Theatre Etiquette: Concerning Rehearsals

Theatre Etiquette: Concerning Rehearsals


“All the real work is done in the rehearsal period.”
~ Donald Pleasence

This topic seems to be becoming a series!  I’ve written about theatre etiquette concerning costumes and props.  This week, we’re moving on to rehearsals!

So many actors focus on the final product, the performance.  Really, it makes sense: that’s what everyone is looking forward to… it’s when everything all comes together and the “magic” happens.  But really, the “magic” happens every day during rehearsal.  People tend to discount the hours and hours spent rehearsing, practicing, perfecting, experimenting in the rehearsal room.  It’s where actors spend the majority of their time.  As such, it should be treated as a sacred space: a safe haven where you can learn and experiment and grow as a performer.

In order to create that sacred space, here are some tips you should follow.

1.  Be there, and be on time.

I read this on Twitter today: “Early is on time. On time is late. Late is cut.”  This is so true.  Be respectful of everyone’s time.  Theatre is a collaborative medium, and you can’t collaborate when you’re rushing in at 7:06, out of breath and digging through your bag to find your script — or not there at all.  It’s rude, disruptive, and stressful.

If you know you are going to be absent or late, let your stage manager know as soon as possible.  For example, if you’re sick and staying home from school, you’d call the school first thing in the morning to let them know you wouldn’t be there.  Call your stage manager right after you call the school.  That way, your castmates and crew can be informed and prepared to deal with your absence.  (This goes for both actors AND crew members!)

2.  Come dressed for success.

Comfortable clothes are essential, especially if you are doing a very physical show with lots of movement or dancing.  Think about what you’ll be doing onstage — for example, if you’re doing stage combat, I find close-fitting, yet stretchy clothes are good to wear, so you don’t get your weapons or yourself tangled in your clothes.  Appropriate footwear is a must — athletic shoes or dance shoes.  Never wear flip-flops or Crocs to rehearsal — they’re noisy and easy to fall off your feet, and provide no support.  If you’re not sure what to wear, ask your director.

While you’re at it, tie your hair back out of your face.  Your director can’t direct you if he/she can’t see you!

If your character wears an unusual type of clothing or footwear, start wearing it early in the process so you get used to it.  In The Rocky Horror Show, I had to wear 5 inch tall stilettos.  I’ve also had to wear long rehearsal skirts for shows before, since you move differently in a skirt than you would in trousers.

3.  Be prepared (Part 1).

Not just for Scouts anymore.  Make sure you have all your necessary materials with you — ESPECIALLY YOUR SCRIPT.  It absolutely sucks for directors to hear the words “I forgot my script” at the beginning of rehearsal.  I wrote a comprehensive list of what young actors should have in their toolkit, and it works.  You could even print it off and use it as a checklist!

4.  Be prepared (Part 2).

Many stage managers and/or directors will provide the actors with a rehearsal schedule, laying out when you rehearse, and what you’re going to be working on that day.  It’s not just for them to know what’s been worked on and what hasn’t — it’s for the actors to prepare in advance.  Read over the scene, review previous work on that section, memorize your lines for those pages = impressing the crap out of everyone there.

5.  Ask questions — at the appropriate time.

There’s asking for clarification, and wasting everyone’s time.  Know the difference.  Directors are happy to answer questions, but realize that there are others in the rehearsal as well, and respect their time.  Ask questions before rehearsal, during break time, after rehearsal (either in person or via email).  There’s no such thing as a stupid question — but there is a right and wrong time to ask it.

What are some of your rules for successful rehearsals?
I’d love to hear them… share them in the comments!

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26 thoughts on “Theatre Etiquette: Concerning Rehearsals

  1. Albert H. bostick Jr.

    May I also add, your cell phone should be silent, and away from the rehearsal space, you may check it during break, and after rehearsals…….

  2. As a Stage manager, my biggest peeve is unadvised conflicts. At the first production meeting I hand out a form for the cast to fill out any conflicts they have during the production. I tell them put it down if you even think it may be a conflict. this way if it doesn’t turn out we’re glad to have you, if not we know why you’re not here and have planned accordingly.

    I understand that sometimes life happens, Family emergencies, changes in work schedule, etc. But life does not happen twice a week. That’s the quickest way to get on my bad list.

    That being said this is Gold. and will go into my files to be read to the cast at the first read through.

