Talking to Annie Enneking about choreographing intimacy
by Nancy Monroe
Annie Enneking is a triple/double threat. She can sing, dance and act, and if you want either a fight or sex, she can choreograph it.
It was Annie’s coaching that made the two actors in Prime Production’s recent play, Two Degrees, at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling studio feel comfortable under a sheet in just their underwear and the audience believe they were witnessing the couple making love.
Choreographing fight scenes and intimacy on stage is a similar process. “If they don’t feel safe, it looks awkward,” she says of the actors. “You need the right degree of uncomfortableness.” Acting, after all, is the body telling a story with words and actions. To achieve a realistic fight or romantic liaison on stage requires repetitive moves to develop muscle memory first, with intensity layered on top, she points out. “It’s creating the illusion of greater passion,” she says.
In other words, it’s not as sexy as it looks. And in this aftermath of the “me-too movement” that’s just one of the benefits of having an intimacy coach choreograph the scene(s). Everyone needs to be on the same page of what behavior is in the wheelhouse of both the fictional character and the very real actor.
While a fight scene is akin to a dance of pulled punches and swords that never find their mark, intimacy is more difficult. “You need a layer of trust,” Annie says, whether the actors know each other or are just meeting for the first time.
The scene starts with a conversation and a discussion of the script and the characters behaviors. She starts with questions: Have you done a stage kiss before? What degree of undress are you comfortable with? Then moves to promises: If we’re doing something that makes you uncomfortable, raise your hand, and we’ll figure out another way to do it. And then they play games like tag, or walk around the room and touch an arm, a shoulder, to get to know each other in a playful, safe space.
The scene is broken down into movements: For instance, the female actress is sitting on the man’s waist, not his pelvis, and the sheet masks that they’re both wearing underwear. Just like a dance can be broken down into a series of steps, so can intimacy. For Two Degrees, the sequence for the opening scene might be something like, do two pelvic thrusts, flip onto your back, head on his shoulder, she says.
For the recent Man of La Mancha for Latte da Theater, she choreographed the attempted rape scene, she says, the focus is on taking care of the victim, but “we need to think about (the) men who are lovely human beings (too).” Being the aggressor can be just as unsettling as being the victim. “We put it together as a dance and then add intention,” she says.
The actors are in control, the scene is memorized, there’s no surprises, nothing that hasn’t been rehearsed a hundred times.
It adds time to the rehearsal schedule and is an additional production cost, but the three women behind Prime Productions believe it’s the right cost of doing business.
Annie explains all this over a cup of tea (me) and one of Café Alma’s complex pastries (her). It’s too late for lunch and too soon for dinner, so we have the front of the café pretty much to ourselves, so Annie, perched on a high stool, has room to gesture widely as she makes her points.
Intimacy coaching is a fairly new field. If you Google it, there’s not a lot on it.
“I never claim to be an intimacy expert at all,” Annie says. “I’m a fight choreographer. I’ll own that.” But with an influx of jobs in the art, she steps up when called. She’s retired from acting: “I enjoy having nights off,” she says, laughing as she adds, “There’s a thing called a weekend!” But add to her list of skills fight directing for various theaters around town; teaching at Dueling Arts International and various schools; songwriting; and singing and playing guitar in the Minneapolis rock band, Annie and the Bang Bang.
In other words, she covers the gamut and then some.
There’s no certificate intimacy coaching as yet, although it’s becoming more common. Annie says she’s heard that HBO has one on staff. She’d like to get more training when and if it becomes available.
Nancy Monroe is a Twin Cities based writer/editor. She’s on the Jungle Theater board and a volunteer with Prime Productions.