This isn’t really a post as such — it’s an invitation to comment. I would love to hear from theatre practitioners, actors as well as directors, and perhaps even playwrights: what does rehearsal mean to you? What do you see as its purpose? What makes for a good rehearsal? What for a bad or unproductive one? Are rehearsals about process or about outcomes? How much do you learn about yourselves? About your characters? About the play? (Is one of those more important than the others?) Are rehearsals overrated? Do you sometimes feel underrehearsed? Overrehearsed? How does either feeling manifest itself? Do you have particularly interesting — funny? horrifying? illuminating? — rehearsal anecdotes you want to share?

Comment away!

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14 Responses to Rehearsal

  1. Qasim says:

    I am awful at formulating my thoughts in to concise written word, sooo….

    Rehearsal is discovery and practice. As an actor I am about to perform in a 2.5 hour marathon of the heart, mind, and body, and rehearsal is my training for that. I learn what the demands of the story are: physically and emotionally. I discover how I interact with other actors, with space, and with time, to push the story further. I discover how my body, voice, and brain need to be tuned to effectively to fill my function in the story. Using the script as a record of events, I learn in rehearsal how I can best serve the story and make it clear for an audience.

    Table work informs me of what version of the story it is that I am telling. I think it’s critical! I hate when people say “let’s just get up and do it.” It all depends on the familiarity level everyone has with the piece and with each other. Theatre is like a board game: there are rules of the world that need to be followed. Table work and discussion is the moment where you take out the rules of the game (the script, research, design) and everyone gets on the same page. When we are all in agreement of the rules (ie. Romeo and Juliet have fighting families; there’s a staircase up left that will never move; we will explore nudity in rehearsal; we are doing the show only in candlelight), we can play, and I can play better because I understand the logistics of the world. The rules will inform the choices I can make in the next phase of rehearsal. It could be two days for a production, it could be two weeks: it depends and varies, and we need to accept that in our work models.

    In the sense of an ensemble, the rehearsal period allows work to ebb and flow: you experience the moments where everyone is clear, specific, and charged, and you also experience when people are tired, pre-occupied, and not working at 100% – which will be a reality of running a show for longer than 4 days. I think anyone who has done a short run, like 3 days to a week, can agree that you open the show with such momentum and energy, and the next day the show sucks. Having a longer rehearsal period is a gift because the more your practice, the more the thing is in your bones and heart, and moments do not need that push push push to be great: the thoughts you are thinking are so clear and second-nature now, that it’s no longer overwhelming effort, and that is something sustainable. I guess rehearsal makes it easier to sustain the piece. It’s like cooking; the longer something marinates or simmers, the better it may taste. Rehearsal is the ensemble and staff marinating in the story.

    Something that develops between actors in rehearsal, with all of this stuff behind them, should be a type of trust, a precision, a give and take. That’s the actor’s job though, rehearsal or not. We are constantly holding one another up, making each other look good, challenging and frustrating one another, all the while holding on to the rules of the game and telling the story honestly. In the perfect world, ideas, relationships, situations are lifted off the page in rehearsal, and you feel what it is to be IN the story, the game, that you spent two weeks talking about earlier. While it is a different thing all together to have an academic or ‘discussed’ version of the play versus a physical and emotional telling of it, I don’t think the later can exist effectively without the former.

    The director-actor thing is tricky. Depending on the piece I love both being blocked like a puzzle piece, and being able to do whatever I want to do. If you are directing me and have a very clear picture in your head of what the scene looks like, for the love of God, save everyone the time and just tell me. I can use that specific move for instance as a new rule in the game, and the fun for me is in figuring out a how, and a why. On the other hand, its fun getting to do whatever you feel like doing, moving when you want, not moving if you don’t feel like. But I hate being given that as the game, and then being told that my instincts are wrong. I also do not know what the whole picture looks like; your lighting plot isn’t in my head, dear director, so I don’t know if I am lit or not. That’s not fair to throw on your actors – an outside eye is key. If you’re into that kind of work.

