In Conversation with Mitch McCoy: Collaborating with Fight and Intimacy Directors

Aug 02, 2023

Welcome to IDC's "In Conversation" Blog series! Here, we will get to know some of our Community Education teaching artists and introduce you to their work. 

Give us a little introduction to yourself! Who are you, what do you do, etc?

I’m Mitch McCoy, a professional Fight Director, Certified Teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors, Intimacy Director with IDC, and Reiki master. I also make mead and occasionally build computers in my spare time.

You work as both an intimacy director and a fight director, can you talk about the differences and similarities between the two positions?

With both positions there is a necessity to understand the biomechanics of the human body, and the effects that the choreographed movements will have on both the reception of the story as well as the longevity and wellness of the performers. There is also a need for collaboration and adaptability. 

Personally I have found that there is a lot more of a subtle energetic and emotional awareness and presence needed to hold the space for the performers and the creative team when working as an intimacy professional. That’s not to say that’s non-existent in fight direction, but in general I’ve found that a lot of the productions I’ve worked on have had an easier time separating from the emotional toll of the story when we are creating an artistic moment of violence. When intimacy comes into the story, I’ve found in the beginning of the work a lot more hesitancy in general until structures are laid out. Once everyone knows how we are going to approach the material, then I’ve seen bodies physically relax in the room because everyone feels supported, and feels they can now play and explore.

In terms of similarities, there is always the necessity to tell the story in a way that the performers can accomplish night after night. It doesn’t matter how cool I think a bit of sword work, or a passionate toss onto the couch is. If it doesn’t work for the performers, I need to see that and reform the idea. If that doesn’t work, I’ll need to scrap it all together to create something effective and achievable.

There’s also a fair bit of power that comes with the title in each of the positions which needs to be accounted for. It’s my responsibility in either/both roles to ensure that I am using the power dynamics inherent to my position(s) equitably and ethically to support the team as a whole.

Have you/when you hold both positions on a production, how does that change the way you work in either job?

It’s interesting because holding both jobs tends to mean that I will form a deeper bond with everyone on the production. I’ll be able to see what gels with different performers and maybe take a little bit of intimacy ideals or terminology and blend it into the fight direction or vice versa. I’ll also get the opportunity to make different corny jokes!  

We don’t want everything to be “deadly serious” when we are working on a scene of intimacy. We need to take the work seriously, but we can still play and find the joy in it. The same thing goes for fights, but often in the opposite direction. Quite often I’ve experienced actors jokingly starting to perform techniques out of the context of the scene or rehearsal, and I have to gently remind them that although it’s fun, maybe it’s not a good idea to fake punch their partner as they’re on the way to get dinner in a restaurant. That said, the thing I find the most exciting is helping craft the moment when characters’ passions have brought them to a point where they can only express themselves physically.

When you hold one of the positions (perhaps ID) and are collaborating with another person working on the other job (say FD), what are the ways in which you share responsibilities and hold space together? How does that impact the way you approach your job?

The exact approach definitely varies from production to production, but in general, especially since a lot of the fight community has been so supportive of intimacy work, I’ve experienced a natural support across the board. Both departments are so involved in specific story moments and specific physical storytelling that there is a lot of cross-over to bond about. The usage of lines, energy, intensity, acceleration, breath, in addition to the exact technical aspects of “How the hell did you do that? That was incredible!” are often what I’ve had the experience of nerding out about.

In an ideal scenario there is a massive amount of opportunity for collaboration. Being able to expand upon one department because of what the other department develops is the recipe for an upward spiral into untold creative heights. That said, there needs to be an element of checking your ego at the door to reach that level of collaboration while reminding yourself that this is just one aspect of the greater production as a whole.

It’s definitely a moment when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

How has working on intimacy affected your fight direction? Or vice versa.

The principles of intimacy work have become intrinsically linked to my fight direction work. In my opinion there is a necessity to have the subtle empathetic awareness that comes from intimacy work because it allows us to support performers even more, and quite often find a more detailed and meaningful moment within the action of the violence. Intimacy work has caused me to be more detailed, more receptive, and more adaptive. It’s also shifted the fight industry as a whole to focus even more on body autonomy and support of solid technique. Particularly in regards to training actors, it has given me the tools to better assist them in finding their own voices so they can advocate for themselves, and to encourage them to strive for excellence through a sustainable training mentality. In a lot of ways, I have found that intimacy work has reinforced in my fight work the immortal words from Bill and Ted “Be excellent to each other”.

Do you think all IDs need to be FDs and vice versa? It seems like many people suspect they should do both.

I feel that it is not a necessity to have both skill sets. Cross-training can be certainly useful, and one discipline can inform and enhance the other. By the same token, one discipline might not gel with certain folks, and that’s ok. I think previously the industry may have had a bit of an expectation that someone holds both titles due to the number of individuals who held both titles at the beginning of this work. Fortunately now both disciplines are being viewed more as separate and distinct, which is fantastic. I encourage everyone to learn as many different schools of thoughts and approaches to physical storytelling to find what works best for them. Also, if someone happens to hold multiple positions (such as ID and FD) on a production, they should make sure that they are getting paid for both positions because those are two different departments, even if they both revolve around physical storytelling.

What advice would you give to FDs trying to incorporate more consent forward practices in their work?

Depending on the approach that some FDs use it may feel like a bit of a shift, and that’s ok. It’s an evolution of the artform. Work with the humans in the room, check in with them, trust that they will ask for what they need, and also monitor to make sure that nobody is over-extending beyond their capabilities. If you do that as well as advocate for those under your responsibility in the scope of your department, the performers will be able to bring your vision to life in a more detailed fashion than any other process. Also, particularly in an industry where there is a feeling of not having enough time, if you incorporate more consent forward practices it will more than likely result in a more efficient rehearsal process.

I know you have many thoughts on this so please add whatever you’d like!

It’s fantastic that intimacy work has become so widespread and prevalent over the past few years, and I’ve definitely seen a strong desire from both the intimacy world and the fight world to cross-train. Definitely keep that passion, know where you are on your journey, and do everything you can to forge ahead in a sustainable and ethical manner.

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