I popped in for the first rehearsal of a new musical workshop last week – after introductions, the cast started in on a table read. And you better believe even at this first read through, every person around the table already knew the script backwards and forwards, could sing their songs with the accompanist, and was ready to hit the ground running. They were prepared.
Was this a rare group of overeager theater nerds with nothing better to do than study their scripts before a first rehearsal? Nope. Were they getting paid huge sums of money to do their homework? Nope. Had someone told them to come in off book? Nope.
These were simply smart musical theater professionals who were just doing their jobs. These savvy professionals also knew that if they walked into the first rehearsal unprepared, there would be a line of other actors who could step in and replace them at virtually a moment’s notice.
These artists understood that Darwin’s survival of the fittest principles are alive and well in NYC. Whether you’re a writer, director, designer or actor – you are expected to show up prepared or to go home.
Unfortunately, this level of preparedness is not always the norm in other places. In many cities across the country, where there is less competition for roles, I’ve seen casts and creatives who have only glanced at the script before heading into rehearsal. Sometimes it even seems like a protection mechanism – if you say, “I haven’t had a chance to go through the script” you won’t have be accountable for being “good” the first time. And you can get away with it because you know that you’re the only person in town who’s right (or available) to play the part.
As a result, you’ve lowered the bar, wasted rehearsal time, and the result, more often than not, is a musical that is not as high quality as it could have been if rehearsals had been used to hone the show rather than teaching lines and plunking music notes from scratch.
Showing up prepared is always appropriate no matter where you are or what the stated expectation. It only takes one person – YOU – to set an example and encourage others (or shame others) into doing the same. Eventually, to reference Darwin again, evolution will occur and before you know it, you can raise the bar, improve the rehearsal process, and have a better show on opening night.
So, next time you show up to the first rehearsal, whether you’re in North Dakota or New York City, set an example and BE PREPARED.