Rehearsals becoming mundane? Check out this article I wrote for Pioneer Drama Service’s (publisher of several of my plays) newsletter. Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter for articles about working with student performers.
The full text of the article is below:
By Mike Steele
February 9, 2016
Several years ago, my brother Matt, a professional playwright and actor, happened to be in town during tech week of a high school play I was directing. I decided to put his artistic talents to work throughout the week, and in the midst of performing any odd job I needed him to do, he was able to watch a few of the rehearsals. One evening, I asked him to take some notes to give to the cast. At the end of the rehearsal, I gave my own notes to my students, and then I announced that my brother would give his… and an incredible thing happened. The students leaned forward with their eyes wide and attentive, eagerly awaiting what he had to say. When he finished giving his notes, the students applauded.
I joked with my students and asked why they hadn’t applauded my notes, realizing that it wasn’t what my brother had to say that had intrigued the cast, but the fact that my brother provided a new voice for feedback from someone they respected. My students had been listening to me and my criticisms for six weeks by this point. My brother and his unexpected notes had broken the monotony of the rehearsal and gotten the cast excited and re-energized for the performances to come that weekend.
In the years since, I’ve tried many things to keep the rehearsal process from getting stale. I’m happy to share a few of my favorite activities here.
Invite a guest theatre artist to a rehearsal. Do you know a community theatre choreographer? An acting teacher? The director at a neighboring school? If you direct school plays, chances are you know a ton of other theatre artists who can offer professional advice to student performers. Ask someone whose opinion you trust to attend one of your rehearsals and provide feedback to the cast. You focus on specific artistic elements of the production, but another theatre artist will focus on additional elements you may have never discussed with your students. It’s not easy for a director to relinquish control to an outsider for even one rehearsal, but there are ways to incorporate feedback that won’t make you entirely uncomfortable. Maybe you can schedule a few minutes before the note session for the guest artist to quickly run his or her feedback by you. Maybe you can ask your guest artist to provide only positive feedback to the students. A note as simple as “Your delivery was really funny when you said the line…” means a lot coming from someone who knows theatre yet is not affiliated with your production. Your students will respond differently to a guest artist than they will to you, and they can learn quite a bit in their eagerness to please a stranger. A fresh set of eyes can certainly help you find aspects of the production that need tightening, as well.
Skip rehearsal for an acting workshop. Set aside a day midway through the rehearsal process to host an acting workshop for your students. What better way to break up the monotony of rehearsals than with an evening of improv games and acting exercises? An acting workshop will provide an opportunity for your cast to gather in a relaxed environment where they don’t have to worry about lines and blocking. You can run the workshop yourself or invite a guest theatre artist to handle the event so your students will have the chance to learn from a new teacher. If you choose to go with a guest artist, you have the added bonus of gaining some free rehearsal time to work on other aspects of production like meeting with the costumer or organizing ticket sales.
Take a field trip to the theatre. Your students do a ton of acting at rehearsals, but do they often have the opportunity to see professional stage performers in action? Spend a rehearsal at a nearby theatre so your students can witness live performance firsthand, and with an analytical eye. Pose some questions to your students before the performance and ask them to make a mental note of the answers. How does the acting onstage differ from acting in a film? What do performers do with their hands and arms while speaking? What types of actions prompt a response from the audience? Gather after the performance or at the following rehearsal and discuss the questions and answers. No nearby theatre? No problem! There are tons of plays and musicals that have been professionally filmed that you can view in the comfort of your classroom.
Tailor these ideas to meet your own budget and schedule or come up with some activities of your own. You’ll notice a big difference in your students’ enthusiasm and attentiveness when you find a way to bring a freshness to the often tedious rehearsal process. You will more than make up for the lost rehearsal time with their renewed energy and focus.