There's a theatre festival here in Toronto that happens about a month after our big Fringe festival called SummerWorks. It is an opportunity for theatre artists to have access to some of the theatres in Toronto and showcase their work. The shows are chosen by jury, and each play/performance gets publicity and technical support. It's cool.
And I am pleased to announce that my play "A Weekend in the Country" was accepted. I will be directing it as well, and since I suck at directing myself I will not be acting in it. Besides it may be a bit overwhelming considering at this moment I am the director, writer, producer and stage manager (hopefully I'll acquire a SM soon). We'll be performing at the Factory Mainspace, and I am very excited about the whole thing!
Anyway I thought that in honour of the event, it might be interesting to those of you who are not in the theatre business to get a sense of what a rehearsal schedule for a play is like. As with everything I write here, there are different ways to do everything, and exceptions to every rule. This model I am giving you is used typically for already existing plays, not workshopping or experimental works. Oh and I am not getting into all the work the techies are doing at the same time as the play is being put together. I think if I did that this would be the biggest blog entry ever (having been a techie for a repertory company for 6 years, I can tell you, it's a lot of work).
- first read through
- full cast, director, with stage manager reading the stage directions, usually around a table and quite casual and relaxed
- the longest period in the process where the play comes together. Often unfortunately most plays are churned out as quickly as possible, over perhaps the course of two to three weeks (obviously there are longer rehearsal periods as well if you are lucky and have the money for it). It makes it easier if the actors learn their lines as soon as possible. Some actors even learn their lines before the first read through. This makes blocking out the staging much easier, and allows for the actor to get into their character more deeply without having to worry about carrying a script everywhere with them. In this period, dances are choreographed, fights are staged, and actors become totally fabulous in their characters.
- towards the end of the rehearsal process the director, stage manager and lighting/sound technicians all get together for an extremely long night to set levels for the show. This means going through the script facing the empty stage and setting what the lights will look like for each scene, how loud the music will be and any other "effects" that will be used. Of course this level setting can only happen after all the lights have been put up and focused previously by the technicians. Nonetheless often during a level setting lights will have to be adjusted, and usually there are one or two crew members who have the oh so glamorous job of walking the stage. This means the crew person stands where the director wants the scene and actor in it to be lit, and the director et al make sure that the scene is lit correctly. It is a very tedious job being that person (I know, I've done it). You have to sit around for a long time, and then be ready to jump up and be right on the ball.
- cue to cue
- possibly the other longest night ever for the gang, this time the actors are a part of the fun. In this case the director, stage manager and technicians run through the cues of the show practising the timing and placement of each cue, with the actors going through their first and last lines of every scene between cues. So you have scene one where the lights fade up slowly and some piano music plays softly. Then you skip to the end of the scene where one of the actors cry out, "My word, he has a banana!" and the lights snap out with a crash of thunder etc. If the cue is not called correctly, or something isn't quite right, it will be corrected and then tried again. "My word he has a banana!" Perfect this time. If this is a musical, then there are many cues within a song itself, different colours of lights for different lines of songs . . . it's a very long process. Again the actors can get really restless, and well goofy, and the stage manager, director and technicians furious with the actors. I have been on both sides and I totally appreciate both perspectives.
- tech run
- a run through of the play with all tech and everything. Typically the actors are not in costume yet, though sometimes if a costume is tricky to contend with actors will choose to practice with it. Props, if they haven't already been used during the rehearsal process, will all be introduced at this point.
- dress rehearsal
- all the bells and whistles. Costumes, make-up, tech, props, special effects. If you are lucky you get a few of these rehearsals. More often than not, you don't. These rehearsals are often a mess because this is the very first time everything has come together. As such there is this superstition that if you have a bad dress, opening night will be amazing.
- rare for a small fringe show, but much more common for the big plays in the big theatres, the previews are a few shows done with all the bells and whistles and also in front of an audience (usually the tickets are cheaper for a preview in order to tempt people to come). They allow for the actors to get comfortable in the play while still technically not being officially opened yet. Reviewers will often come in at this point to review the show, and final adjustments, both technical and artistic (cutting lines, re-directing scenes) will happen here. After the shows the director will give "notes", reminding actors of things that they forgot, or improve on, or just saying, "Bang up job there chaps!", and also "notes" to the technicians, much the same way.
- opening night
- opening night
- the play gets turned over from the director to the stage manager (who calls the show, ie telling the lighting and sound people and backstage people what to do - giving them their cues which were established at the cue to cue all those many moons ago, as well as giving "notes" now). The director can then go off and direct something else as this show keeps running on.
- closing night
- closing night
- where the set is taken apart, costumes and props put away, and technical equipment brought down. In a professional house, this will be done by the crew and costume/makeup/prop people. If however you are doing a smaller show, everyone involved will take part.
- what happens at the cast party, stays at the cast party
And there you have it! Again, very basic version of what goes on, told from the perspective of a small theatre show. In the big theatres everyone has their job to do, and you bet your booty that the unions will see to it that the right person is doing the right job. But when it is a smaller show with smaller funds and smaller casts, then it becomes a big team effort. And the best casts are the ones who embrace that. And then it becomes a really special thing.