Patrons of Playcrafters’ last show, “Barefoot in the Park,” may have noticed an unfamiliar term for a crew member in the program – intimacy coach Lily Blouin.

Lily Blouin (who’s bringing the new field of intimacy coaching to the Quad Cities) is pictured in Moline March 21, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner)

Since the rise of the #MeToo movement, the role of intimacy coordinator has become more common on TV and film sets, but still not much in theater. Blouin – a 36-year-old actress, director and theater and dance educator – specializes in movement for the stage, musical theater dance, and theater for young audiences.

She’s a certified stage combat instructor with Dueling Arts International, and is recognized as an advanced actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors, and is an active member of the National Dance Education Organization.

She currently serves as a freelance choreographer and director throughout western Illinois.

Blouin (who’s married to Quad City Arts executive director Kevin Maynard) is among the staff of Moline’s Spotlight Theatre and said this week her work as an intimacy coach grew out of her prowess in stage combat and fight choreography.

Lily is married to Quad City Arts executive director Kevin Maynard.

They’re basically two sides of the same coin – detailing movements of physical intimacy in scenes of romance and battle.

“Our job is to be aware of what tools are available to make sure the actors feel like they have a say in the choices they’re making and the story they’re telling,” she said. “We try to make it as easy and safe as possible, and I love that.”

“When we talk about intimacy in the theatre, we often think of graphic nudity, or scenes with highly sexual content. And while intense sexual scenes absolutely require an intimacy professional, the spectrum of intimate actions and experiences spans well beyond sex,” Blouin posted on Facebook in February.

“Intimacy pops up when we are asked to extend our emotional and physical boundaries to others, whether that is a hug, a kiss, or even a glance. Even acts of violence can be intimate and it’s important that we work together to protect those who put their physical and emotional well-being at risk for our entertainment,” she wrote.

“I often work with young and emerging artists, so I take my role as actor advocate especially serious,” Blouin said. “Because younger artists are still learning communication skills and building the emotional intelligence needed to advocate for themselves, and newer artists tend to be more eager to say ‘yes,’ so as not to seem difficult, it’s essential that there is someone in the room who is looking out for their well-being.”

Blouin is experienced in stage combat and swordplay.

Adam Michael Lewis asked her to do intimacy coaching as he directed “Barefoot in the Park” (a 1963 Neil Simon romantic comedy about two newlyweds), with performances in February 2023.

“It’s something that piqued my interest a few years ago. It’s something a lot of fight directors are moving into,” Blouin said of intimacy coaching. “It feels so similar…There’s a story to be told. We can expand on these characters.”

“It’s still a relatively new field,” she said of directing intimate moments. “I really felt compelled to do it because I do a lot of work with high schoolers, and with fight choreography.”

Blouin has read about the role of intimacy coordinators as being an advocate for actors. “And create an environment for people who maybe have never kissed someone before, so they don’t have a traumatic experience,” she said. “I felt responsible for the times I didn’t have the tools to step up for those actors. I knew there was a better way.”

Intimacy coordinators create a vocabulary and a skill set for going about it. There are two national organizations that offer training in the field – Theatrical Intimacy Education (TIE) and Intimacy Directors and Coordinators (IDC). The second one offers certification.

Blouin has done online training through TIE, but not the certification process from IDC. Several fight directors are also intimacy coordinators, as she is.

“If I have a problem I’m not familiar with, I know who to call,” she said. “The more I do it, the more I love it. I appreciate how important it is. We know better now, so we have to do better.”

Degrees from Western Illinois

Blouin earned her BFA in musical theater in 2011 and a master’s in history in 2013 from Western Illinois University. Jessica Steinrock, CEO of Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, has a master’s and Ph.D. in theater from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and is based out of Chicago.

Western launched a minor in stage combat in fall 2018, at the time just the second university in the U.S. to have one; Columbia College in Chicago also did then.

Before graduating from WIU, Blouin became an advanced actor combatant and accepted into associate instructor training with Dueling Arts International (which does stage combat training). She got that certification in 2010.

Romeo and Tybalt fight in Genesius Guild’s 2022 production of “Romeo & Juliet” (directed by Kitty Israel). Blouin did both fight and intimacy choreography for this show.

Blouin has worked as a theater and dance educator for over 17 years, specializing in theater for young audiences, movement for the stage, stage combat, and directing.

Adam Lewis has taught theater at WIU since 2009, and she got to know him there, becoming good friends. Blouin partly chose Western because of its stage combat program.

