I’ve been directing stage plays for seven years now. I’m no professional, and I’ve learned a lot throughout the years. Dress rehearsals are the emotional peak that every director has to scale before a new show. Once it arrives and the actors poke through the clouds and stand on that emotional peak, a director’s job is, in essence, over. Not officially, of course. There will still be production meetings before each subsequent show, but the main work is done. Everything now rests in the laps of the actors.
Dress rehearsals accomplish a few important items. First, there’s the technical aspects of the dress rehearsal that must be perfected. In our productions, oftentimes, dress rehearsal is the first and only time the actors performing at the actual venue. This is, of course, stressful because the stage is different. We are working with lighting we haven’t seen yet and it takes hours for the actors to get familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings. As a director, I have to make this happen, step by step walking through the set, the new blocking, and the lighting scheme with everyone. I’ll be at the venue for many hours with the tech crew prior to the casts arrival.
Once the technical aspects of the performance is clear, I have to encourage the cast that they can, indeed, do this. And this, for me, is the ultimate meaning of dress rehearsal. Its instilling in the cast the idea that the show is now theirs -they are in control – they can be successful – they are prepared for anything to happen. This last point is key. In live theatre, the unexpected can happen at anytime. Dress rehearsal is instilling in the cast that they can overcome any obstacle, be it a missed line, a broken prop, or smudged make-up. No matter what is thrown at them, the show must go on.
I’ve had shows where the electricity went off in the final act. Yes, it was awkward. But the show must go on.
I’ve had shows where actors completely blanked out on stage.
I’ve had shows where actors forgot to bring a crucial prop on to stage.
I’ve had shows where a singer started off-key, or a backdrop started to fall. In this particular case, a quick thinking person backstage stood on a chair and held up the backdrop in excruciating pain until the end of the show.
This is what dress rehearsals teach – no matter what, the actors and crew can handle it.
So I love it when dress rehearsals are finished because my job is done. I can sit in the audience and enjoy the show and the actors can relax and have fun on stage.
Here’s to dress rehearsal day! Our show opens tomorrow.