    TRUE STORY: a director at University used to do this absolutely mind-fuck, bullshit thing of having the actors on a first pass of a scene do it how they felt like doing it: move when, where, why you want. He would then stop and say “Don’t you feel like having the impulse to [place one foot on a step? kiss her? move downstage centre and fall to your knees?]” GUESS WHAT: I ‘feel like having the impulse’ to punch you in the face. My impulses are exactly what you just saw, and if you’d like to adjust them, adjust them, but don’t mind-fuck me unless frustrating me and making me feel stupid is part of your plan and will ipush my acting in a way that you’d like. My impulses may also change with time and when I have an even deeper understanding of the piece, and if that comes up, it should be celebrated by both director and actor. If a choice is great, it will live on; if its not, and a new one comes up, the new one should be honoured.

    Rehearsal is also about debate. It’s when the actor learns from director, but where directors also learn from actors. If we are on two extremely different pages about a moment, a relationship, a beat, a line, a word: we need to talk about it. If it’s something that is easily solved by just addressing it, why not? It’ll likely open up a new world of understanding for everyone involved.

    I think rehearsal halls need to be treated with a different kind of respect than just a rented room or a studio for practice. One of the best pieces of advice I received on a collaboratively created piece was that whatever is in the rehearsal hall (ideas, physical things, props, costumes, tensions, attitudes) is what will be in the show. Depending on the piece, it might need a certain tension or attitude, or mood, or aura – whatever word you want to use to describe that allusive thing that becomes the heart of the piece. This ‘thing’ needs to be set and managed by the director. It might come from playing games, physical or of the mind, with actors; if the piece is about competition, maybe the director pins actors up against each other – allowing the two actors to feel what that competition feels like and using it to tell the story. This is where that trust that we have been building comes in to play. Those feelings, that mood, whatever it is, need to be able to exist in the rehearsal and performance space, and a respect by the company needs to be given to that. It’s part of the work! Or it should be! It’s the X factor thing.

    If your aim is to have a production up by a deadline (an opening) and you have 3-4 weeks to do it, don’t pretend that you are looking to have a communal-love-in experience with your ensemble where people will be challenged and pushed and feel growth bla bla bla; get everyone on the same page and PRACTICE. Fellow actors: learn your damn words like its your job, because IT IS, and be ready to work. If you want it to be a really great, rich, and nuanced production, give it lots of time. If your aim is to explore something, then explore, and don’t have any expectations and let the piece become what it becomes in that moment of time for that project with that ensemble.

  2. Julian Munds says:

    The reason for the delay in response to your question Holger is I wanted to really think about what I gain from rehearsals. Here goes my jaunt into what I am sure will be a rambling response.

    I, as an actor, have always had a tenuous relationship with rehearsals. I have always considered myself the type of actor who likes to do a ton of research and discussion in the forefront of the process to make sure that I am on the same page everyone else. When it comes to the actual launch into the ‘on the feet stuff’ the process is made quick and the choices can be organic. Organic is a term I hate as it means nothing in a context of performance, so what I am trying to say is I do not want to ever marry a choice and let it change constantly. Things continue changing right up to opening and indeed hopefully after. This makes the play or performance continually fresh from night to night. As an actor I hate rehearsal, and would prefer a short process with a few more previews. Really, like most actors, I cannot say anything intelligent about the rehearsal process as I am usually not conscious of the process if it is going well.

    Leaving that banality behind, I turn to looking at rehearsal from a Director’s point of view. For the last two years I have been working as a Director, having about six projects to my name. As a Director, I love rehearsal. Again discussion is of the utmost importance. I have found many actors come in with choices, which though bold, do not serve the overall production. In my ideal world one have 4 weeks of solid table work, to truly discuss every aspect of the play until everyone is clear their function in the goings on. Actors of course hate this, but there is a selfishness inherent in artists that needs to whacked out of them to truly find what the ‘play’ is.

    Recently, I have been involved in a process of developing a new play that on face value is a boring empty piece of New-Canadian trash. A run of the mill episode to episode comedy about how ‘my people are different from yours.’ As you would probably agree this seems to be every play currently mass produced in Toronto. After much discussion and debate, we discovered that this play is about much more. We discovered that it is a play about the creative process and how preconceived notions of culture and literature hamper our creativity. Through our discussion I asked the playwright to refocus her play to amplify this theme. Suddenly, this play had a soul, and we would not have found that if we did not spend so much time on investigation.