Working on intimacy with students, Blouin has actors partner, and establish boundaries with where they feel OK being touched. They have “barriers” around parts they don’t want to be touched.

“For high schoolers, it tends to be a kiss,” she said of having them be comfortable with “lip to lip contact,” a choreographed action. “In order to create the illusion of a kiss, this is what has to happen. Are you comfortable with it? In my experience, they’ve all been very honest.”

“There’s no story we can’t tell within your boundaries,” Blouin said of how she speaks to students. “There’s few moments where a kiss is necessary. There are other things people can do, to show the same level of romantic affection or care. Sometimes, it’s just working up to it, practicing a stage kiss. We ease into it.”

She worked on intimacy with the Moline High School production of “Puffs” (a Harry Potter spoof, in December 2022) which included kissing, and students were part of the process.

“Saying no was OK, which goes against everything we believe as actors, to say ‘Yes, and…,” Blouin said. “It’s about advocating and the power dynamics on stage. Most actors want to be amendable.”

“We allow them to say no,” she said, using the word “button” instead. Theater naturally is an uncomfortable place, and directors should make sure actors have what they need to fulfill the agreement and tell the story, Blouin said.

Blouin was born in Hollywood, Fla., has five older brothers and her family moved to Anchorage, Alaska when she was 4, for her father’s job as an assistant pastor.

Blouin has worked with four area schools, including Pleasant Valley’s “Three Musketeers,” where she did fight choreography.

“One of my main jobs is to maintain the distinction between you the actor and the character,” she said, noting that applies to fight scenes and intimate scenes.

“Kids might get confused, if there are kissing scenes,” she said. “There are tools we put in place that remind them, this is me Lily, the actor. I think you’re a great person as a friend and there’s my character who is madly in love with you.”

Blouin and a fight partner practicing a fight during the Dueling Arts Level II Teacher Training in January 2023.

As a fight director, Blouin explains how to do that with actors, who don’t like being violent with another person. “My character hates you and wants you to die, so we’re going to do this,” she said as an example. “We make it really academic.”

Choreographing “Barefoot”

“Barefoot in the Park” – which starred Augustana College students Will Crouch and Sarah Walton — has nothing explicit or risqué, but it focuses on a young couple in love. Lewis wanted to “create a space where they felt empowered to play together, so we really worked on establishing some boundaries,” Blouin said, noting she talked to them about what to expect physically.

“They would know what to do – like, I’m gonna put my arms around you, cool?” she said. “That helped build some chemistry and trust between them.”

Will Crouch and Sarah Walton in Playcrafters’ “Barefoot in the Park.”

Blouin’s approach is different between teens and adults.

“They’re a young couple in love, what does that look like?” she said. “Getting specific about boundaries is important.”

In “Barefoot,” they talked through the specific motions between actors. With younger actors, Blouin assumes they’re more uncomfortable than adults.

“I ask more directly, are you comfortable with a kiss, with simulating this act?” she said of adults. “I engage the adults more in the creative process and I assume they are better at communicating their needs. With the youth, we’re gonna create all the space we can for you.”

Crouch and Walton knew each other beforehand, which helps in intimate scenes, Blouin said.

“Almost every adult actor I work with, they say, ‘I’m fine with everything’,” she said, noting one partner may be less comfortable, which is a challenge.

Walton (an Augustana senior) had never worked with an intimacy coach before.

Walton and Crouch are Augustana seniors.

“I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. However, as soon as we met Lily, she provided us with a safe space to talk through our boundaries, comfort levels with different moves and to try out ideas in a closed setting,” she said recently.

“Working with an intimacy coordinator was a wonderful way to relieve any awkwardness over closer physical contact and she was so well-educated when going through her exercises,” Walton said.

They met with Blouin prior to any rehearsals, which made blocking of intimate moments much more comfortable, she said.

“She was very encouraging of us to always share what we felt about certain choices, even if we had given consent minutes before,” Walton said. “The work of an intimacy coordinator is so important in today’s society, especially when blocking actors who have never worked together before.”

There was intimacy in “Barefoot in the Park,” but nothing sexually explicit or risque.

She and Crouch had previously done several theater projects at Augie that required them to be intimate together, so they didn’t have that initial awkwardness at Playcrafters.

