday June 13th as the Royals faced the Tigers at TD Ameritrade Park.
Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera signed autographs for fans prior to a Major League Baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
Omaha Burke's Jaylon Roussell jogged the field people to participating in the Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday Night Lights event at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Louisville's Adam Elliott warmed up before the start of game 7 of the College World Series.
Louisville's Drew Campbell celebrated a walk-off win on his hit in the bottom of the 9th against Mississippi State during game ten of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
Te'Andi Titus, left, and Kevin Kalaw, both of Omaha, read on the dock at Standing Bear Lake as a cool breeze swept over the lake, keeping the mosquitoes at bay.
Vanderbilt and Michigan faced off in the College World Series finals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska in 2019.
Michigan's Jordan Brewer and Jack Blomgren celebrated after defeating Vanderbilt in their College World Series game.
A B-2 stealth bomber flew over as Michigan stands during the National Anthem before their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt faces Michigan during their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt's Harrison Ray signed autographs before the start of game 3 of the CWS championship.
Vanderbilt fans celebrate at the Commodores capture a national title with a win over Michigan.
Michigan players mingled prior to their College World Series game against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt celebrated their win over Michigan during the third game of the champion series of the College World Series.
Chris Isaak performed at the free Memorial Park Concert at Memorial Park.
Omaha firefighter David Kirchofer provided water to Louie the dog, after Kirchofer helped battle a a fire at 5427 86th Court. Louie, who does not live in the unit that caught fire, was interested in all the action.
Ray Renk of San Francisco, California, holds his daughter Kennedy, 8, alongside his son Benjamin, 10, while sporting personalized suits and watching Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, walk the convention floor during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Phoebe the giraffe eats lettuce fed by visitors as the Lincoln Children's Zoo provides a sneak peek at their new exhibits and expansion in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thursday, May 9, 2019.
Lincoln Southeast’s Katie Whitehead, center, and Caroline Miller, right, celebrate with teammates including Ally Keitges, left, after winning the No. 1 doubles against Millard North during the NSAA Class A girls state tennis championship match at Koch Family Tennis Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Friday, May 17, 2019.
Omaha Bryanâ€™s Darwin Loftin lands a long jump during the Metro Conference track meet at Omaha Burke.
Millard West's Corbin Hawkins waits out the rain delay in the dugout. The baseball game between Millard West and Creighton Prep was postponed because of the weather.
Archbishop Bergan's Luke Jessen hits the center field wall trying to catch a hit from Millard West's Max Anderson resulting in an in-field home run during their state tournament game.
Crawford's Jillian Brennan (13) points up to the sky before the Class D 3,200-meter final at Omaha Burke High School during day one of the state track meet.
Gretna's Ashley Marsh connects with the ball alongside Marian's Maureen Tolley during the semifinal round of the Class A girls state soccer tournament at Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 11, 2019.
Elkhorn South players celebrate their championship while reading the name plate on the trophy after defeating Skutt during the NSAA Class B girls state soccer championship game Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
Jacob Himelick, left, a Millard north senior, chats with fellow senior Jace January as he signs January's year book. January likes to spend the time between classes greeting fellow students in the hallway.
Hannah Gruhlkey hugs her goat Griffin as he nibbles on her hair during a Country Bumpkin 4-H Club meeting at the Living Legend Farm.
Chipper Fyfe stands on a dike to see how far floodwaters have risen just west of Hamburg, Iowa.
Nebraska pitchers stay loose before their NCAA Regional game in Oklahoma City.
Tad Badje, 49, right, and wife Shelly Badje, 48, pepper Title Boxing Club's general manager, Chris Gerhardt's mid-section during a two-on-one body shot race as part of their work out at Title Boxing Club in Omaha, Nebraska.
Two-year-old Hannah Bonnot of Denver, Colorado, stands in awe before "Mountain Outlaw" taken at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, on display at Tom Mangelsen's "Life in the Wild" exhibition at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer walks through the tall grass at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska.
Canada geese fly over Flanagan Lake at sunset in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sunset is reflected in some open water at Flanagan Lake in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ian Murphy, canvases the nearly 90 snow people which are on display at the Leavenworth Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Neighbors such as Murphy say the snow people didn't exist yesterday and claim it happened over night or possibly early this morning.
Husker fans rock The Rock and corn hats in the first half as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln men's basketball team hosts Michigan State at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
An allosaurus appears to be eyeing a tasty, 19-month-old morsel named Austin Haseltine as he is lifted from the shoulders of his grandpa, Greg Fasano, by his mother, Amy Haseltine, with his father, Jim Haseltine looking on. The Dinosaur UpROAR exhibit at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft Street in Omaha, Nebraska, features 20 life-sized installations as well as discovery stations and educational activities set throughout the gardens.
The setting moon is framed by some dried flowers at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
A person goes for a run along the snow covered trails at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sun rises on a snow covered Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Pink and blue balloons float past the Sower statue on the Nebraska State Capitol after balloons were released for the 45th annual Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Steam rises over north downtown Omaha, Nebraska, as morning lows were below -10 degrees.
Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska, on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Heavy machinery stacks up concrete chunks on the shore of the Elkhorn River at the Q Street bridge as part of an effort to stabilize the bank on the recently flooded river.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Deputy Darin Morrissey rides an ATV through floodwaters in Hawaiian Village.
Omaha Roncalli's Shane Orr celebrates their double overtime win over Aurora during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Auburn bench and crowd react to Auburn's Cameron Binder hitting what would be the game winning shot against North Bend Central during the championship game in the Class C1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraskaâ€™s Adrian Martinez runs out of the end zone after a play during spring football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Treyton Gubser, left, and his uncle Daniel Gubser paddle using shovels through the floodwaters after they rescued Daniel's kid's cat, Bob, in Hamburg, Iowa.
Highway 81 is covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over a flooded Waterloo, Nebraska, in March.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville, Nebraska.
A Canada goose flies over Matthew J. Placzek's "Monument to Labor" sculpture as floodwaters from the Missouri River begin to recede on the Omaha riverfront.
Floodwaters closed Ave I at North 26th Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River in April.
Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski holds up the net after his team defeated Omaha Roncalli in the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Amelia Fritz, right, holds on to her daughter-in-law Tesha Fritz in Glenwood, Iowa. They were evacuated from Pacific Junction, Iowa, after floodwaters hit the town last night. They were part of 15-relatives all staying in the same house or in a camper in the front driveway.
Robert Jones looks around his flood damaged house north of Highway 50, near Louisville,Nebraska. The floor, which is normally a white tile, is covered in mud.
Aurora's Nicholas Hutsell, left, fouls Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lincoln Pius X's Charlie Easley, left, and and Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers stretch for a loose ball during the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's Trent Reardon, left and Jason Sjuts celebrate their victory over Fremont Bergan during the championship game in the Class D1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Aurora's Kaleb Moural wipes the sweat from his face during the second half against Omaha Roncalli during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bob the cat looks on from a basket in a boat after being rescued from floodwaters in Hamburg, Iowa.
A vehicle is stuck in floodwaters near 1st Street and Pierce Street in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tim Rockford, left, and David Bauer, tour the Bellwood Lakes neighborhood which was destroyed by the flooding days prior along the Platte River in Bellwood, Nebraska.
Lincoln East's Charlotte Bovaird practices her shot and she and her teammates warm up in the hallways before the start of the game. Lincoln East played Millard South in a Class A first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Westside poses with the championship plaque with the winning score on the wall behind them after Omaha Westside defeated Millard North 54-53 at Omaha Westside in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Saenz of Bellevue works out at FIT IN THE CITY in Papillion, Nebraska.