    When it comes now to ever experimental process of staging the text, we have discovered that our many days of slogging through investigation have made it terribly easy to discover the play on its feet. Repetition becomes key. Running scenes and trying different choices each time make for a detailed performance.

    What I have discovered is, as someone above me said, the rehearsal process is about relearning to act. It is about whacking your own selfish notions and finding the soul of the piece. A lengthy rehearsal process of total investment, lends itself to finding
    originality. This process is even better for an established play as it makes the creatives discover what is the old or overdone and what is the new. Newness exists in investigation and you can’t adequately investigate in two weeks.

  3. Rod Beilfuss says:

    Peter Brook once said that every rehearsal process should be a re-investigation of acting itself.

    And he’s right because, essentially, no rehearsal process is the same. Directors work in different ways from one another; actors are all unique little beasts and a play’s particular genre has a lot of power in determining how the dynamics of rehearsals function.

    But there’s no question: rehearsal is needed. No professional, serious theatre-maker would deny that. Where people differ is in the rehearsal style or in the amount of time one likes/dislikes to spend in the rehearsal room – and, of course, the type of production/text should determine how decisions in those instances are made..

    In my opinion, great directors are not only in tune with the dynamics of their cast, but also fascinated by the process of acting. As an actor, I love directors that allow me to – to put it bluntly – fuck around. That is, in my opinion, the greatest thing about having time to rehearse: to fuck around with the text; to jam with your fellow actors, to try different choices (and as an actor, it is your job to bring new choices to rehearsals everyday; choices that support the ensemble and the text), and, most, most importantly: the rehearsal room must remain a safe environment for one to feel ok with being vulnerable and achieve sheer failure.

    Most civilians (ie. normal people that don’t work in the theatre) pretty much imagine that rehearsals are where/when actors do nothing but memorization. Some of my civilian friends have asked me many times “why do you need 8 hours a day, can’t you just memorize your lines at home?”.

    Memorization comes, to most actors, naturally in the process of repetition through rehearsals. And it is, without a doubt, the easiest part of acting – it is really hard for civilians to get this, but its true; memorization is such a tiny little part of the rehearsal process.

    Additionally, table work is something I’m not a big fan of – both as an actor and director. A couple of days, sure, maybe, but not a whole week (which seems like the norm for most theatres – unless, of course, we are dealing with Sir Trevor Nunn, who patronizingly lectures his actors for some 2 weeks…). I’d rather spend my time on my feet – again, both as an actor and a director – fucking around and playing with choices, dynamics, the connection between the actors, the text. When it comes to Shakespeare, that’s certainly what I like to do: to approach it as a nice piece of jazz (*cue academic heads exploding due to this seemingly cliched comparison*).

    Indeed, some serious table work is needed for Shakespeare and the classics – simply to clear out any doubts in terms of the meaning of things, the form and such. Lately, though, I’ve discovered that sitting actors around a table to read and talk about Shakespeare for a hours and hours isn’t that helpful – or fun, to be honest. I worked with a director recently who, on the first day, said “alright…Richard III…I got the cuts here, but can we look at the whole play, the entire text, just this once, and can you all just sit around in a circle, no tables, and just do the whole play? Just do it, because reading it, like this with your head down, is just so fucking boring.”

    At first we were terrified, but it turned out to be an absolutely liberating experience. Sure we would still go back and talk about things and clarify moments, but to start at that level, trying to connect with your partner, lifting the words off the page, immediately did away with any fears or anxieties about eventually having to get up and do some “acting” in front of your cast-mates. All of that crap was sorted out right way, instead of being pushed back for days and days whilst we treated the text like a sacred scroll – which really isn’t helpful. No doubt, Shakespeare’s plays are complex and filled with ideas, but that’s not something one can play; that’s not useful to the actor one bit. One must approach it on the ground floor, taking it apart, looking at the verse as a muscular, engaging and active language…

    In any case; oh, and yes, most of the time – especially in the world of indie theatre – one feels incredibly under-rehearsed.

    But sometimes – sometimes – that’s ok. It adds fear to the experience. And good (good!) actors work well under fear.

    And, finally, it should always be about process. Even Opening Night is about process – that’s why we have previews (when we have them…). Theatre is process. Sure, realistically speaking, the view from out there is that we must strive for an end-result, a “final product”. However, anyone who works in the theatre knows that that’s not the case, ever. The healthiest and most enjoyable and lively rehearsals/productions are always about process – that way we find the freedom to not only play around in order to make discoveries during rehearsals, but also to continue to play around even after the play opens; all the way through closing night.


