At the end of the every Drama Club, I have the Clubbers circle up and take hands (mine are always cold) to pass a pulse around the circle. That completed, I do a short call-and-response, asking them to repeat after me as I recite one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes: “There is nothing,” I begin.
“There is nothing,” they chant back.
“Either good or bad,” I continue.
“Either good or bad,” they repeat.
“But thinking makes it so.”
“But thinking makes it so.”
I jump forward a few acts in the text of Hamlet to cap it off with, “Let be.”
Then we all release hands and clap, and I say things like, “Excellent work this week, I’ll see you all next week, don’t forget your scripts!” and in a flurry of activity the room empties out and I’m left alone with the echoes of my own injunction ringing in my ears: let be.
As the ASC gears up for another Summer season and the Education department gears up for another summer of the ASC Theatre Camp, I’ve been thinking about the power of preparation. We prepare for many things, and even if we are thoroughly ready when the moment arrives to put that preparation into practice, we don’t always feel ready. Theatre is a great example — no matter how long your rehearsal period, it never feels quite long enough to the actor sweating bullets while waiting for the curtain to lift on opening night. And yet, the moment the curtain lifts and the actor walks onstage, their preparation (or lack thereof) is what will prop them up (or send them sprawling) and no amount of fretting in the moment before the curtain lifts will change what they have or have not done up until then.
One of my favorite things about theatre is that it requires preparation. Exceptions to the rule exist, of course, but even the most seemingly off-the-cuff improvisation requires years of training for the performer. No two rehearsal processes are the same. During the 2019 Winter: Actors’ Renaissance Season, the ASC’s resident troupe had five days to rehearse two full-length (2-2.5 hours) plays: Henry IV, Part 1 and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The ASC Drama Club meets for two hours once a week for 12-14 weeks to rehearse one 30-minute performance. The casts of each show during a session of the ASC Theatre Camp meet for at least three hours six days a week for three weeks to rehearse a one-hour performance. The ASC’s resident troupe for the 2019 Summer Festival began rehearsals on May 6 for Antony & Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, which will open together nearly 8 weeks later on the weekend of July 5. However long the rehearsal period might be and however different the resulting performances might be from each other, all of these different rehearsal processes require at least these three things from their participants: time, effort, and dedication.
Whether it’s a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, rehearsals a) take time and b) require a time limit. Without time, we cannot prepare. Without a time limit, we cannot perform (an unlimited rehearsal period will never result in a performance). Balancing these two elements — time and its limit — is the harrowing job of everyone involved in a production, and an awareness of how time is spent and saved grows in each participant throughout the process. It took us 30 minutes to stage that entrance? We better budget accordingly for the next time we run through a similar moment. It took two weeks for everyone to get off-book for that scene? We better keep that in mind for the next time we set an off-book date. It takes me seven minutes to warm up? I better plan my arrival accordingly, to make sure I’m ready to go when rehearsal begins. Rehearsals require actors to take this sort of personal responsibility of managing their time by knowing themselves: how long does it take me to do this thing? Will I have enough time? If the answer is no, what can I do in the time that I have, and how can I make more time going forward?
Showing up is arguably the most important part of theatre. You cannot do anything if you are not in the room. But showing up is not enough in and of itself — you have to show up ready to work. Without individual effort, rehearsals go nowhere. I encourage my young actors to “practice how you will perform” because “practice makes permanent.” We cannot simply go through the motions in rehearsal and expect to discover something different once we get into performance — we have to practice what we’re going to perform, the way we’re going to perform it. Oftentimes, we have to build up to that performance-level (especially when we’re working with choreography, like for dance or combat, which requires time and repetition to bring up to speed), but we don’t build-up by working at half-mast. We put effort into every single rehearsal, and we gain mastery from it: bit by bit, repetition by repetition, rehearsal by rehearsal. If we don’t expand that effort over time in the rehearsal room, our lack of it will show onstage in the moment of performance.
You need dedication in order to offer time and effort in any meaningful way (though time and effort can also sometimes create dedication — the way a forced laugh can devolve into genuine giggles) because we spend our time and our effort on that to which we are dedicated. Dedication allows us to shake off setbacks, learn from mistakes, and power through problems because it provides us with a with a goal that’s bigger than any one person. When you dedicate yourself to the theatrical process, you offer up your time and effort in service of that bigger goal– the first requirement of any collaborative endeavor. Collaborating in service of a common goal means you can focus not only on what you are doing with what you bring to the table, but what everyone can do with what everyone brings to the table. Without dedication to a larger goal, our time and effort serve only ourselves, so we have no reason to provide them for others to use. Dedication pays off, and the lack of it shows just as much as the lack of time or effort.
Rehearsal can be a harrowing process, and as the date of the show approaches and nervous energy bubbles over into anxiety, the payoff of performance may begin to seem more like a punishment than a reward. But if you’ve taken the time, put in the effort, and cultivated dedication, it will pay off. Dedicate yourself to taking the time to practice what and how you will perform, put effort into getting it right, and let your preparation take over when the performance date arrives — in other words, let be.