Rep theatre. How I just love it. And thank goodness it’s coming back into fashion.
Repertory theatre is a golden opportunity for performers as creatives to showcase their many talents when it comes to storytelling. Not only is it great fun to witness other actors and actresses do their thing, as in any rehearsal room, what I find truly charming with this line of work is the real sense of company, not only between the cast, also including the crew, the creative team, the front of house team and most importantly, the audience. They just love seeing one company play three parts, or juggling fire, and playing the accordion – all in one season.
I firmly believe that is what theatre is all about. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good one-woman show or a stand-up set, or even a West-End musical, naturally there are countless hours of teamwork to be acknowledged from these kinds of productions. There’s always backstage blood, sweat, and tears to get a show on the road, from rehearsal to performance. There is just something to be said for seeing a team of cast and crew working as a well-oiled machine to transform the same space and transport the same audience to new and exciting places and plots on a daily basis.
Ohh! I could simply swoon all article about repertory theatre… instead, let’s get cracking on how to cope with the relentless rehearsals and the juggling of different characters from an actor’s standpoint.
If you’re in a short season, like the notoriously fast and frantic Frinton Summer Theatre, Essex, you may have a weeks rehearsal and a weeks run. In, out. Now, that’s a speedy turnaround.
For these kinds of runs, getting off book is crucial. Actually, for any run and any play, getting off book as soon as possible is ideal. The more lines in your head, the more you can ‘play’ with your new castmates and directors. With rep, you’re often sprinting between rehearsal rooms and time spent on each play is minimal, so get the prep done and the real joy in the room can commence from day one. You haven’t got long so preparation is key.
Another piece of sound advice I was given by a wonderful director was to have different hats for each play. All of your characters in the season should sport an assorted array of headwear, helping you as an actor know who you are. Obviously, I am kidding.
Maybe all of your characters will wear hats. Fine, go for it. What he meant, was learn how to leave the emotional baggage of one character at the door of the first rehearsal space and come back for it when you’re next in the room. This is something that was highlighted during drama school training and again, later in the ‘real world’ – it will not only serve you as a professional, it will help you learn to ‘switch off’.
As you swan over to rehearsal space number two and you have to pick up when you left off yesterday, tackle some sheet music, or pick up a rapier and dagger, keeping focused on the task at hand is necessary for the company’s sake. Having two or three rehearsal rooms buzzing simultaneously is a pretty magical thing, however, it is important to remember that everyone has had a crazy, full-on day too.
Focus will help not only you, but the company you are now a part of, to flourish. If you’re lucky enough to have three separate directors, one per play, remember that they don’t know what’s just happened in rehearsal room three! They just want to know that you’ll serve the play and the story in rehearsal room one. Knuckle down, and joke about when you stacked it in play number two on your tea break. Or at t’pub.
I’ll touch on this briefly, as I do think it goes without saying, yet for some actors, this may be welcome news.
Have everyone’s back and they’ll have yours. There will be a point when your energy dips and you’re homesick and wearing a giant furry puppet in the midday summer sun will seem like too much. If you’ve been supportive of your company, they will support you. The best performers are the most generous. Serve the story and the company and they’ll serve you.
Finally and I think this point is super important. Prep your meals, make time for loved ones and, above all, look after yourself. Yes, naturally, you’re going to have some socials with the team and birthdays on show days and it’ll be brilliant. Don’t be afraid to say no. I have more respect for the performers who have turned in early and said no the the nightly stop at the pub to Skype their family or get some rest. That’s real personal and professional professionalism.
Rep seasons are often long runs, in a fizzing frenzy of creativity with the same brilliant people day in, day out. It’s a dream come true for most young actors. It is truly a pleasure to watch and learn multi-talented performers, some who have been in the profession longer than you’ve been alive and it is an absolute honour, so savour every moment. If you’re tired and need a hot dinner at your digs and night in with Netflix, then that’s what you should bloody well do. Rest up, keep fit and have fun. That’s what it’s all about. I hope you get a rep season soon.