  4. One further thought. Theatre rehearsals have a tendency to become rather fraught. The director hates me. I hate the director. The director hates you. I hate you. We hate you. They all hate me. The play is going to bomb. The play is going to make my career. We open in 3 days and my bloody costume doesn’t fit. It can all get very dramatic, ha ha.

    I’ve decided that most of the time, this kind of rehearsal hall tension can be good. Nobody said you should be perfectly comfortable to make good art.

    Sometimes rehearsal hall drama can tip over into sadism. In particular, I’ve once or twice witnessed the cliche of a director having a scape-goat amongst the cast – and that can become very cruel, and I’m not sure that we’ve come up with a good solution for that kind of thing in the rehearsal hall. The cast should get together and communicate through the deputy to the stage-manager that this kind of thing isn’t going to be tolerated, but in practice it can be hard to make that happen.

  5. All HR Management Consultants (who are out there making $800/day teaching managers how to communicate) should spend some time hanging out in rehearsal halls. They’re all about communication.

    How on earth could rehearsal be overrated? Rehearsal is everything. Rehearsal from my acting perspective is about gaining clarity, specificity about a play. You start with an academic understanding of a script – period location, plot. You’re not in it yet. You can’t see yourself in it. It’s like a fog stands between you and the acting reality of the story. Gradually (hopefully), through rehearsal, through play and discussion, the fog lifts until you find yourself on stage staring at your fellow actor knowing who you are, where you are, what you need to do to this person in front of you. If you feel unrehearsed, performing in front of an audience is like driving through the fog at high speed on a mountainside road without guardrails.

    To gain this clarity together, the cast and director need to talk, a lot. I love table work. It’s a chance to ask the stupid questions without interrupting a scene. It gets everyone on the same page, with the understanding. Sit around the table, go through it scene by scene, discuss what is happening in each scene. Ask stupid questions.
    Then you get on your feet and you start playing. This is initially terrifying and thrilling to me. Because the fog hasn’t quite lifted yet, I’m acting blind. I invariably start out flailing. Ideally making big messy choices that can lead to something true. Sometimes making small tentative choices that are less useful. I try to get off book right away so that the choices aren’t bunged up by having a script in hand. If I’m getting it wrong, or wrong ish, I want the director to tell me. And work my ass.

    It’s all process. An actor can’t think about outcome (I suppose the director must – I’m not a director!). Right up until the show closes, it’s all about getting deeper, getting the right thoughts in your head, letting impulses flow. Inevitably I discover something absolutely brilliant about my character and play about three shows before we close.

    Something other commentators have mentioned: Rehearsal is also a time to connect with your cast-mates. This is vital – you absolutely need to trust each other. In my experience how this happens depends on the play. An extreme example: I was once working on a boozy 1920s piece completely with mid-show orgy. The cast starting giving each other massages by the second rehearsal. It sounds like a bad drama-school cliche, but without that kind of initial safe physical contact, there is no way the cast could have begun comfortably playing with each other to simulate sexual activity.

    I always want more rehearsal. The most I’ve ever rehearsed for a full theatre show: 2 months. The least: 2.5 weeks. The most frustrating style of rehearsal I’ve ever encountered was rehearsing two or three days a week, with breaks in between. There’s no chance to build up momentum. Give me 6-8 weeks of solid days. That said, I suspect that I’ll always find myself at the first preview going “I NEED MORE TIME DAMNIT”. As it should be.

  6. Megan says:

    Rehearsals for me are several chances to experiment with the text, movement and my cast. The whole process should bring the play/musical/whatever to life. Rehearsals are built so that you can find the best way to tell the story. When I say best, I mean clearest. And the version of the story (as I believe there are many interpretations of every play/musical/whatever in existence) that the director wants to tell. I’ve been in shows where I wasn’t convinced that the interpretation was the clearest, or most vibrant or sensical telling of the story, but that’s not really my job. My job is to speak the lines I’m given (if any) as cleary and honestly as possible and rehearsals give me the chance to practice that.

