Rehearsal rules for actors

It’s 80 degrees on a May day, but the humidity hasn’t hit yet – phew.  I’ve forgotten my hat, but remembered my sunscreen for my milky Emma Stone skin (aka fair, pale, and freckly – do I have a disease?!)

I managed to bring my rehearsal skirt (essential for the period piece that is Pride and Prejudice, emanating everything English, proper, and refined.  My strides have become small steps, my native Baltimore “oh” has shifted to the British RP dialect, and my Kitty Bennet has never been whinier.  This is the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s rehearsal room – or rather the rehearsal space as we occupy the PFI Historic Park in Old Ellicott City for the summer – rehearsing and performing in the ruins of an old girls’ school (I prefer to think of it as an old, haunted, all-female insane asylum, but I can’t promise this is historically accurate).

Rehearsals are always a delightful challenge.  With every new show experience you encounter a new office, including a new boss (the director), new co-workers (your cast mates), and a new job to do (your new character).

As an actor I’m always wary of a new director.  Will she be an art patron with a vision – allowing you to fill in and create her idea?  Or will she play puppet master – manipulating you and willing you to do her bidding like a dictator? (No, she isn’t Sascha Baron Cohen, so this wouldn’t be cool).  I’ve, thankfully, encountered more of the former kind of director … but when entering a new project, it always serves to stay on one’s guard until a level of trust has been established (and the director has brought in a sufficient amount of snackage – or chocolate – to rehearsal).

Rehearsal time at night in Ellicott City's historic school for girls.

I’m also always curious to see if the new cast I work with will be professional (i.e. – show up on time, memorize their lines, leave the directing to the director, share the chocolate snackage, etc) …  this is usually the case.

But the biggest and most surprising challenge in my current rehearsals has come in the form of the elements.  Rehearsing outside is certainly a tumultuous ride.  One moment you’re sweating and shielding your eyes from the sun and the next you’re bundling in layers to brace the cold as darkness has fallen and you’re working with only three small floodlights on the ground to guide you.

We play our rehearsals to an audience of spiders and crickets and shout over the thunder (both literal and that of the jumbo jets … yes, we’re under BWI’s flight path from time to time …) But we also learn Regency dances, how to curtsy like a lady, and how to mime tea and sewing (we nixed a few props for simplicity’s sake).

… So how do you rehearse a show?  It’s an unfair question and I really don’t know.  How do you run an office?  It probably varies from business to business … but take it from the artist who’s worked both day job and night gig: when it comes to professionalism, there are some serious overlaps in every field.

Like in an office, to rehearse well, you must be:

Studying lines in the heat.

Punctual– I had an acting professor who always said, “to be early is to be on time and to be on time is to be late.”
Prepared – You wouldn’t go into a boardroom meeting without preparing your power point presentation, so in a rehearsal, you should enter knowing your lines and the general “blocking,” or where you move about on the stage.  Then you should have about 20 ideas for your character to try throughout the scene.  The director will always ask you for another idea and when she does, you’ll be ready.
Flexible – It’s a process.  You won’t be performance-ready on day one and it’s not your responsibility to make sure everyone else is.  Let the director do her job and go with the flow.  It’s her concept and her process after all.  Everyone will get to where they need to be by opening night.  Everyone always does.

If I ever start to worry about the state of a show because rehearsal went long and “I’m just so tired because I’m on my period and I ate all the director’s chocolate and I still can’t pick up my cue fast enough and then the director changed the blocking AGAIN …!!”  … I take a deep breath and say my acting rehearsal mantra: Adjust, adjust, adjust.

And isn’t that applicable to all aspects of our lives?  Most everything you can think of is beyond your control.  So from boardroom to rehearsal room, from conference space to open outdoor space, from keyboard clicking to jumbo jets thundering: adjust, adjust, adjust.

(For ticket information contact Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. The play  opens June 22.)