      1. Thanks for the post on conflicts. As it turns out, 1 week into our latest production (Mary Poppins) we’ve already had several ” I have to leave early’s”. We’ve already recast a few big roles due to conflicts (Our original Winifred was not willing to move her schedule for Winifred, thought she’d have move mountains for Mary). So now I have to play bad cop and remind he cast of what I told them at the read through. You conflict post will be required reading…

  3. Cari Oliver

    When the director stops action during rehearsal, it’s usually because he/she has something to say. This isn’t a time to start talking, dissecting who did what, what prop is missing, etc. Stop, shut up, and listen.

  4. Bill

    Shut the hell up. Your director can’t yell over everyone chit chatting to give notes on who does what when. Just because you finished the scene is no reason to start chatting. It takes time to quiet everyone down. That’s lost rehearsal time!

  5. Cassie

    Do not give your fellow actors notes. Nothing is more annoying or rude than when a castmate tells you how you should be performing/singing/moving on stage, etc. That is the director/music director’s job.

  6. Laura

    Pencils. Paper. Don’t be afraid to write things down. As a stage manager, I don’t want to have to repeat all of the things that were said to you about a scene. Especially during a break (when I have other things that need to be done – or need to take a break myself!). Or even worse, right before the next time we’re working the scene.

  7. Don’t forget that the director and stage manager have a responsibility to respect the casts’ time as well. Directors need to know what they are going to rehearse and have a time-line for the rehearsal so they can call specific actors when they are actually needed, and actually plan the rehearsals to best utilize the people they have called. When a show is about to open and the rehearsals are in “full-run” mode, it’s understandable to call the full cast for the full rehearsal, but at the beginning of the rehearsal process, there’s nothing more frustrating than being called for a rehearsal and then sitting around doing nothing for long periods of time b/c the director wasn’t organized enough to just call you when you were needed.

    1. Which is why having accurate Conflict schedules from the cast is vital . Nothing is more frustrating than planning a dance rehearsal for Supercal and having your Mrs. Corry tell you she has to leave early planned that rehearsal the fact that you were available. Now we will have to take time from another rehearsal to catch you up. Tine other actors e using for there scenes.

      I agree that the actors time is important as well, that is why we publish a call list with the schedule. But when things need to be rearranged at the last minute, people are going to sit. Frustrating and inconsiderate.

  8. One of the many things in the article I wholeheartedly agree with is to (as soon as possible) wear the footwear you will wear as part of your costume at rehearsals. I’m an “outside first, then inside” type of actor, and the sooner I get into the costume, the sooner I find the character. Sir Alec Guinness was asked once how he was able to create so many different characters and his response was “First, I find their shoes”.

    Also, if there is something unusual in your character’s appearance or costume, get into it early for the benefit of the other actor. I once played a part in drag (Phyllis in A.E. Gurney’s “Sylvia”) and my partner in the scene had to get used to seeing me in the wig and dress in rehearsals so that she wouldn’t crack up laughing during a performance. (In drag I look a little like a thin “Dame Edna”.)

  9. Put your phone away. Leave your kids at home. Pay attention to the rehearsal so you will be in place when it is time for you to enter. It is so frustrating to have an actor disappear just before his entrance.

  10. sallye2014

    Put your phone away, with the ringer off. Leave your kids at home. Be quiet back stage! Pay attention to the rehearsal. Be in place for your entrance. It is so frustrating when an actor disappears just before his entrance.

  11. John Andrews

    Maintain total concentration on the work at hand. There’s a reason Actors Equity require a 5 minute break every hour, or 10 minutes every 1-1/2 hours, because your concentration should be at least 100%. It’s the only profession that requires that many breaks in a working day. During rehearsals listen, don’t indulge in any superfluous conversations, don’t play with the props, don’t leave the rehearsal or the scene (unless given permission) until it’s over, contribute (if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem), respect your fellow actors and S/M’s, write stuff down in your script, oh, and listen, listen, listen. If you do all of this, your brain and body will need that Equity Break.

  12. Lisa

    How about avoid eating garlic when you have to kiss someone in rehearsal? Also, I would add that one doesn’t call in sick unless one is dead or dying, or at least that’s how I was taught.

  13. Do not go into rehearsals with the attitude that it’s a “Singles Bar”.

    I had a very difficult time as a director of a production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” when the actress I cast as “Philia”, during the course of rehearsals, tried to seduce every straight male actor in the cast.

    Needless to say, it caused a lot of tension backstage.

  14. Diannah

    If you’re not on stage at that moment during rehearsal, sit down, shut up and pay attention. You can learn a ton by watching the work others are doing during rehearsal. Just because you’re not currently onstage doesn’t mean what’s happening doesn’t apply to you, too.

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