    A good rehearsal for me, usually involves a good director. If the director can make their vision as clear as possible for me to understand, I can do my part. My ideal director would have a clear and concise vision as to how they want us to tell the story. They should be constantly searching for the best, boldest and clearest choices out of a performer. Rehearsals should be work, so that the play/musical/whatever doesn’t have to be. I have been in situations where I’ve run scenes/songs/shows where the director has given absolutely no notes or has slept through it and ultimately done nothing to push the show along. I think a show can always be pushed along so I find it disheartening when I’m working to have someone respond with essentially nothing. If I’m doing what you want, let me know. If I’m not, let me know. As I look for the best, boldest, strongest and clearest choices, I want to know that the director is also watching to make sure that’s happening. I don’t want to coast, and I love my job so I want the people on the other side of the table to be loving it too.

    I’m not sure whether or not rehearsal is based on process or outcome….I think the two are so closely entwined that it would be difficult to separate them. Hopefully what I’ve said so far describes a pretty fluid thing. You may have an outcome in mind but through the process of rehearsals, and through different ideas coming to the table (as in my mind every choice an actor makes is an idea which will affect the course of the play) everything could change.

    Rehearsals are only overrated if no one is prepared to work, or if no one has an idea as to what is happening in the play/musical/room/wherever.

    Unfortunately, I, more often than not, feel under rehearsed. In North America, with the average rehearsal time for a play being 2-3 weeks (depending on the play/money), it’s pretty easy to feel under rehearsed. I’ve opened a couple of shows after about 24 hours of rehearsal and been just scared on opening about whether or not I will say all of the words in the right order – nevermind making choices that make sense or support what my character wants. However, there is definitely a point of over rehearsal. Especially if a director is no longer contributing to the shape and feel of the show. If nothing is changing in rehearsal, you probably need an audience (or better actors/director/what have you… ha!). And when I say audience, I mean previews – ideally. I think the actors work takes on a new level once an audience is introduced. I strongly believe that as much work as an actor does in rehearsal, when the audience is there, it’s about working with them as a living breathing organism and scene partner. I’m also not saying that everything should pander to the audience or that you need to direct your work at them. Just being aware of the other entity, and sharing your energy with them.

    I’ve been in rehearsals where directors seem to fixate on words in isolated speeches and then suggest a choice, which I don’t think anyone understands, and then feeling trapped in that action trying endlessly to make it work and never feeling like it’s landed or makes sense to the audience. But I’ve dealt with it. I’ve also been in rehearsals where the director has simply told me where to stand and I have to fill in everything else, which is fine with me, as long as the director is paying attention after that to make sure that I’m on track in the storytelling.

    I don’t know if any of that makes sense. I feel like some of it contradicts itself, but I stand by it. Hope that helps.

  7. Rehearsals for me are about finding connections with, well, everything. Yes, as an actor it’s important to find your connection with the piece before hand but I find you don’t really know what the piece is before you interact with those involved. One cannot act with out connecting to the moment. To do this there is so much more involved then just showing up on the day. How can you connect to a moment if you can’t connect with the character your sharing it with? How can you connect with that character, if you don’t know the person (The same goes for the reverse)? How can you connect to the moment with out understand what world your in? How can you understand what world your in, without connecting with whomever created it? Now the more difficult one. How can you connect in the moment with out connecting with your character? How can you connect with your character without exploring who he is? (Some may say you can explore on your own, yes but I would argue not as well)

    Exploration another key symptom of rehearsal. Exploration not only shows one what choices don’t work but also which choices work better then others. It reminds me of an old saying: there are no wrong choices only better ones. Rehearsals offer a place where you can make those choices and fail. The fastest way to learn is through failure (even still most actors don’t like to admit anything failed). It’s interesting how failure and overcoming that failure can breed confidence.

    Confidence is absolutely needed in theatre. If there is a moment of hesitation the moment can be lost. Rehearsals bring confidence to many. Some have confidence to spare but not all so for us rehearsal is an asset.

    On the other side, it gives the director the chance to explore his choices and find that shared moment. The director cannot create a true moment without knowing those he is putting in it. It gives the director the opportunity to connect everything and everyone.

    I’m not saying a show will not happen without rehearsal, I’ve seen many great performers just show up, but it will not be the best that can be done.

    It’s just what came into my head when I read the question: My Personal Opinion.

