Guidelines for Rehearsing Material with Sexual Content
Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct are not tolerated at Yale University. All members of the community have these obligations: to refrain from participating in these behaviors; and to take steps, where possible and safe, to interrupt and address them when witnessed.
To read a full statement of Yale’s policies and definitions, go to:
This document is designed to promote freedom of expression through processes that respect collaborators’ personal boundaries, in order to eliminate incidents of sexual misconduct in rehearsal and performance. All collaborators should be able to work in full confidence that sexual content and sexual touching, including in depictions of sexual assault, will only be rehearsed or performed with the ongoing affirmative consent of all actors; that Yale College classrooms, rehearsal halls and theaters will be free of sexual harassment.
All dramatic literature may include—or may be interpreted to include—the subject of human sexuality, and theatrical rehearsal and production of many works may include overt sexuality, nudity, and/or the staging of sexual touching and/or depictions of sexual assault. Like many other subjects of drama, these issues and practices can and do make people uncomfortable. Nonetheless, there are significant artistic and professional opportunities that depend upon a mature approach to these subjects. Actors and their collaborators can master such an approach while in training, so as to make work confidently throughout their careers.
These protocols apply to all members of the community who may be working in rehearsal and performance— students, faculty, staff, and guest artists—and all members of the community are responsible for upholding these standards.
Most definitions can be found on Yale’s Sexual Misconduct Response & Prevention website. That list includes, but is not limited to, the following pertinent terms:
- Sexual Misconduct
- Sexual Harassment
- Sexual Consent
Performance-specific definitions can be found below.
Scenes With Sexual Content or Assault
Scenes with sexual content are those in which either the plain meaning of the text or the company’s interpretation of the text reference sexuality, including attitudes, actions, and sexual language, whether graphic or suggestive, as well as states of dress and undress, including but not limited to nudity and partial nudity. Scenes with consensual sexual touching are those with staging or choreography including these consensual behaviors: kissing, touching of buttocks, breasts, and thighs, at or close to erogenous zones, stroking, body-to-body contact or that deal with simulations of physical penetration, oral sex, touching oneself sexually, and orgies. In consultation with the director of any production, Undergraduate Production will determine whether scenes with sexual content and/or consensual sexual touching require the presence of a named combat and intimacy adviser.
Scenes with depictions of sexual assault are representations of acts which, in the plain meaning of the text or in the interpretation of the company, fit any of these descriptions: non-consensual sexual touching (including kissing), penetration, or oral sex, when any of the above are perpetrated by force, coercion, incapacitation, or in the absence of affirmative consent. Productions with scenes depicting sexual assault may require a named combat and intimacy adviser pursuant to the guidelines for staged combat provided by Yale Undergraduate Production.
Protocol for Yale College Productions
Directors, Producers, and Stage Managers identify scenes with sexual content, consensual sexual touching, and depictions of sexual assault. Prior to auditions, all actors must be made aware of which roles include nudity and partial nudity, consensual sexual touching and/or depictions of sexual assault.
After casting is complete, the director, playwright (if present), choreographer (if any), stage manager, and dramaturg ensure that scenes with sexual content are marked in the stage management notes. At this time, the production team will develop a plan for handling these scenes during archival recording of the production, which includes film and photography. In general, scenes with nudity or partial nudity should not be recorded. Scenes with sexual content or sexual assault should be recorded with care, and only with the relevant actors’ consent.
The stage manager and/or director will be the facilitator for all protocols relating to scenes with sexual content. At the first rehearsal, the stage manager will call the company’s attention to these protocols and will enumerate the scenes with sexual content. During the first week of rehearsal, the director, in consultation with the playwright (if present), stage manager, and dramaturg, will have discussions with the actors who are involved with scenes with sexual content.
All company members must be mindful that sexual content is to be treated with professionalism and respect by all collaborators: careless references to or jokes about these subjects, or about people’s bodies, or the transmission of related photos or other materials, may constitute sexual harassment.
General Protocol: Directing/Choreographing Scenes with Sexual Content or Assault
When a scene with sexual content is rehearsed, there will be a conversation between the director and actors, in consultation with the playwright (if present), choreographer (if any), stage manager, dramaturg, fight director, or intimacy coach (if any). Discussion of scenes with sexual content should address the following parameters and how they will impact the rehearsal and performance process: context, consent, communication, and choreography. What will be determined is as follows:
• What kinds of behavior, which might constitute harassment in other circumstances, are required or possible in the scene?
