I was pushed out on stage. I couldn’t remember my lines… or even what play we were doing. The lights were bright and it was a packed house. As I stumbled through my placement and fumble through my first line I realized something terrible; I didn’t even have a loin cloth to cover myself. This is known as the “actor’s nightmare” and thank goodness for me it was just that, a nightmare.
Except for the naked part, the stumbling and fumbling can be very funny when if it happens on purpose—The Play that Goes Wrong—but when I buy a ticket to go see Hamilton, I want to see a performance as close to perfection as it can possibly be. And to do that, actors (and everyone else) need to rehearse, over and over again.
It is the practice that creates the professional. It’s not talent alone. Talent means nothing without the time put into its development. It is your persistence in wanting to get it right, every little detail, where your audience will be thrilled by every moment they see.
When we begin a play, we usually plan on six weeks of rehearsal. We could probably memorize the lines in just a few days but spouting off lines doesn’t make it a play. (We all have lived through those experiences!) It’s what you do with those words, your actions and your vocal interpretation. What is the meaning you are trying to convey? To get it right takes time and effort. One of my favorite words I use when I am directing a show is: “Again.”
I have found there are five major lessons taught during the rehearsal process.
- Success doesn’t just happen. It takes dedicated time and effort. You must establish a habit of hard work. And that is a hard habit to establish. You must be persistent in your work to your goal. You must dedicate yourself repeatedly with “stick-to-it-ness.”
- Every journey you take will be different because of the choices you make. You will make exciting discoveries as you uncover new ideas and new directions—and even some bad ideas. But they’ll all be learning choices. Own your losses with just as much pride and joy as you own your victories. Playwright J. M. Barrie once said, “We are all of us failures—at least, the best of us are.”
- Rehearsal is a time to discover the play, but it is also a time for self-discovery. As you make honest choices for your character and for the moment, each one of those is based on your life experiences. So, as you uncover one, you uncover the other.
- As chaotic as early rehearsals always are, as you continue through the process, you gain more and more confidence in what you are doing—because you have taken the time to perfect it. You become comfortable with your voice, and body, and being in front of people. That kind of confidence will help you rise above the rest, on stage and in life.
- The reaction from an audience at the end of a play is wonderful and gratifying. But it doesn’t compare to the satisfaction you find in yourself from you doing the very best you could; from you delivering your lines, controlling the stage, connecting with your audience. It is the performance itself that offers the ecstasy far more than the bows after the performance is done.
Take these lessons and remember that even in the hardest of times, when you seem to be slogging through the process, there are valuable lessons to be learned. So forge ahead, be diligent, and never forget: THAT’S WHY WE REHEARSE.