  8. Janelle says:

    I’ve been mulling over this topic for a few days now trying to organize my thoughts, of which there are many. I’m about to re-enter the rehearsal room for a show after a five week holiday break, an unusual rehearsal timeline to say the least (four weeks rehearsal, five weeks off and two weeks of rehearsal remaining until opening). I find it difficult to sum up what I feel about rehearsals because every process is so different and depends so much on the director, cast, time frame, style of show, money etc.

    While the success of a rehearsal process is not only in the hands of the director, I feel it is their responsibility to steer the ship. One of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had recently taught me a great deal about what I think a director can do to ensure the best possible outcome from a rehearsal room. The best kind of director, in my opinion, is one who is passionate and committed to their vision for a show, and can truly inspire the cast and production team to come along with them for the ride, while allowing everyone to contribute to the world you are creating. The director I’m referring to specifically fully embraces a cast as whole, making everyone feel that their input is valuable, whether you are the lead or not. If you can establish this cohesion early, the amount you can actually accomplish in a rehearsal process is astounding. The experience in particular I’m referring to was thrilling because we accomplished more in two weeks of rehearsal than I have in previous experiences of four or five.

    Table work versus no table work is a really interesting debate, and again I feel very much depends on the particular show and group you are working with. I think there will always be actors who prefer it and some who don’t, just like there are actors who highlight their script and those who don’t. It’s impossible to have a rehearsal process that meets everyone’s desires or needs all of the time. Actors have to learn to be flexible. Bottom line. It’s a hard pill to swallow but necessary for working in this industry. If the rehearsal process isn’t what you need in order to work, it is your job to give yourself what you need to succeed, often by asking for help from your director.

    I think table work sometimes gets a bad wrap because I don’t think it’s always used effectively. Whether you begin a process around the table or up on your feet, I think what is most important is that the cast has a clear idea of the world they are playing in from the beginning. In order for this to happen, the director must have a clear image of the world they are envisioning and be able to communicate this world to their actors.
    One of my biggest pet peeves in a rehearsal room is laziness, from directors and actors alike. I agree with Nora regarding actors not being off script on time. I find it unbelievably rude to the group when someone chooses to not do the work. Not only does it keep the actor themselves from being fully immersed in the moment, I as your scene partner can’t play with you when your eyes are on still on the page. Some actors I now refer to as “excuse-atrons”, those who have a million excuses for why they didn’t or can’t do their work. I avoid excuse-atrons at all cost.

    When I think back on shows I’ve been in, I have snippets of memories from rehearsal rooms. I usually have a clear memory of the first read as it is often the most optimistic time of the process where anything is still possible, and memories of moving into the theatre, away from the space where it all started. Some think rehearsal is a necessary evil, I for one choose to look at it as a great gift – it means I have a job.

  9. Eliza Martin says:

    I feel as though through a rehearsal process you should go through a bit of a step process. For me, ideally the journey starts on an intellectual level, and rehearsals start with discussions. I really find value in discussing a character or a piece and I especially find value in having an opposing opinion to someone else, as strange as it sounds. Ideally I would like to spend hours discussing an idea or character and hopefully come away with a complete new set of things to think about. I think its important for myself at least to toss all my ideas out there in some manner or another (being it through personal notes and writings or a discussion with the cast/director) and have others do the same and sort through for myself what I do think about my character or about the piece and find out what my director feels or the other actors. This often sets up for me some original notions and ideas about my own character. I think this part of the process for me is essential at the beginning because I enjoy going as far as I can intellectually before actively engaging, and then allow the doing to take me on a completely different exploration.