• What kind of physical contact is required or possible in the scene?
• What body parts are acceptable to be touched?
If improvisation is involved in these scenes, boundaries should be clear before any improvisation begins.
Before a depiction of sexual assault is first staged it must be evaluated in accordance with the guidelines for staged combat provided by Yale Undergraduate Production. If a combat adviser is assigned to the production, the participation of a combat adviser is required at the first staging. If a combat adviser is not assigned, the staging must adhere to a plan developed with and approved by Undergraduate Production staff.
Closing such a rehearsal to all but essential personnel (as agreed by the actors, stage manager, fight director/intimacy coach, and director, all of whom shall be deemed essential) is standard—exceptions should be rare and agreed to by all actors, stage manager, and director. While the fight director or intimacy coach’s ongoing participation is expected, after initial staging, the director, stage manager, fight captain, and actors may collaborate on minor adjustments, and the company may continue to rehearse the material for purposes of review.
When scenes with partial nudity, nudity, and other sexual content are being staged at significant levels of undress or physical contact, the director, stage manager, and actors shall discuss whether the rehearsal room will be open or closed. Closing such a rehearsal to all but essential personnel (as agreed by the actors, stage manager, and director) is standard—exceptions should be rare and agreed to by all actors, stage manager, and director.
A closed rehearsal room is one in which any actor or creative team member outside of the scene(s) in question, with the exception of the director, choreographer, fight director/intimacy coach, participating actors, and stage manager, will not be admitted into the rehearsal room during the rehearsal of the scene in question. The doors to a rehearsal room during a closed rehearsal are not locked at any time and appropriate notice and appropriate signage should be posted indicating that the rehearsal room is off limits to those not directly participating in the scene.
General Responsibilities of the Actor
Actor is responsible for acknowledging actor’s own personal boundaries – regardless of the scene – and communicating that information to actor’s scene partner(s) as clearly as possible prior to the start of any rehearsing. Actor should communicate forthrightly about actor’s personal boundaries, since all parties involved in the rehearsal need to know what has been affirmatively consented to in order to begin scene work. The first step is always a conversation with actor’s scene partner(s). This communication may be difficult for some actors who are reticent about stating their sexual boundaries. If this is so, seek help from your director or a faculty member. For TAPS: Do not let yourself be coerced or rushed in this process. You may approach any faculty member, the director, or stage manager, the Theater Studies Production Manager, or DUS at any time about the sexual content or activity in any scene.
All actors are expected to work within the parameters of the rehearsal protocols set forth in this document.
A reminder that the energy exchanged between actors in a scene is in service to the story of the play. Sexual attraction between two characters is not the same as – and should not be confused with – sexual attraction between the individual actors who portray those characters. If actor’s scene partner(s) give(s) actor permission to touch them in an intimate way in rehearsal, it does not mean that permission extends outside the context of the scene. Actor should not make assumptions about actor’s scene partner(s) based on their work with actor in rehearsal.
In scenes involving consensual sexual touching, it is each actor’s personal responsibility to seek ongoing affirmative consent from a scene partner: the actor must ascertain verbally what is acceptable to their scene partner, before any and all sexual touching, including kissing.
The actor must receive unambiguous confirmation of their scene partner’s affirmative consent to sexual touching. The interpretation of the scene may be ambiguous with respect to any character’s intent, but the actor must have unambiguous clarity with respect to their fellow actor’s ongoing affirmative consent to sexual touching.
Third party assurances (“the director/teacher/another actor said it was okay”) are not acceptable as consent. Ongoing affirmative consent can only be given by the actor or actors being touched.
Before initiating an improvisation that involves consensual sexual touching, scene partners must clarify what physical boundaries are in play and give their affirmative consent to the sexual touching incorporated into the improvisation. At any point, the actor may say, “Hold” to temporarily suspend the improvisation, and the sexuality, sexual touching, or protocols should be discussed. It is far better to stop an improvisation than to breach the trust of another actor.
Responsibilities of Teachers
It is the responsibility of the teacher to alert students when they are assigned scene work that may involve consensual sexual touching, including kissing; students may request an alternate scene (one without sexual touching), and should be made aware of this option. Such notice may be given in writing, via e-mail, or during an in-person meeting with the stage manager and any involved scene partners. Best practices include contextualizing explorations of sexuality in the classroom. Students will acknowledge they understand that they are consenting to explore sexuality and/or consensual sexual touching.
