Theatre Information

Rehearsing Outside of Rehearsals

By • Oct 7th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Rehearsals for a production are a serious business. In the very least they should be to you. A lot of energy, and eventually, money, is invested in a community production. Wasting time dedicated to making a show a success indicates a serious disrespect for the theatre, and your fellow cast members and crew, not to mention your future audiences. This doesn’t mean you should never have fun while rehearsing. It’s not the army, after all, but there should be discipline, and a willingness to get down to business right away.

Unless you gather with a few people you share scenes with, and rehearse informally.

Schedules can be a tricky business to navigate, but if you can manage it, take time outside of rehearsal to meet with your cast mates and go over the scenes you share. Even if you only have one such opportunity, take it. If nobody has suggested it, take the initiative yourself and suggest a time and place to go over your scenes. It is preferable to work on all of them, but for certain at least go over your longest or most problematic moments together.

Gathering outside of rehearsal accomplishes several things. To begin with, it gives you a chance to become comfortable with cast members you have not worked with or met before. Meeting for a read through at a coffee shop, or at a local park if the weather is warm can begin to tear down the awkwardness that often exists when people first begin working together on stage. And while this is not an absolute necessity in order to perform well together, it certainly does no harm, and when done early in the official rehearsal process, it more often than not will increase the productivity of regular rehearsals. Being “warm” to one another right off the bat eliminates the need to get used to one another during early official rehearsals, and hence leaves more time for developing the characters and the scene.

The benefits of these informal get-togethers are not limited to those who have never worked together before, however. Regardless of how familiar you are with your cast mates, an informal reading of the scene outside of rehearsal allows for more casual and open communication. This is fertile ground for new ideas and approaches, both to character and to the scene as a whole. Digressions, experiments, and questions for which there are little time during rehearsal can be given as much time as the group decides they are worth when the setting is social.

Finally, though it should be obvious, I will mention that a huge benefit to these meetings is that they are, or at least should be, fun.

You will meet those in community theatre who insist that it is in bad form to meet and run lines or discuss the play without the director being present. Such people consider it a cardinal sin to try to be creative without permission.

Ignore such people. While it is true that a director must provide vision to a production, only a poor, or power hungry individual will have a problem with some informal practice and brainstorming. Which, of course, is exactly what it is; brainstorming. It is not making a final decision, or overturning a direct instruction. It is exploration. It is getting comfortable and creative. It is enhancing the enjoyment of being in live theatre. Any actor or director that would deprive you of such things is probably not worth working with anyway.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

7 Responses »

  1. Well put Ty. My last show to direct, Dearly Departed, found the cast members getting together between rehearsals to explore and develop character. The show after all is a very much character driven show. I had encouraged the cast to do this, and to not depend on props or scenery (as there was practically none) to get by. After the the show closed all the cast agreed that it brought so much to the production and that it made the show a success. I will say that the director needs to be very clear with their cast that the director does have the final say. Some character elements the cast came up with didn’t work, so in a gehntle but firm way, they were told to drop those elements. The exprience of allowing actors to persue going over character and scene developement outside of regular rehearsal time is one I shall use again. Thanks.

  2. Ty,

    Running lines is one thing. Hanging out and discussing the show is one thing. Getting together and rehearsing without the director or stage manager present is way out of line. I hope you were only talking about the first two and not the last.


  3. I’m afraid I don’t agree with you, Mr. Aitken, and hence the very nature of my post. I see nothing “out of line” with rehearsing a scene without the presence of a director or a stage manager, and good things can only come from doing so on occasion. So long as those who gather to rehearse are aware that what they try may not be exactly as it ends up in the actual production, and are not going out of their way to ignore what a director has instructed about a scene, I continue to advocate the policy.

    Theatre is a living, predominantly actor’s medium. It requires a focus and direction, of course, but bestowing some kind of magic upon the presence of a director or stage manager, and making their observation of all proceedings sacrosanct, (making individual effort a sacrilege) does not at all serve theatre well.

    Thank you for your comments, and for reading the column.

  4. Ty,

    Rehearsing without the director , the stage manager or someone authorized by the director is unprofessional and amateurish. In any of the professional theaters I have worked in DC, and most of the community theaters also, it most likely would get you fired.

    And why would you want to rehearse without the director? The actors cant see what they are doing, cant see the interaction and if it can be changed later by the director why waste your time doing it? Just do it in the rehearsal to begin with.

    The role of the actor is to serve two things. The text and the director. That’s it. If an actor doesn’t want to do that they should either become a writer or a director.

    As to the directors opinion or word being “sacrosanct” that’s not the point. The actor has a job to do, to act, and the director has a job to do, to direct. The actors shouldn’t be directing each other, another thing that will get you fired, and the director shouldn’t be giving the actor line readings or getting up and ‘showing” the actor what they want.

    You should have plenty of rehearsal time over the normal five to six rehearsals a week over a four week rehearsal schedule to get ready to do a run of 16-32 performances. If your not you should approach the director or the stage manager and ask for more rehearsals but to go off and rehearse without them is unprofessional.


  5. I have to be honest that I am not particularly fond of your tone, sir. Not only do you seem to be unfamiliar with the purpose of this column a whole, you do not seem to have read this particular issue of the column correctly. (Based on your assessment of how much rehearsing an average show I discuss is likely to have, as well as what I have determined an actor should be.) Obviously you have a different view of how theatre should operate than I do. If you choose to pursue theatrical endeavors with such an attitude, that is your affair. But it is not appropriate for everybody, myself particularly, and I do happen to have plenty of experience in this field. I have gotten by fine as a director and actor over the years without adopting the approach that you are advocating. My columns, and my own personal blog make no secret of my personal disdain of the viewpoint and approach that you have mentioned. I see no reason to expound upon that here. A careful reading of my blog, and my previous columns will make that issue quite clear.

    There are simply no blanket statements about the nature of something as all encompassing, artistic, and actor centered as live theatre. There are no universals, and that is what my experiences have taught me. True, time tested, labor intensive experience, which includes studies of the craft in college, ten years acting and directing experience, and my supplemental professional experiences. I would thank you to not suggest that my background, myself, the advice I give, my colleagues, and the companies in which I choose to do my work are in some way unprofessional, or not up to some universal theatre standard which does not exist, simply because they happen to work in ways that are different from your own.

    Differences in approach I will accept. Accusations of not being professional or serious about what I do, I do not accept.

  6. Ty,

    My apologies. I didn’t mean to call you unprofessional. I think the act of rehearsing in the manner in which you propose is unprofessed but you and I will just have to agree to disagree on that.


  7. Ty,

    Since I was arguing with you about directors and I am such a big Mamet fan I thought I would share his view on directors.

    “Take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period and a better production.”

    I thought you would enjoy that.

    Bill Aitken