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An Intimacy Director Helps to Guide Cast Members in Sunnyvale Community Players’ “West Side Story”

Sunnyvale Community Players’ (SCP) ( www.sunnyvaleplayers.org) “West Side Story” opened on Sept. 11 and will run through Oct. 3. The timeless musical is about the star-crossed romance between Tony and Maria and the perils of life in the street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. During the Sept. 8 dress rehearsal, the show opened with an impressive orchestral overture, led by Music Director Kevin Surace, that teased the audience with a sampler of Leonard Bernstein’s music.

Samantha Mills shone bright as Maria. Peter Spoelstra was vibrant as Tony. Mills and Spoelstra’s high-energy duet of “Tonight” captured the thrill of young love. Other highlights included the spirited “America,” sung by Anita (Rebecca Bradley), Rosalia (Naomi Evans) and the Shark Girls and the defiant “Gee, Officer Krupke” sung by Action (Joe Galang), Snowboy (Calvin Yin) and the Jets.

According to its press release, SCP is the first local theater to work with an Intimacy Director.

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“Whether a role involves emotional intimacy, physical contact, dealing with sensitive subject matter, and so much more… the Intimacy Director ensures all actors have the support, coaching, and protocols necessary to ensure their physical and emotional safety,” read the press release.

Stacy Levin, the show’s Intimacy Director, worked with the diverse and talented cast, alongside the Director Thomas Times.

“Thomas and I held multiple meetings with the cast to create context for the difficult aspects of the show, such as the gang violence, blatant racism, gender issues, and the assault scenes,” Levin said. “We provided the cast with tools to make these moments feel safe for the actors.”

Spoiler ahead: For example, Levin and Times worked with cast members in what Levin referred to as “the diner scene,” when members of the Jets sexually assault Anita.

“I talked with the actress playing Anita and the actors who play the Jets about their boundaries and what they felt comfortable with.” Levin said. “I direct the actors to use very specific and repeatable choreography so each touch and movement is expected and practiced. Backstage, actors can breathe together, give each other a high 10 or make eye contact in a ritual that they choose from which to enter and exit their character.”

“All of the guys playing the Jets are incredibly sweet and they were uncomfortable with the diner scene,” said Rebecca Bradley, referring to her character Anita’s attempted rape.

When Levin and Times asked Bradley about what she felt uncomfortable with, Bradley shared that she was uncomfortable with sexually aggressive words, such as “slut” and “whore.” The group also agreed on a safe word Bradley or the actors playing the Jets could call out if, during a rehearsal, they wanted to command the action in the scene to stop.

Joe Galang, a first-time actor playing Action, one of the Jets, adhered to Levin’s advice about self-care.

“As a form of self-care after I do this scene, I meditate, write in my journal, drink tea and talk to close friends and family,” Galang said. “This isn’t a formal ritual but offstage, Rebecca and I play music from other musicals and we jam together.”

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