    Once that is done, I love to engage in every way possible and play, play, play. The playing or doing, is what for me allows me to get out of my head (once the first step is out of the way) and free myself to react and really get a character into my body. If I haven’t gone through the intellectual stuff first, I find myself often feeling trapped or tentative or silly. As a person I fight a strong tendency to be product focused and fearful of making mistakes. I feel as though when rehearsal rushes through a chance for exploration and goes simply to what will be the final direction and blocking etc (though obviously at times necessary in a tight-for-time situation) I allow myself to become too focused on the product and “right” and “wrong”. As an actor I feel much more alive when I do feel comfortable to play and make a fool of myself. It becomes for me much more process based in that way and I can only hope it makes the final product much more organic and much less robotic and manufactured. When rehearsals simply become monotonous and repetitive, I do believe it is possible to overrehearse. Play for me allows for a lot of fresh discoveries and fundamentally makes me comfortable with a group of people, a director and a space. As someone rather timid to take risks, experimenting is best both for what I feel leads to better acting and for a positive social/interactive/work environment. Once going through a large period of experimentation and play I find it naturally leads to a final product. You naturally settle in to what works best for you, what felt honest and right, and of course what fits with the director’s vision. Only through the process based work however can the product you ideally want be achieved. I believe being product based is simply skipping steps, though is a common reality, again, when pressed for time.

  10. Hannah says:

    I think I like rehearsals, which is about the greatest compliment I can ever give to something I’m directly involved in. I dread them, I fret about them, I’d hide if I could, but I’d never miss one. It’s not that I don’t enjoy rehearsals, but in my experience, I will, if at all possible, wriggle my way out of ever having to present anything to anyone at any point ever. There is a kind of perfection that exists, and I may never reach it, but it frustrates me to no end to be able to see my goal, to understand it, and to be aimed right at it, and to feel it slip away. I don’t want to show my failures to anyone, and it has been my experience that I spend a lot of rehearsal time fixing things that I should know better than to do. I hate repeating myself, you hate repeating yourself. Why didn’t I just lift that ending? Why didn’t I just settle on that beat?

    To that end, I suppose that I feel the most successful rehearsals are the ones where I feel uncomfortable, but break through that discomfort to produce something honest, something that I believe. I guess. But then, that is rather the point. Maybe I’m just really bad at rehearsing?

    For me, rehearsal allows me to build a whole person. It’s like a pregnancy…? Whatever that means. I like that it allows me to focus on the minutiae of a character. I genuinely love table work. I love love love talking things through, because I find that other people tend to be the greatest conductors of light, helping me to reach conclusions I never would have without prompting, or being forced to defend a position. I love arguing, and I think character can often be found in how you fight.

    As far as the concept of rehearsal, I like it because to me the endless repetition is like drawing and then memorizing a map. It’s nothing like actually going on the journey, but it makes sure that you don’t get lost. Or if you do get lost, you can find a checkpoint and get back on track.

    It breaks in relationships, and creates a short hand between cast/crew/etc., which usually helps because plays are more likely to feature people already acquainted with each other than strangers, and even if that isn’t the case, a short hand helps facilitate the presentation of a coherent product.

    On a different level, I think rehearsals have the potential to be the greatest master classes. It’s fascinating to see how everybody else works, and how you can fit together with them, how you complement them, they you, how you can give them more and more and more. It can be a competition of generosity! If true artists steal, then rehearsal is like Times Square full of tourists with open bags on a Sunday.

  11. Some of the best advice I’ve ever seen came from a little book on directing whose name and author I’ve now forgotten–I read it the summer after my first year in TDS, just before directing for the first time. In the very first section, there was a paragraph about “knowing your play”. The (unfortunately forgotten) author argued that a director much be intimately familiar not just with the script he or she is directing but also with all of the secondary sources, as it were: the life of the playwright, other plays written around the same time, elements of genre and style, and so on. This has become my philosophy for rehearsal in two important ways.

    1. Knowing what kind of play you’re doing is immensely helpful, both as an actor and as a director. When I see a show that I don’t like, my dislike is most often founded on confusion about what sort of play it was. This doesn’t necessarily function along the lines of formal genre. It can manifest in, for example, a performance of a Beckett or a Chekhov script that never gets a laugh or a cast with one actor who appears to be in a different play from the rest. It can also be an adaptation or reimagining of a well-known script that isn’t sure what style of adaptation it is trying to be. In rehearsal, it’s part of the director’s job to make sure that everyone is in the same play and that all involved (including designers, producers, etc) can agree about what kind of play they’re doing.

