When it comes to theatre, rehearsal and performance require very different mindsets. At opening night, the experimental and ever-changing modality of rehearsal gives way to the repetition and discipline of performance.
So how does an actor find creative fulfilment in both modalities?
Theatre scholar, meet theatre.
Although I studied theatre at university for 8 years (over three degrees), my focus was on self-devised plays—that is, pieces I wrote either alone or in a group. Surprisingly to some, I haven’t actually had a lot of experience “acting in plays.” And I’ve definitely never performed in anything that had four whole weeks of performances.
Until earlier this year, when I performed in my first community theatre production: All My Sons at Castle Hill Players.
I loved being part of this production. It was great to meet so many other “theatre people,” and dip my toes back into theatre after a long hiatus.
I particularly enjoyed the rehearsal phase, where we could experiment with different tonality, intention, and nuance. Or completely change things up. It’s an exciting and dynamic phase of discovery.
After opening night, however, our performances were “locked in” and it was just a matter of repeating them, night after night, connecting to our characters and finding the truth each time.
This switch in modality needed quite a different mindset.
Rehearsal vs performance
Rehearsal was a safe space for our “show family,” where we could be free. We could experiment with our characters and the relationships between them, do background research, and play.
The performance season, on the other hand, was for the audience. It meant taking everything we’d built and sharing that in with a large group of strangers every night.
I was fascinated with this stark difference in the energy, focus, and discipline needed by an actor to traverse both of these modes. So I set out on a voyage of discovery, chatting with my fellow cast members to see how they approached this conundrum.
Here’s what they said:
I love the performances. I concentrate on the challenge of being in the moment, being in character—really in it—every night.
My enjoyment comes from disappearing into a character every night in a performance. I love becoming someone else, inhabiting a different person.
I get a bit bored in the performances. I could probably do more to keep up the energy and keep it fresh. I’d say it’s different when I have a major vs minor role.
I don’t like rehearsals. They’re too stop and start. I’m too impatient for that, and I prefer being in the groove of the performance.
I get bored after opening night. I get a buzz from the audience, but I prefer hanging out with the cast. Once we’re in the performance phase, I try to have someone I know in the audience at each show so I can’t slack off.
I prefer the performance phase, because I don’t like learning lines!
I prefer the creative process of rehearsals. I get so nervous and anxious about performing, and that never dissipates. I would love to just have the rehearsal process and then just perform once, and boom be done.
As many different approaches as acting styles
Surprisingly, everyone had a different part of the process they preferred, and different mindsets about how they brought their own creativity—continuously—throughout both rehearsals and performance.
The challenge for an actor is to find fulfilment in both modes, and by sharing these approaches with each other, we can only hope to be more successful at that.
As I continue exploring my own creativity and (hopefully!) perform in more plays, I can learn something from each of these creatives.
Photograph by Chris Lundie. That’s me in the blue cardigan.