RehearsalsEven though there is rarely “on your feet” rehearsal done by most actors, many prefer that to discussion preparation. Why is it so rare then?

Actors may not feel comfortable asking for time on their feet as they see it as a lack of professionalism to need to rehearse in such a manner. These actors have the notion that they should be able to “nail” the role without rehearsal.

Other concerns may be that the actor is afraid the director won’t know how to conduct these rehearsals, or that the script might be considered too uninteresting to explore. Others feel that unless the camera is rolling they can’t really practice or perform well.

Others fear that such practice will drain them of their creativity. A director, while knowing how to rehearse, may never use these skills; but it will increase the director’s tolerance and ability to gather information on the actor’s working processes. While talking rehearsals are helpful, the director’s knowledge will increase by watching the actor at work.

Goals of on feet rehearsals

  • Initiation of working relationship; finding out how actor and director can maximize use of time spent together.
  • Solving the scene by discovering the pace to work at, movement, activities and emotional structure.

The purpose of practicing a certain scene multiple times is to eventually have some sort of breakthrough and insight that would otherwise not have occurred.

The actors should first do a simple reading of the script to be able to connect with one another on a deeper level than small talk and as an introduction to the script. The actors should make eye contact with one another as much as possible and sit across from one another. It is a chance to experience the words with each other and introduce themselves to the images used in the text.

When one of the actors shows a spark in his eyes – or his eyes are glazing over – change things around. Do a run through or improvization to build upon that spark or to generate a reaction from that glazed over expression. This is the opportunity to get the actors to engage with one other. There does not need to be an understanding in the interpretation of the character to make a scene work. If the scene is flowing in the direction it should, try not to get distracted by insignificant technicalities.

The purpose of rehearsal is for actors to get acquainted and familiar with the script and character. Once the actors have internalized their characters and become as one with them, the actors will be performing on a more personal and unpredictable level; catching each other off guard. This is the purpose of rehearsal.

An important characteristic of a director is the ability to know when an actor should be left alone to work through their assimilation with the character or if it is a problem of interpretation. Should the problem be an issue in interpretation, the director should ask the actor more specific questions to help them through the misinterpretation or block.

A director should also create an atmosphere of permission to fail to ensure a high level of creativity. Teach the actors not to stop when misspeaking a line but to continue and work through these mistakes. The stumble should be taken as an extension of the character and for the actor to stay in character until the director says cut. There is no need to interrupt the presence of the character with that of the actor to correct the lines when there is someone already there – the script supervisor – with the job of noting when a line is misspoken.

When an actor stops when they make a line mistake, it will probably extend to an emotional mistake. These “mistakes” often cause breakthroughs that create some of the best moments on camera. If the actor is not trained to continue through fumbles like this, the director and the audience lose out on wonderful material. Before the shoot starts, the director must set the habit of continuation, or else it’ll be too late. The director can later cut the scene for a mistake like this if he feels it is appropriate. An important thing to keep in mind however, is that having rehearsals is never a guarantee to improvement of performances.

How to warm up

Any exercise that is off-script is a warm up. Warm ups are designed to help the actors connect more with the unspoken aspects of a scene, relationship, or situation. The warm ups should connect the actors emotionally with the script and ideally have physical components to them.

The actors can have a pillow fight or a three legged race. They can switch roles and add their own twists to the script to help the actors feel loser and freer.

The director should be ready to lead the warm up exercise as well as perform it. The director must feel comfortable in conducting this ceremony and should not try any exercises on set that have not been tried in off-set rehearsals. Ask the actors if they are willing to try a warm up and be prepared to explain the purpose of it.

Improvisations

Depending on the director and actor, improvisations may or may not be used. To be able to have the actor connect with and experience both the written and implied scenarios in the script, have them improvise dialogue for the latter situation. By doing this the actors bring life to the language being used.

Once on set there won’t be much room for improvisations.The entire point of this exercise is for the actor to experience the implied/subtext and make it  primary to their performance. By experiencing what is not written – or even the opposite of what is written – the actor has investigated the emotional underpinnings of the text that can bring about a breakthrough and strengthen the performance.

Because an improvisation is active imagining – almost a door to the actor’s subconscious – it can never be wrong. Whatever happens during the improvisation should be seen by the director as vital information and a window into the actor’s internal processes in regards to their connection, or lack of connection, with the text.

Length of Rehearsal

There should, in theory, never be a fear of over rehearsing a scene, or of an actor not having a fresh perspective for that scene. If this is a worry, rehearsal is probably not being conducted properly. However if working on films and there are time limits, then and an actor having a breakthrough in a scene may be all that is needed.