How to Create a Rehearsal Schedule for a Musical Play

One of the aspects of musical direction that is often left to chance is the rehearsal schedule. Too often I have seen directors work Act I to death and then try to play catch up later on with Act II. Nothing is more frustrating to actors than that! I use an eight week schedule with musicals. The first two weeks are strictly for singing and choreography. Ideally, the numbers should be sung through first prior to adding movement. Generally, within the first two weeks, all of the numbers have been sung through and those that require choreography are usually completed. (If not, by week three, all is completed.) It is during week three that I step in to work with lead actors. By “leads,” I mean those actors who have spoken lines, not necessarily only the ones with trillions of lines! Previously, I have broken the show down into three or four sections or “parts.” These don’t necessarily have to be in order. Try to break up the script so that scenes with common actors are done on one night. This is so you are not wasting people’s time, having them come in for a few lines only several times during the week. During week three, then, I block the leads into the scenes, all dialogue and the songs that don’t require formal choreography. If someone is sitting around and doesn’t appear until later, he is told to go off to a singing or dance rehearsal until he is needed, for the chorus is now in review mode, solidifying their numbers as I block the leads. In week four, we run all of the parts again (while chorus is still reviewing the dances and songs.) Doing it this way, by the time the chorus comes in for their blocking in week 5, they can take their cue off of the leads who have now run the show twice already. In week 5, everyone joins in, and this is when the chorus gets their blocking. Week six-everyone is off book and is being prompted, as needed, by the stage manager. Also, it is usually in week six when we might move from sections to Acts-or at least into three parts that go in consecutive order. I think actors, having learned their lines in order, have an easier time of it this way, rather than skipping all over the place. (Additionally, it’s time for the director to start taking written notes rather than interrupting an actor’s train of thought. Up to this point, you have been coaching, often standing right by the stage or going up there to demonstrate a particular point. Now, it is time to sit back and take notes. It will give you a different but much needed perspective as well.) By week seven, a lot of the props have come in, set is completed, the costume department has been pulling actors in for fittings, lights have been hung, gelled and focused, and we’re really starting to see the show come to life. Leads have been through the entire show five times before tech week. Chorus has done it three times, and they’ve rehearsed the bigger numbers in which they’re included so often that they are now show-quality. In week 8, we run the full show for four nights. That is, for leads, in week eight, they are running the complete show only one fewer time than in all the preceding weeks. That really is a lot of rehearsal time. In week eight, all the technical aspects, including costuming, are added as well as the orchestra. This is proverbially called, “Hell Week,” but I don’t believe it has to live up to its name IF you’ve run an organized rehearsal schedule throughout!

Throughout the rehearsal schedule, a good director knows what to look for and when. For instance, I wouldn’t look for a fully developed character from an actor during the initial blocking phase. Once they’ve received their blocking, you might start to give them hints as to the direction you want them to take with their characters and in their interactions with other characters, certainly. As the show progresses, you are looking more and more at character and plot development. If you’ve done your staging well, you should almost be able to block your ears and have the movement tell your story. However, later weeks are for fine tuning characterization, intonation, and relationships.

Know this too! Every single time you add another element, be it set pieces or props or costuming, the show will take a step backward. Have faith! The actors just need a little time to get used to things. By the next rehearsal, you will see the show take a leap forward!

Always be flexible. The schedule, as I’ve described it, works very well for many, many musicals-but not all! Is this a dance musical? Is it an operetta? Obviously, adjustments need to be made to accommodate these. However, the best shows come about from pre-planning and organization. A planned, organized rehearsal schedule is one of the most important tools that a director has to communicate his vision to the actors. Good luck!