    Working at Shakespeare’s Globe in London last winter, my MA group was guided by Philip Bird, a member of Patrick Tucker’s Original Shakespeare Company, a brilliant actor/director/mentor, and a cue-script whiz. We worked in a experimental version of the OSC’s practice, wherein we had a read-thru of As You Like It, received cue scripts, and proceeded to not rehearse half the scenes at all (traditional OSC style) and to rehearse the other half under the guidance of various student directors (Philip Bird’s experiment). It became blindingly obvious within the first five minutes of rehearsal on any of the worked scenes whether or not the given director understood the Globe stage, (modern) cue script acting, and collaboration. As you might suppose, those who grasped what sort of work was being done by the actors had much more success than those who tried to “dictate” the rehearsals! Where the directors and actors were on the same page, positive and creative collaboration became possible and fruitful; where directors and actors were trying to work in separate styles, everyone left frustrated, discouraged, and flat. This reflected in the performances as well: we had the benefit (?) of being assessed on this work by people who had not seen the rehearsal process and were not told which scenes were directed by whom. Guess which directed scenes scored the highest marks?

    2. One of the most important functions of rehearsal, to me, is getting to know the play. As a director I always come in with an idea about what the play is ‘about’ and what the piece might eventually look like, but it’s the rehearsal process that really cracks open the heart of the thing. No matter how much preparation I do–both as an actor and as a director–it’s in rehearsal that I really begin to know the play. Approaching rehearsals this way as a director allows me to be more collaborative and open to ideas–very rarely now do I reject an idea before seeing it on its feet a couple of times. This sort of attitude about rehearsal also makes it slightly easier to kill babies (ideas you love that just don’t work in practice). So when you were absolutely sure that you wanted everyone to dance a Viennese waltz at the midpoint of your forty-minute adaptation and it just isn’t reading and doesn’t fit with the aesthetic you’ve collaboratively created with your cast, you have to be willing to scrap it, no matter how many rehearsal hours you’ve devoted to it (true story).

    This should not, however, diminish the importance of homework–both as an actor and as a director. It’s death to a scene when everyone else is solidly off-book, playing freely, and one actor is still carting his script around. It’s also deadly when a director doesn’t know the script (or the source, in devising work) intimately. But there’s a difference between knowing the script and knowing the play, and it’s the work of rehearsals to bridge the gap.

  12. I don’t know that I find the term “rehearsal” particularly helpful for a lot of my work, because something about that term suggests repetition to me. Until I’ve absolutely reached the last stage of something and it’s about just making sure the text is memorised and discovering how movement will work, I tend to avoid repetition because it can kill momentum somehow. I should clarify and say the kind of work I’m talking about would fit into the category (that I think is absolutely wrongly termed) “postdramatic.” The working paradigm in this kind of theatre is usually less defined and more flexible. So making the material (because in this work the play is not the material – what happens on stage is the material) is what takes up most of my time in preparation for a piece. I think a piece is always being made and, as Ali writes, discovered until it gets staged. It’s also helpful when you wrote the text so you can change it late if you want to. :)

    One thing I would mention that might be of interest is that myself and many of the artists I work with in the UK often use an “outside eye” instead of a director. An outside eye is generally someone else in the community whose opinion you trust. Different people use this person differently – occasionally inviting them in for almost the entire process of making the piece, or inviting them in very early, when ideas are percolating, then working on their own and inviting the outside eye back in very late. For my work I have usually had an outside eye (or sometimes two or three!) invited in very late, sometimes the day before I perform, who would watch the show, point out what looks awkward and what’s working, and I would usually agree with and take nearly all of their advice. I love collaborating with the right director – but what is interesting about the outside eye model is that the artist or company create movement, aesthetic and text simultaneously – they aren’t mutually exclusive – and force themselves to take risks and to push the material and the cohesion of those elements in a way they may not feel confident enough to if they were *only* the performer, the writer, or the writer/performer.

  13. Ali Richardson says:

    My favorite rehearsals are active ones – less talk, more DO. I’d rather show my interpretation of a character than explain it at a table. Simple, specific, short direction is best – then let the actor jump in and try. Long discussions drain energy and dilute impulses – save them for coffee-chat after rehearsal.

    In early rehearsals, I prefer to shelve the pressure of “but what will we do on the day?” in favor of exploration: improvisations in character, speaking subtext, movement work, etc. In late stages, running the show again and again is paramount in order to discover where the traps are (places where the action is unspecific/unmotivated).

    I love rehearsals because my favorite theatre is created collaboratively. This kind of work cannot exist without hours spent together as a company, battering ideas around chilly rooms.

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