If you’re lucky enough to get your play produced, you should be able to navigate the changing sea of rehearsals. This is where the journey to the stage really takes place and you must be ready for different conditions from smooth sailing to the possibility of small squalls and even storms. The Quickening rehearsals have been smooth sailing for me and part of that is due to the people involved and perhaps luck. But I also think that has to do with what I will distill here as “Rehearsal Rules for Playwrights” I’ve picked up over the years.
Rule #1: Do not attempt to direct the actors. In addition to directing being a completely different skill set, there can be only one director; most theatre is not a democracy. You may be the author of the text, but the director is the author of the production.
Rule #2: Part of your job in rehearsal is to be a resource about the script – but kindly direct all questions to the director and discuss questions with them. Let the director answer or answer with the director present. Sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, actors may seek proof that something they wish to do is “correct.” You know what you intended when you wrote it, right? But there are many ways to fulfill that intention and actors and directors will come up with brilliant things based on your words that hadn’t occurred to you – which is also one of the wonderful things about theatre. If you have an issue with something – talk to the director. You do not want an actor saying to a director, “Well, I talked to the playwright about it and they said I’m right/I should do it like this.”
Rule #3: Give them space. I love being in rehearsals but I also know that my presence changes the dynamic. Actors may feel judged and, like it or not, you become an audience; actors may consciously or subconsciously tailor their work to reach you. So, after the table work and the blocking is completed, pick and choose those rehearsals you will attend. I suggest a run through of acts or the entire play so you can experience how the play is coming to life.
Rule #4: Be open. Some of the best dramaturgical advice I’ve had has come from the director, the actors and designers involved in a production.
Rule #5: Give yourself a deadline, as early as possible in the process, that’s a cut-off point for revisions. Don’t wait ‘till an actor has mastered that monologue to change or cut it.
Rule #6: Turn your cell phone off. Your being there, in effect, makes you an audience (see Rule #3). Imagine how it would feel to be working on a scene and see the playwright staring at his screen instead of watching.
Rule #7: I love actors and I love talking with them, but remember everyone is there to work on your play – not to socialize. So, don’t get in the way.
Rule #8: Bringing snacks and water now and then is always a nice way to show your appreciation of everyone involved. But check with the stage manager and director first.
Rule #9: Keep your mouth shut about what happens during rehearsal and what you think about it. You’re a member of this family, too.
Rule #10: Finally, remember it’s your play – you may get lots of input, asked for or not, about changes. Don’t change anything that violates your gut instinct about what the play is about. The theatre is one of the last art forms where the writer has final say on their work. When in doubt, refer to the Dramatists Bill of Rights of The Dramatists Guild of America:
“No one (e.g., directors, actors, dramaturgs) can make changes, alterations, and/or omissions to your script – including the text, title, and stage directions – without your consent. This is called “script approval.”