Winning the Production Schedule Marathon
By Brian D. Taylor, Project Editor, Pioneer Drama Service
Brian D. Taylor is the project editor for Pioneer Drama Service, a published playwright and a former drama teacher. Working with K-12, college and community theatre groups, he has a wide theatrical background with experience in directing, acting and technical theatre.
It’s March already. Where did the time go? By now you’re probably deep in the mire of rehearsals and feeling the exhaustion and burnout. On top of the daily rehearsal schedule, you’re going non-stop day after day with classes to teach, costumes to sew, sets to build, props to make and clocks to punch — perhaps both literally and figuratively! Truth is, though we love producing plays, making it through the production schedule is a marathon, not a sprint.
The good news is you don’t have to let it beat you, wear you down, make you ill, or even lead you to consider throwing in the towel. I know many of us artistic types will willingly and happily fall on our swords to make the production the best it could possibly be. That’s good and one of the most inspiring characteristics of those of us pursuing the arts. But that doesn’t mean we have to be making sacrifices every moment of every day.
Everyone, not just the weary directors, can benefit from the following tips to help you reach the finish line. Actors, crew and designers all can become overwhelmed by the long process. Take a few minutes to share these tips with them at the beginning of your next rehearsal, and be sure to practice them yourself!
Map the Route — Just like a marathon runner is always planning for and anticipating what’s ahead — both in the next few miles and along the entire rest of the course — you need to pace yourself for the road ahead. Maybe it’s a morning walk, enjoying the sun and fresh air, while mentally preparing for all the fires you’ll be fighting the rest of the day. Maybe it’s a stop at the local coffee shop on the way to work, with a bit of people watching, a hot cup of Joe and a chance to figure out that production problem that’s been nagging at you from the start. If you’re lucky enough, maybe you can sneak in a midday siesta or at least surround yourself with quiet and close those weary eyes for a quick power nap. It could even be a simple half-minute to compose yourself just prior to a grueling rehearsal. The important thing is that you regularly keep your eye on the full journey and pace yourself by making time for yourself and keeping it sacred.
Stop, Breathe and Stretch — Of course runners have to stretch and care for their bodies. All of us theatre types also understand the importance of taking care of our instrument. Take time out during the day, during rehearsals, during your commute and just savor some deep cleansing breaths. Just a few go a long way. Make the same effort with stretching those muscles. Try warming up with the actors prior to rehearsal. Directors can benefit from a good warm-up, too, you know. And, just like anyone running a real marathon, good hydration is an important key to keep you going if you plan to make it to production week with a strong voice and feeling healthy, energetic and confident.
Focus on the Path and Eliminate Distractions — We can imagine the focus a marathoner maintains to fulfill his goal, so try to purge things that may rob you of your time or focus. These days technology comes to mind immediately, so kill the screens. Technology is incredibly useful and has become a continuous part of our everyday lives. It can be an often overlooked lifesaver during a busy production schedule. But let’s face it, it’s everywhere. You’re looking at a screen right now. There’s a good chance there’s a cell phone within two feet of you. Many of you may even have a digital music player or e-reader within your reach. It’s non-stop, and these various screens in our lives may save us a lot of time, but they can also rob us of just as much. Avoid social networking like the plague if it’s just a time-killer. Protect what little free time you do have by giving yourself permission to shut off the liquid crystal displays in your life.
Now make sure those screens aren’t robbing you of valuable rehearsal time by distracting your cast and crew. Institute a rule to promote technology-free rehearsals with no interruptions from phones nor distractions from IPods, tablets, etc. (Hint about parents wanting to always be able to reach their kids: give every parent the cell phone number of the stage manager or assistant director to contact in case of emergency during a rehearsal. You’ll be amazed how few true emergencies there are and how much communication can simply wait 45 minutes till the end of a rehearsal.)
Change the Pace — Both runners and performers know the monotony of constant practice, so don’t be afraid to change things up a bit. A long rehearsal schedule can very easily become overwhelmingly repetitive. Though it’s natural to accept the status-quo and resist change, you should actively pursue new ways to rehearse as it keeps everyone sharp, often leads to new insights, and is usually a lot of fun. As the weather warms up, try taking a rehearsal, or at least a portion of it, outside. Throw some improvisation into a scene. Have the actors play a scene out of character, perhaps even acting out their characters’ complete opposites. If you have enough time in the schedule, you could even rehearse a scene from a different, but similar play, just to stir things up. This will keep everyone on their toes and often will lead to useful discoveries in the rehearsal process.
Celebrate Victories — Every scene polished is like another mile behind you. Don’t be so focused on the to-do list of what’s still ahead that you forget to enjoy the process and celebrate it. Let the actors savor a well-placed ad-lib. High five that technician with the well-timed light cue. Take a minute to forget about the staging and just enjoy the playwright’s dialogue. These mini-celebrations of small accomplishments provide the energy to carry you the distance.
Several studies point out a fact that we all know to be true but is usually surprising to others: people involved in the arts often work longer hours than doctors and lawyers and other professionals with demanding hours. It really is like training for and running a marathon. Luckily, we absolutely love the work, since for most of us it’s our job, our hobby, and our identity. So find a way to incorporate some of these tips into your production marathon. A little bit of this can go a long way in helping you make it to the finish line of opening night. Remember, we’re on the sidelines with your friends and family, cheering you on and wishing you nothing but success this production season!
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