Thursday, January 29, 2015

Director's Corner: Top Ten Tips for a Great Musical Theatre Rehearsal


Every director wants their rehearsals to run as smoothly as possible. However whenever you bring 50+ students together after school, with one tired teacher and try to get them all to focus on creating a production chaos ensues. Trust me I have been there. I can still remember about half way through my first major production, just sitting  in a rehearsal and thinking "this will never work" kids were running everywhere, no one was focused and we were not accomplishing anything. Something had to change. Luckily I have learned a lot since those first disastrous rehearsals. Read on to see my ten tips for a great rehearsal.

Have a plan- then over plan

If you missed last weeks post on creating a rehearsal schedule, go back and read it. Having a completed rehearsal schedule will definitely help your rehearsals. Not only does it help you plan your daily rehearsal, it also lets the kids know what to expect. There is nothing worse than kids showing up without a script to a read through or worse kids showing up in binding clothes for a dance rehearsal. Having a plan already sets you up for success (I could quote the ever popular saying "if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail" but who needs that in their life). Once you have a plan, you can also know what needs to be done. For example if you learn one dance you will know exactly which dance you need to teach next without searching through the script. This is even more valuable with blocking and singing rehearsals. Having a plan and letting everyone know the plan will definitely set you up for success.

Create a sign-in procedure

This is a simple tip but has saved me so many headaches. From the first rehearsal on have a sign-in procedure for all actors and tech. There are two reasons for this. One, it allows you to very quickly see who is here and who isn't (especially great for runthroughs and performances). Two it keeps the kids accountable. All of my students must sign a rehearsal contract. (More on that next). Part of the rehearsal contract is that if you miss too many rehearsals you can't be in the play. Students are responsible for signing into rehearsal, if they forget it could count as a strike against them. This helps teach responsibility. 

Have all student actors and tech sign rehearsal contracts

As I mentioned above a rehearsal contract is a must. This contract outlines exactly what is expected for the students in the rehearsal. I include parts about attendance, tardiness, late pick ups, grades, backstage behavior, and costume requirements. This contract has saved me many times. It gave me a way to address parents who were picking their children up two hours late. It gave me a way to talk to students who would constantly talk backstage. It also gave me easy answers when students ask if they can skip rehearsal. If you want an easy contract download from my teacherspayteachers store.

Allow the group to self manage

It is very rare that I have to raise my voice in rehearsal (at least because of discipline). My students know that I will not continue rehearsal until they focus. This can be a huge problem for them. We typically have over 1,000 audience members every night of a show. That is a lot of pressure. My students know what they risk of they don't focus. They know that I am doing all in my power to to make them look good. If they are talking, I can't make them look good. That is a huge issue for them, when things start getting out of hand all I have to do is stop talking and look at my watch. This lets them know that they are wasting time. Usually after a minute of this kids start whispering shhhh and such and they refocus themselves. While this approach takes a little more time, I like it because it keeps me from yelling, and it helps create a since of ensemble. We are all working together to succeed.

Train you tech separately

I am a huge advocate for having a student tech crew. I think that tech is one area of theatre that is hugely underrepresented as a whole. Tech is fun and gives students who aren't "stars" a chance to shine and participate. This is also where you are going to build your leadership skills. Let students take control of their area, let them have some hand in the creation of props, costumes, lights, and sound. Give the some responsibility. That being said, you need to teach them what needs to be done on each tech job. The time to teach this is not when you have 60 actors who are also demanding your attention. Your first meeting with tech should be without the actors, and if possible your first tech through should be with only tech. You can also work with them on days when your music director or choreographer is working with the actors. You want your tech to know what to do enough so that once you start runthroughs they know what to do and you don't have to worry about them. A good tech crew will make or break your show, train them well! If you need some help, my rehearsal packet also includes a tech packet to help prepare them.

Allow collaboration

Theatre is a collaborative art form. You cannot create theatre without collaboration. This collaboration comes in many forms. First trust your other teachers. I can't dance. No one wants to see me dance. Really I am that bad. My choreographer for the show is an amazing dancer, and she is even better at choreography. She creates so many things that I could never think of. I just have to give her my very general idea and she makes magic. (I can tell her I want something's flow-y and cloud like and she creates beautiful ballets). If I didn't collaborate with her, my play would not be nearly as awesome as it was. I have to trust the other adults to do what they do. I could give you so many examples of this. If there is someone on your team who has a talent, let them be responsible for that part. It allows for magic to happen and you don't have to worry as much about it getting done. Teachers can also collaborate with students. I know this sounds crazy but our students are so creative and have so many great ideas. I was once blocking a scene where Pecos Bill tamed a mountain lion and made him into a horse. When the two students exited, bill jumped piggy-back on the lion's back. It was unscripted but wonderful. We ended up keeping it in the play and the audience loved it. Allow the kids to try some of their ideas. You can always adapt or say no to them if they don't work. Students have a great ability to think outside the box. Use their creativity to your advantage and collaborate with them.

Celebrate small wins

A big production can seem overwhelming. Break the play down and celebrate the small successes. The first time students learn a dance: celebrate. The first time students go off book:  celebrate. The first  time you make it all the way through the play: celebrate a lot! These celebrations don't have to be big. Sometimes just a big cheer or a mini dance break is all you need. Just something fun to let them know you are proud of them and they are doing a great job!

I mentioned this service the other day. This is a FREE text service that allows you to text your parents while still keeping your phone number private. It is a great service for drama. You can text rehearsal changes, costume reminders, time of performances etc. Really I cannot recommend this service enough, you need to go and sign up. It really will change your life.

Create a safe space

This is very very important in any class but especially in a rehearsal setting. You are asking students to show raw emotion on stage. They will only give you their best performance, if they feel safe. Do not let kids mock each other. Nip any of that silliness in the bud. I realize that a lot of this happens behind your back where it is hard to hear, let the kids know that if they are caught being mean to one another, they will be kicked out of the show. Typically if you can catch a couple of main offenders and talk to their parents, this will usually nip it in the bud. You might also want to consider blocking sensitive scenes with as few students as possible. This is very very true for any love scenes or kissing scenes. You do not want kids trying to figure out how to kiss in front of the whole company. Make sure students feel safe and do whatever you can to encourage them to show those true emotions,

Have fun!

This is an after school production. Students are here because they want to be. They love being in shows and they like learning about theater and the love performing. Have fun, try not to stress so much about the final product that you forget how much fun the process is, enjoy the experience. You and the students will miss it when the final curtain falls. Enjoy this production and have fun with your students as you create!

These are some of my best tips for having a rehearsal. What tips did I leave off? What would you suggest directors do to have a successful rehearsal?