College to launch Intimacy Certificate program for graduate students

By Olivia Cohen, Editor-in-Chief

Elias Gonzalez


Next academic year, Columbia will roll out a new graduate certification program in the art of intimacy.

The program, which has been formally named Intimacy for Stage and Screen (Certificate), is a one-year course, with a total of 16 credit hours.

Greg Geffrard is the intimacy coordinator and is serving as the practitioner-in-residence at Columbia, while teaching acting, with a specialization in intimacy. Geffrard said the course teaches the ways that people can advocate for themselves.

The practice of intimacy training and choreography have become more prevalent in both stage and film productions following the #MeToo movement. Some schools even require their students studying acting and film to complete coursework or training around it.

Intimacy training essentially teaches consent and boundaries around intimate scenes.

Geffrard has a background in sexual assault prevention education and has taught bystander and up-stander intervention training with the military, while also working with college students during orientation season.

“I found that those practices and those tools needed to also exist in theater, because what we’re being asked is to explore and examine people who are usually in spaces that are operating outside of what is called the window of tolerance, the space in which they are making rational decisions,” Geffrard said.

Geffrard said that urgency is something that drives intimacy and the processes behind it.

“Intimacy is allowing or creating a space where one can breathe,” Geffrard said.

Some of what Geffrard’s role entails as the intimacy coordinator is talking with directors, advocating for actors’ needs, leading “boundary workshops” and teaching boundary, consent and intimacy tools.

“The goal is ultimately to create a consent-based [and] trauma-informed space,” Geffrard said, to help people work in consensual ways with each other.

Kelly Schmader, assistant director of Graduate Admissions and the program’s director, said the program is geared toward students with professional backgrounds in acting, directing, dance or even mental health. People working in TV would also be ideal candidates for the certification.

“It’s a good way to learn the skills,” Schmader said.

“Ultimately, it’s about creating consensual and safe practices on both sets and on the stage,” Schmader said. “People who are interested in diversity, equity and inclusion will also be good candidates for this, because it’ll really delve into those areas in the coursework.”

When the certification program is officially launched and the first group of students is in the program in Fall 2023, it will also hone in on anti-racism practices.

“It’s all about consent. So it’s really about making sure that everyone’s issues and concerns are addressed in whatever production you’re working on,” Schmader said. “It’s incorporating both pillars of critical race theory and paying attention to gender and sexuality dynamics on set, too, in a way that is sensitive, and [making] sure that all the participants in a production have their needs cared for [and] paid attention to.”

Geffrard said the course will also teach how to set up healthy protocols in the workplace. He said these protocols could be anywhere from using mouthwash or getting tested for any SDIs before two actors kiss or embrace, all the way to consenting to anything sex-related.

The certificate will be joining Columbia’s intimacy curriculum, as the college currently offers the undergraduate Intimacy and Physical Acting course.

“The course is designed to teach the tools, theories and protocols for staging moments of intimacy in theatre,” said Laura Sturm, an adjunct professor in the Theatre Department. “It also covers creating a consent-based environment, how to establish and respect boundaries, how to have a desexualized process and how to document the choreography.”

The Intimacy and Physical Acting course introduces students to skills associated with scenes that contain attraction, loss and abuse, specifically.

The certification program is currently accepting applications for the upcoming fall semester.

“[The certification program is about finding] what the safety procedures are that we can put in place and create with the team in order to create that sustainability across the board,” Geffrard said.

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of the Chronicle’s annual Sex Issue which will be published mid-February.