How to Effectively Run a Rehearsal With Young Actors

How to Effectively Run a Rehearsal With Young Actors

We are now one month less three days until Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. opens at OKTC (March 7, in case you’re wondering… click here to buy your tickets!) and we just finished blocking and choreographing the entire show yesterday! Going forward, we are going to be focusing on running the show, line memorization, and focusing on “fixing” and perfecting the show. We’re in good shape!

I really think that we owe our successes to a number of things — first, great teamwork between the artistic staff. We have a fantastic team, and we all really get along well. Second, we have a great group of young actors in the show, who are really dedicated and hard-working but also lots of fun! Third, we use our rehearsal time really well. We only have 24 rehearsals total to get this show together, so we have to use our time well!

Here are some of the techniques we’ve used o effectively run our rehearsals.

1. Go in with a plan…

We sat down before rehearsals started and mapped out a rough plan of what we wanted to achieve at what time (when was off-book day, when is stumble-through of Acts 1 and 2, when was costume parade), and then went back and thought about what we would work on each day (which days would be devoted to music, blocking, choreography, etc).

2. …But leave room for flexibility.

Some directors prefer to have a very firm rehearsal schedule blocked down to the 15-minute mark, including scheduled breaks, but since we were calling all the actors to every rehearsal, we kept our plans fairly loose, in case one of us wasn’t feeling well or we were missing certain actors.

For shows that have a short rehearsal period before they perform (8 weeks or less), I generally prefer to have full cast at every rehearsal. I do this so actors who are not currently being used onstage can come together and talk and make friends with each other, and review work that has already been done. For shows with longer rehearsal periods, it’s useful to only call to rehearsal those actors you want to use for certain scenes.

3. Mix up your focus.

We very rarely had an entire rehearsal devoted to just blocking or just music. It is recommended at the beginning of the rehearsal period to devote a fair amount of time to learning the music prior to learning choreography (it’s easier to dance when you don’t have to fumble with your score in hand!) but young actors tend to get antsy or bored after working on the same thing for hours. So mix it up! If your rehearsal is 3 hours, do an hour of blocking, an hour of music, and then an hour of something else. On that note…

4. Be sure to take a break!

Schedule in a 5-10 minute break partway through the rehearsal… both for your actors’ sanity and your own!

5. Use your team to divide and conquer.

If you have a full artistic staff, use them! If you’re working on a musical, divide up the ensemble and work on different parts with each group, then switch it up. For example, there have been days where Kristina is working with the Pirates on music, while Ceris is doing choreography with the Lost Boys, while Kihanna and Kelli are working on scenes with the Darlings and the Fairies, while I am blocking a scene with Captain Hook and Smee! That way everyone is busy and nobody is sitting around bored, or worse, being a pest.

6.  Have a “quiet” cue.

I’ve seen many directors yell themselves hoarse trying to get their young actors to “be quiet” and “focus,” so much so that the words begin to lose meaning.  It’s a catch-22 — you have young people who are creative and exuberant and expressive and sometimes a little odd (don’t we all have to be, in the theatre world?) who have been told to be quiet all day long at school; so once they get to rehearsal, they’re ready to let loose with their friends and express themselves, and we turn around and keep telling them to be quiet!

Rather than be “scary director,” come up with a cue that works for your actors that signals it’s time to work.  I’ve seen a few different cues; some directors will clap out a rhythm, which the actors clap back.  A stage manager might call out, “And a hush fell over the crowd!” and the actors call back, “Hushhhhhhhhhh.”  One technique I really like (that was taught to me by my friend Ceris) is to say quietly, “If you can hear me, do this” and do an action, a la Simon Says.  The kids closest to you will (hopefully!) join in.  Keep changing up the “If you can hear me, do this” sayings and actions and see how many times it takes to get the whole group doing the action; then, try to beat it next time!

When all else fails, the most effective technique I’ve used is simply to say, “It’s ok, I’ll wait” and stare at the ceiling.  That one works wonders for me, for some reason!

7. Make rehearsals fun!

Rehearsals are hard work, of course. There is lots to do, between learning songs, blocking and dance, fixing transitions, fitting costumes, and everything else… but make time to have fun with your young actors.

Embrace the silly!  Create traditions!  For example, we have theme days at rehearsal.  We have adopted “Sweatpant Sundays” as our go-to theme, but we also add an extra layer to each Sunday theme.  Yesterday’s Sunday theme was “Pajama Sunday” (fairly self-explanatory!) and we’ve also had “Sparkle Sunday” (where everyone wore something that was sparkly, sequined, or shiny!).  Next week’s theme is “Summer Sunday” where everyone will wear whatever is summery and fun (to wipe away those winter blahs!).

We have a weekly photo event on Instagram, where we upload photos related to something Peter Pan-ish (check us out — hashtag #okpeterpan), as well as my traditional Sunday Morning Dance Party, where I lead a ridiculous dance to a current radio song.  We also give out stickers at the end of rehearsal to the “wieners” (winners!) of rehearsal, who display excellent behavior, dedication, and all-around awesomeness.  This works well with my 7-14 year olds; other prizes might work well with other age groups.

These traditions take nothing to start, and the kids really look forward to the different aspects of rehearsal.  It’s more than just work — it’s different fun events and memories that they can take with them from the rehearsal room!

What are some techniques that work well for running your rehearsals? 
Leave your suggestions in the comments!

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