So next week we have our first cast meeting for High School Musical
, and then the rehearsals start a few days later. So what are rehearsals all about? Well...
The rehearsals are where the cast and crew learn the show. I have to say, in watching a live show, I’m always amazed at how performers can memorize all the dialogue and music, and then perform on stage while dancing or moving or fighting. It takes more than just a good memory to make that happen. As the old gag goes, the three things you have to do to get a show on the stage: practice, practice, practice.
It takes a lot of studying on the part of the actor to learn his or her part, but it also takes lots of repetition at rehearsals to lock the part in place. Of course, even the best actors can make mistakes, skip lines or freeze up - that’s one of the things that makes live theatre so interesting.
By the way, I’m talking in broad generalities here - each show has its own demands and there’s no set formula for how to rehearse a show. It’s up to the directing team to decide how to set up a rehearsal schedule that works for each show.
If you’re working on a musical, the usual first step is to learn the music. The music director sits down with the cast and teaches each song, with the songs broken into parts, such as soprano, alto, tenor and bass (again, I’m simplifying here). It’s not unusual to spend several sessions just learning a single song.
The second step is to learn the dance movements, and that's the job of the choreographer - both to create appropriate dance steps for each song and to teach the dances to the actors. Depending on the show, the choreography can be extremely demanding (like Cats
) or pretty minimal (like Fiddler on the Roof
), but it’s a vital part of the show. A lot of the character movements are carefully arranged, even if they’re not literally dance steps. Again, it takes many sessions to coordinate and learn the dance movements.
Next up is the spoken dialogue and the stage movements. This is where all the parts of the rehearsal start coming together, as the actors learn the blocking (or stage directions) that will best tell the story of the play. Each show is generally broken into scenes, and the actors learn the show one scene at a time, constantly fine-tuning their performance. It's up to the director to see that all that is combined with the music and choreography - and then the show starts to take its final shape.
While all this is happening, the members of the tech crew are also learning the show, ready to operate the lights, the microphones and the proper movement of the set, props and all the other elements that go into staging the production.
All this occurs over the course of the rehearsal period. For community theatre, it’s usually a number of weeks, depending on how long and complex the job at hand. As a general rule, my personal preference is to allow six weeks of rehearsal for a non-musical, and eight to ten weeks for a musical. By the last couple of weeks of rehearsal, you’ve taken all the pieces and brought them together, and the rehearsal will cover at least one entire act. Hopefully, by that time you’re running through the entire show.
I always like to point out that putting on a show requires just as much teamwork as any sport. Each member of the show and the tech crew must do their job properly and help each other along for the show to work. That goes for everyone, from the star performer to the cast member with almost no on-stage time. When they all pull together, you get a great show. Having a great team, both actors and tech crew, is the most important part of putting on a great show. It also makes the whole process a lot more fun.
And it occurs to me that, in all this talk of the process, I’ve left out how much fun it is to be part of a show - you make new friends, you work together toward a common goal, and when you’re done (hopefully) you’ve created a work of art that you can be proud of. I know my sons have made lifelong friends while taking part in shows - and so have I.
Anyway, back to the process. The last week before the performance is the most hectic, the most demanding, the most stressful part of the job. It’s what’s known as Tech Week - but we'll save that story for later.