Writing a rehearsal schedule can be a very daunting task at first. There’s lots to consider and lots of people to please. Let alone, the amount of rehearsing to actually be done! Then of course you have to take into account the needs of the other members of the creative team, costume fittings, so on and so fourth. So here’s my top tips to writing the perfect schedule that keeps everybody happy.
1. Take it Step by Step
Mark out your calendar with any N/As (dates actors are not available), costume fittings, bank holidays, etc. that will effect rehearsals .Start by sectioning up the piece – sometimes scene-by-scene works best, sometimes it is better to break down the piece by page number. Ask your other creative team members how much time they will need and mark that out in the diary too. Then I assign the characters/creative team needed to their respective sections. From this point, you can match up who is needed where/when and that’s when the schedule starts to come together. Bunching together sections in this way means that you are using your principal cast (who have the most to learn/rehearse) in the most efficient way possible and prevents burnout. It also helps them to feel prepared and ready when production week begins. Once you’ve bunched up as many scenes as you can, anything left over gets bunched together in a series of ‘random’ slots and you will be able to see how much time you have leftover.
2. Space Out Runs of the Show
It’s great to ensure there is plenty of opportunity to run the show in the weeks coming up to production week. However, I’ve also found it very useful to ensure that there are some runs booked in (however bad or underehearsed they are) at regular intervals throughout the rehearsal process. It might be just a run of the first half if that’s all you’ve rehearsed, but it’s useful because it often helps focus actors’ minds, reassure them about what they’ve got nailed down, and what they still need to work on. I’ve found it especially useful to see who has/hasn’t learnt their lines and therefore might need some extra support.
3. Keep Chronology where Possible
If you can, I try and rehearse the show in a rough chronological fashion. This helps you to visualise the show coming together just as it will unfold for an audience, and is very useful to plot the emotional journey of characters and events as you rehearse. Experiencing the show as an audience will is very important – they are the third part of the creative process (actors/creative team/audience) and complete the holy trinity for theatre.
4. Schedule Regular Breaks
Breaks are an essential part of the rehearsal process. They’re a chance for actors to process all the work you’ve just completed, relax a little from the intense schedule and serve as a good way to break the day up. It’s also your chance as director to check in with other departments about how things are going as they’ll often want to check things with you. Without breaks you can end up with an irritable team, and a less productive time in the rehearsal room. Tea, coffee and healthy snacks never go amiss either(!)
5. Be Clear About What is Expected of Who When
Everyone is trying their best to make the show as good as it can be, and a certain level of commitment is needed by all involved. So try and make it easy for them to ensure they’re in the right place at the right time. Make sure that it is very clear from the beginning what is expected of everyone, and exactly when they will be needed (and ensure they are used during that time!). That way, you won’t have any confusion with actors turning up late or at the wrong time, and the last will know they can trust that what they’ve prepared is what they’ll be working on that day.
6. Add Flexible Time Into the Schedule
This has been one of my most valuable assets in the past. Booking flexible time into the schedule (sometimes called ‘polishing’) is an excellent way to allow a buffer for anything that might take longer than you’d originally thought. It also gives you some additional time to work on anything that isn’t quite right, or just needs a bit more time to settle in because it might be tricker than the rest of the material. Either way, you’re affording yourself lee-way which is important because schedules usually slip a little.
7. Stick to the Schedule
You will quickly lose your cast if the schedule starts to swap and change once it’s been published. Of course, there are some situations where schedule changes are demanded due to circumstances out of our control, but if at all possible try and ensure that you stick to the published schedule. People will have made plans around it and are giving up their time on parameters that you’ve set. To change those parameters without prior warning is disrespectful.
If you stick to these steps, you should find that your schedule results in a productive and enjoyable rehearsal period for everyone. Putting together a good schedule might seem like a lot of work, but putting the work in at the beginning gives you a huge pay off once you get started as it’s one less thing to worry about!