“However, Lily did present us with new tools, like taking certain stage directions, breaking them down and making them more mechanical to eliminate the emotional side of things, like a kiss,” Walton said. “Will and I already knew what was appropriate and acceptable, but it really did help us to be on the same page with timing of certain moves.

“While it maybe wasn’t the most explicit play, I do believe that having an intimacy coordinator would be extremely helpful when blocking unfamiliar actors together,” she added. “It was a new experience for both Will and I, but we both felt like we gained a lot by working with Lily and it’s really great to have those tools and knowledge to apply for future projects.”

“It’s definitely becoming more common on the stage,” Blouin said, adding she also advised on intimate scenes last summer for “Romeo & Juliet” at Genesius Guild, Rock Island. “There just aren’t many people who are doing it yet. We’re starting to see more highlighting of people who have that credential.”

Acting joys and sorrows

Blouin has had highs and lows on Quad Cities stages herself. She was supposed to co-star in Spotlight’s “Tarzan” as Jane in 2020 (canceled by COVID), which has not been re-scheduled.

She had the lead role of Maria in Spotlight’s “Sound of Music” in late 2021. She’s directed three children’s shows at Spotlight, choreographed “Aladdin Jr.” and “Jungle Book Kids” and music directed “Peter Pan.”

Blouin (center) working with actors Kirsten Sindelar and Joseph Lasher at the Spotlight Theatre.

“Lily has been an absolute delight to work with from the moment she stepped inside of The Spotlight Theatre,” Spotlight owners Brent and Sara Tubbs said recently. “In the spring of 2021, Lily joined The Spotlight Theatre Children’s Company as the music director of ‘Peter Pan’ and has been a part of it ever since! She is wonderful with our students and is so much fun to work with as a colleague.

Blouin was the lead in Spotlight Theatre’s “The Sound of Music.”

‘She’s an incredible performer (she was Maria in our 2021 production of ‘Sound of Music’), a super talented fight choreographer (she has worked on several of our shows, including ‘The Lightning Thief’ and ‘Tuck Everlasting,’ as well as our upcoming production of ‘Oliver’),” the couple wrote.

“She brings light and joy wherever she goes and we are so grateful to have her on our team!” Sara and Brent said.

Blouin was cast as one of the leads (Beatrice) for Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” which would have been her first show for Prenzie Players. It unfortunately had to be canceled entirely this month due to a COVID outbreak in the cast.

Blouin and J.C. Luxton as Beatrice and Benedick in the Prenzie Players’ production of “Much Ado About Nothing” that was canceled due to COVID among the cast.

She loved their collaborative nature, working with director Jarrod DeRooi.

“He welcomed our thoughts,” Blouin (who didn’t get COVID herself) said, noting she also helped with fight scenes. “That was fun.”

She got to study with Shakespeare scholar Bill Kincaid at WIU, author of “Performing Shakespeare Unrehearsed” (2018). Prenzie had not performed since November 2019.

Blouin made a 2023 New Year’s resolution, after working with Spotlight, to audition for another local theater company, and she had heard good things from Lewis about Prenzie, a troupe veteran.

“It’s been a long time since I had done a non-musical and it was really refreshing to be with a group of people that felt as passionately and nerdily about Shakespeare. It was a long process,” she said of rehearsing since January.

“That’s been really fun, to go back to the academic side of theater. It’s been a while,” she said. “And it’s a fun show.”

Blouin said she was struggling with Beatrice (who’s like a rambunctious aunt and a good time), but “the more you peel back, there’s definitely hurt there between her and Benedick,” she said. “I had to embrace a little more of her. It’s so not me. There’s a piece of every character, where you’d never say that to someone. Se’s just a wounded soul like the rest of us.

“Hopefully, people will get to see it sometime in the fall,” Blouin said. “We’re ready. We just have to put it back together.”

Blouin played Maria in Spotlight’s 2021 production of “The Sound of Music.”

Canceling “Tarzan” was heartbreaking for her, since at that point she hadn’t been on stage since 2017. “I was really feeling excited about being on stage,” Blouin said. “I was so shocked. I was very excited to play her, because we had a lot of similarities. She’s a big dork – she has an entire song half sung in Latin. Kevin can attest, that’s my dream song.”

She hasn’t fully accepted losing “Much Ado,” since the last week of rehearsals was so intense, with rehearsals going past 11 p.m., and one of the main actors got COVID. They canceled the first weekend, and then a half-dozen more actors tested positive for COVID.

