Having been a part of the amateur theatre scene (as both a performer and on the rehearsal team) since I was ten, the rehearsal period for a show has come to be one of my most familiar and most treasured experiences. Any theatre people will know, the process of preparing for a show can often follow a similar process – with each stage bringing its own benefits, challenges and emotions.
1. The First Rehearsal
Auditions are over. The cast list has been released. You’ve scoured the names of your fellow cast members for anyone you recognise and Facebook stalked those you don’t. It’s time to head to the first rehearsal and meet the people who you will be spending several nights a week with for the next couple of months.
The excitement is palpable; everyone eager to show what they can do and find out everyone else’s talents as well. There are always a few people who already know each other and are relieved to have somewhere to sit immediately after arriving. A few others tend to be absent; finishing a run of another show and joining rehearsals a week or two in. You assess the other people in the room, introduce yourself, get to know a couple of people sitting around you and work on concealing your crazy – for now at least.
The production team call you together, you talk about the show and how great it is going to be, you smile a lot and in many cases you play icebreaker games.
2. The Early Learning Stages
It’s the first few weeks of rehearsal and you’re still in the honeymoon period. Rehearsals are well underway and you’ve barely had any time to revise; it’s been go-go-go since you’ve started learning new songs, blocking scenes and getting a grip on your choreography. It’s exciting to see how the production team are acting on their vision for the show and you start to see glimpses of how it’s going to come together…but for the most part, you’re consumed by the need to learn ALL of the words at once.
These rehearsals are busy. There may not be a lot of time to chat; normally if you’re there, you’re working. You smile and nod when they ask you if you’re alright with what you’ve learned so far – and secretly make notes to practise at the piano at home.
3. Momentary Amnesia
You’ve learned most of the content by now and you’re starting to have the first few rehearsals to revisit parts you learned earlier. The moment comes to sing that solo again or go over those dance moves…and of course, you’ve forgotten everything. The tidal wave of new information didn’t all stick the first time around, and there is frantic rescheduling of rehearsals to allow for some revision and in some cases, entirely re-teaching songs and scenes.
Inevitably, things slow down. This may not be the result of a full-blown disaster such as the departure of a leading cast member, the removal of a rehearsal team member or the evaporation of any and all funds required to stage the show. Sometimes it is simply a case of the ‘momentary amnesia’ forgetting it is supposed to only be momentary. There can sometimes be a sense of deflation; a dip in morale and a noticeable drop in enjoyment – simply because rehearsals have become more serious as expectations increase. Channel the excitement you had at the first rehearsal and remember; ‘the show must go on’.
5. The First Glimpse
With the fleeting forgetfulness and persistent dejection dealt with, you are into full revision mode. Songs are sung ad nauseum, dances are danced to the point of complete muscle memory and scenes are performed so precisely and repetitively that your movements and the lines they coincide with become second nature. Until this point, the show has only been seen in installments; a series of disjointed vignettes whose only shared theme is the people who perform them. But not any more. The time for the first full run has arrived. All of a sudden, the bits and pieces you’ve been committing to memory simply slide into place with each other – and you have a show. It is cohesive, it flows, it makes sense. And that first inkling of what audiences will see is motivation enough to push you through the final stages.
6. Bump In and Tech Rehearsals
The ultimate ego-deflater to beat all others; the premise of tech rehearsals is simple – it’s not about you. This is the chance for the crew to learn and practise the part that they play in the show. And a vital part it is. Performers will be interrupted, talked over, ordered around the stage and told to do-over scenes and songs a million times until a single lighting cue is fixed. And that is exactly what your job is for that night. For that one night of the precious time you spend in the theatre, your performance doesn’t matter. Because if these details aren’t sorted out, no one will see or hear your performance at all when it comes time for it.
At the same time, there is always a magical moment when you first see the sets, props, and lighting come together and suddenly you come to the realisation that this show is really happening, and soon. So put up, shut up and do as you’re told, lest an angry techie find you getting in their way.
7. Opening Night
It’s here. The moment you’ve worked, planned and waited for. The moment you’ve talked, stressed, cried, laughed and comfort-eaten about. The moment you’ve driven your family and friends crazy preparing them for. Everyone you know has tickets – though most of them have a working knowledge of the entire production already from the amount you’ve raved to them about it over the past few weeks. Mostly they’re coming to see it so they can interrupt your excited, repetitive ramblings with “yes I know, I saw the show”…oh, and because they love and support you, of course.
There are group hugs, vocal warm ups, physical warm ups, more group hugs, dressing room mirror selfies, mugs of warm water and lemon to soothe inevitable last-minute illnesses, more group hugs, more selfies and then it is happening. The house is live. The lights dim and after a brief round of applause, the audience become silent in anticipation. They are ready to be brought into the world you have created for them.
It is a wonderful and thrilling experience, and the adrenaline it produces means you will probably not remember a moment of it the next morning.
8. Closing Night
And in a flurry of sequins and hairspray, it is over. Final bows are taken, tears are shed, dressing rooms are packed up. As soon as the curtain falls, the set comes down with it. Bump out commences as soon as the audience leaves the theatre, and the completion of bump out often marks the beginning of the after party. Any celebration that doesn’t start until the early hours of the morning is destined to be a memorable night, and in a haze of hugs, teary thank yous, drinks and junk food, music, dancing and promises to “not be that cast that doesn’t stay in touch”, you celebrate a job well done.
A distant cousin of PTSD, Post-Show-Letdown-Disorder describes the immense feeling of confusion and loss often experienced in the few weeks following closing night. Symptoms include wandering aimlessly around your house, singing songs from the show repeatedly, looking over and over cast photos and recordings, and excessive posting to Facebook to thank your fellow cast and crew for the ‘amazing experience’ of which you have been ‘truly humbled to be a part’.
It’s a crazy world we’re a part of, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.