Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rethinking Rehearsal Schedules - Part 2

As I'm procrastinating building yet another rehearsal schedule for an upcoming directing project, I have rehearsal schedules on the brain. A few months ago I talked about some of my theories on how we theatre artists structure and think about rehearsal schedules. For a long time I've felt like we haven't been very flexible about how we schedule rehearsals. I remember the days of 5 nights a week-type of schedules and it's been my observation that that sort of model doesn't work for today's busy community theatre participants. We wonder why no one shows up to auditions or why we end up casting the same people (many of whom may not have kids or other full-time jobs) over and over again. We are starting to see encouraging trends in the way the corporate world responds to the needs of its workforce. Things like telecommuting, flex time, on-site daycare, etc. are all smart ways to attract and maintain the very best talent. But we in the theatre world have often been slow to follow the trends and demands of our most important resource - the talent or potential talent that performs our shows - our "workforce".

These are not "professional" performers for the most part - meaning they don't do theatre for a living. They are juggling the demands of family and other jobs and simply don't have the time to commit to such heavy rehearsal schedules, as much as they might - and mostly do - want to. And, for the most part, I don't think they need to commit to heavy schedules. In many cases these performers are good enough to be professional performers but chose a different (some would say smarter) path in life. They still love to perform and have the talent and desire to get the work done their roles might require in whatever time frame they might be given. In fact, if they're true performers, they're probably actually longing to do a show but are lamenting the fact that they can't because of the heavy schedule. Can you imagine this scenario in the business world? You're selling a product. You have a potential customer who really, really wants the product. They can afford the product. But because you're unwilling or (seemingly) unable to deliver the product when and where the customer needs it, they can't and don't buy it. In fact the universe of people that actually can buy your product in the narrow window in which you're choosing to deliver it is so small that you end up selling and reselling to the same small customer base over and over again.

We all know directors who won't tolerate schedule conflicts of any kind, which is understandable to a point. We have a lot of work to get done in a short (no matter what the schedule looks like) amount of time. But in the busy actor/soccer mom (I refuse to say "hockey mom" ever again!) this is not realistic. She is going to have a few conflicts, it's inevitable. But she is a great performer and so our "no conlicts" policy cuts our nose off to spite our face. We in the community theatre community need to bend a little around the needs of our "workforce" - the performers. Talented, hard, working actors are worth it. What's more, they will rise to the challenge of shorter more manageable schedules. We've all seen the maddening phenomenon of casts that have a ton of rehearsals wait until the last minute to get off book or learn that last bit of choreo anyway. Give a talented performer 10 or 15 rehearsals and see what happens. I decided to put this to the test with the last show I directed, "Assassins".

I built a rehearsal schedule of basically 3 times a week (twice during the week and one on Sundays) for about an 8 week period. Obviously things heated up as we got closer to opening and tech week is tech week, but essentially these actors had around 10, 12, 15 rehearsals before running through the show. I was fortunate to have an amazingly talented cast, and I think a large part of that was because of a manageable schedule and the show was fantastic if I do say so myself.

Of course, "Assassins" is not a choreography heavy show and shorter rehearsal periods don't come without their costs and are not always possible. Huge casts, heavy choreo, big scene changes, etc. can all make shorter rehearsals impossible. But I've been in kind of a minimalist mood lately and if the kind of show you're into can accomodate a leaner vision, this may be one way to attract the talented hidden gems in the community you need.

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