“I feel kind of numb about it,” she said. “I think that’s my absolute refusal to believe we’re not gonna get to do this show. We have a good show and it;’s a great cast. I’ll be damned if before the end of this year, we don’t get to share it with an audience. I am taking comfort in knowing we’re gonna put that show on – no matter what that means or looks like.”

“I feel more sadness for my cast and for our director, Jarrod, who’s been working so tirelessly behind the scenes,” Blouin said. “He built us a beautiful set that we’re not gonna get to see yet, a really cool set.”

“He’s just been such a kind and guiding leader and I feel sad for him,” she said. “We all built this beautiful thing. We took one for the community.”

Striking out on her own

Last fall, Blouin decided to leave her full-time job (for the nonprofit Forefront Illinois) and become a theater freelancer exclusively.

“I was hitting a breaking point and something had to give,” she said of juggling theater commitments and her regular job (working from home). “I don’t want to give up theater and there were more opportunities.”

Lily and Kevin Maynard had a green “Peter Pan” theme for their July 2015 wedding.

“I can’t ask for two weeks off every other month, and to do this, I have to say yes, because I had to keep saying no to things,” Blouin said. She found an inspiring quote online from Mary Oliver – “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

“I just started bawling and I called Kevin and said, “Do you mean it? Can I do this?” she recalled of him supporting leaving her job. “The moment I did, I felt like myself. It’s hard and it’s scary.”

Blouin is still figuring out her role in the arts community. She would like to start a Quad Cities Fight Club, to teach fight choreography.

Lily and Kevin Maynard were featured in “Almost, Maine” at Western Illinois University when she was in grad school.

She didn’t get to see her husband co-star last summer in “Silent Sky” at Richmond Hill in Geneseo, since she was teaching in Cape Girardeau, Mo., at Southeast Missouri State.

“One day, I’ll find a project we can do together,” Lily said of acting with Kevin. They were in “Almost, Maine” together in grad school at Western in Macomb. They got married in July 2015.

Directing at DJT

Another new theatrical venture is Blouin’s upcoming directing debut at Davenport Junior Theatre, helming “Squirrel Girl Goes to College” with a cast of 5th-through-12th-graders.

The Squirrel Girl play will run at Davenport Junior Theatre April 22, 23, 29, and 20.

In the Marvel Spotlight story, Doreen arrives at Empire State University to make new friends – and protect them from super villains – by keeping her superhero identity a secret. But when a beloved computer science professor suddenly disappears, can Doreen trust her friends with her inner squirrel so she can save the day?

Squirrel Girl is part of the new Marvel Spotlight series of comics. Doreen has the speed, strength and agility of a squirrel, and a sidekick (Tippy-Toe), Blouin said. In the larger-than-life show, she goes to college and her nemesis Dr. Doom says he’s going to hurt all her friends.

“She decides she’s gonna keep her identity secret,” Blouin said. “There’s a Greek chorus of squirrels. It’s just this really awesome message, she’s a superhero, but she hides herself and in the end it gets her and her friends in trouble – not being true to herself. I love that message.”

“I have a weird, nerdy, awesome little cast,” she said. “It’ll feel more like ‘Peter and the Starcatcher. The chorus is always on stage. There’s flashbacks. There’s not one, but two villains. There’s twists and turns. It’s gonna be really fun. I’m very excited.”

Talking derby

As if she weren’t busy enough, Blouin also is a member of the Quad City Rollers women’s roller derby team. Her name is “Julius Squeeze Her” and team number 315, based on her study of Julius Caesar – the Roman general and subject of the 1599 Shakespeare tragedy.

Blouin is Julius Squeeze Her for the Quad City Rollers.

“One of my areas of study in grad school was the fall of the Roman republic/rise of the empire,” Blouin said. “Caesar was often a lead figure in my studies and my fellow classmates joked that I was in an abusive relationship with Caesar (‘no, really guys, he means well. He didn’t mean to become emperor. He’s a good guy really.’)

“I wouldn’t say I’m a Caesar sympathizer but I do find him and the politics of his life intensely fascinating,” Blouin said. “So, it was only appropriate that my obsession with Caesar be reflective elsewhere in my life. and #315 is of course the Ides of March (3/15) the date of his assassination in 44 BC.”

She will next skate in a Rollers game on April 22 at the Eldridge Skatepark, 400 S. 16th Ave., Eldridge. The “Squirrel Girl” show also opens April 22 (at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and runs two weekends at DJT, 2822 Eastern Ave., Davenport.