Teachers will honor a student’s right to pause during a scene. Teachers who have questions with respect to implementation of these protocols should contact the Theater and Performance Studies Production Manager or DUS.
Protocols for Actors Rehearsing a Scene for a Class
When a rehearsal is private, i.e., with no faculty, director, or stage manager present, it is especially important to acknowledge and respect boundaries in rehearsing scenes with sexual content or consensual sexual touching, including kissing.
Prior to staging physical action of a sexual nature, the actors should discuss the sexual content of the scene and communicate their boundaries within the context of that rehearsal; this creates the container for that particular rehearsal. The first time the physical action related to sexual content in the scene is rehearsed, a third party should be present in the room to observe and help the actors follow the rehearsal protocols, as needed. Once the basic choreography is set, the actors are free to rehearse on their own. At any point during the rehearsal process, an actor can request the presence of a third party to observe and assist, as needed.
At any point, the actor may say, “Hold” to temporarily suspend the rehearsal, and the sexuality, sexual touching, or protocols should be discussed. If an agreement on rehearsing such moments cannot be reached, then the actors may rehearse other moments, or may agree to suspend the rehearsal. They should then, either individually or together, take their concerns to the class’s faculty member.
Spontaneous changes to staging involving sexual touching are unacceptable both in rehearsal and performance, unless they fall within previously agreed boundaries.
The need for consent trumps spontaneity in every circumstance.
If at any time in rehearsal an actor feels that affirmative consent has not been given, that a harassing act has taken place, or that a mistake in protocol has occurred, the actor may say, “Hold”—this requires any other actor, the director and/or stage manager, or faculty member if it is in a class, to temporarily suspend the action in rehearsal. At that time the actors, director, stage manager and/or faculty member can discuss how the rehearsal may proceed consensually and in a productive manner.
In any situation, it may be necessary for the class or company to take a break, while the faculty member or stage manager and/or director talks with the actors about the scene.
In rehearsals, if an actor accidentally touches a body part that was not stated as being acceptable, the actor touching accidentally will verbally let the scene partner know that this has occurred and will ask permission to continue with the work within agreed parameters. During a performance, if an actor accidentally touches a body part that was not stated as being acceptable, the actor touching accidentally will, following the scene or the completion of the performance, verbally acknowledge actor’s inappropriate touch and let the scene partner know that this has occurred, and in future performances will agree to maintain the work within agreed parameters.
In rare circumstances, actors in class may be assigned or choose to work on a scene that gives rise to a depiction of sexual assault. Actors should only choose such work in consultation with teachers; teachers should only make such assignments in consultation with the actors; and all parties should be confident that these protocols will be used by the actors to ensure consent as they rehearse the scene for the purposes of the class.
Protocol for Reporting
In the event any actor feels uncomfortable speaking up in rehearsal for a production or class, the actor may contact the Theater and Performance and Performance Studies Production Manager or DUS, any Undergraduate Production staff, Dramat Production Officer or President, the Associate Dean for the Arts, or the Director of the Office of Gender and Campus Culture at any time privately, either in person or via email. The goal of such communication should be to move the conversation back into the rehearsal hall, so that the actor is fully empowered to give affirmative consent to, or withhold affirmative consent from, the scene partner(s).
Should any scene partner, stage manager, director, or teacher be unreceptive to an actor’s concerns about sexual content, the next step is for the actor to speak with the Theater and Performance Studies Production Manager or DUS, any Undergraduate Production staff, Dramat Production Officer or President, or the Associate Dean for the Arts, or the Director of the Office of Gender and Campus Culture.
Help is also available from SHARE, a resource for members of the Yale community who are dealing with sexual misconduct of any kind. Individuals may call or drop in to SHARE for confidential information, advocacy, and support by either calling 203-432-2000 (24/7) or visiting 55 Lock Street, Lower Level (9am-5pm Mon to Fri). Other resources include a residential college Dean or Head, First-Year Counselor, Title IX Coordinator, or staff member of Yale Undergraduate Production.
This document has been adapted from the Yale School of Drama (YSD) Protocol for Rehearsing Material with Sexual Content, Consensual Sexual Touching, and Depicting Sexual Assault (dated Summer 2018).