The first day of rehearsals is always a stressful and nerve wracking experience. For the actors, they want to prove themselves and confirm to the production team that they deserve to be there and for the director it’s the fear that the performers might not think you are up to the job. That said, the first day is always the most exciting where anything is possible, no hurdles of obstacles have arisen, everything is new and interesting and most of all, everyone is excited to be working in an industry which they love, (I strongly believe that the theatre industry is not somewhere you can work unless you love it through every pore of your body!).
Not all directors agree, but I am in the strong belief that every first day should start with a reading of the piece, whether a musical or a play (providing of course you are working on a script based project), as up to that point, the entire team, both on and off the stage, won’t have necessarily had the chance to listen to the the words aloud. Every actor will have read THEIR lines and highlighted THEIR parts and gone though in great detail THEIR journey but often don’t get a great grasp of the piece as a whole. That said, I do believe that this puts a great pressure on the performers to ‘perform’ from the off and make decisions straight away that they don’t necessarily understand of agree with and so in my rehearsal room I like to mix it up a little.
A trick I picked up a few years ago is to go ahead with the reading but to swap the characters around. This often throws the actors at first but very quickly their inhibitions disappear because there are no risks, they aren’t playing that role, they never will within these circumstances again and so suddenly they allow themselves to be free. More importantly than this, it allows the actors to listen to their lines from a different perspective, to actually think about them within the context of the piece rather than stand along lines worrying about HOW to say them rather that WHAT they are saying. This technique, in my experience is always fruitful and watching actors go from ‘what is he/she making us do this for’ to ‘wow…I never thought about that line like that…’ allows the director to sit back, smugly and think ‘I’ve got them…now let’s make some theatre!’