Surviving tech week: A guide to theatre’s most stressful week

For participants in the spring musical, the upcoming week of rehearsal may just be the most nerve-wracking of them all.  Sets are being painted and moved, scenes are being rehearsed to perfection, and emotions are running high as the McNicholas theatre prepares this year’s production, Grease, which will open Friday, April 18, and run through Sunday, April 20.

But before anyone can take a bow, the cast and crew of over 100 have one last week of rigorous rehearsals, known in the theatre world as “tech week.” Over the last weekend of rehearsal, the set has been moved from the theatre to the main gym, where the musical is to be held, all while actors are putting the finishing touches on their scenes and songs.  With already busy homework schedules and an upcoming week of five-hour rehearsals, the participants of this year’s musical can look forward to juggling normal schoolwork with long days of practice and little sleep.

TheatreLooking at crazy week ahead, it’s normal for students involved in the musical, especially those who are new to theatre, to feel increasingly overwhelmed by tech week as a whole.  Seasoned theatre performers, including ex-Broadway actress and director of this years’ musical, Teresa De Zarn, have offered up some of their advice on getting through the one of the most stressful weeks of the theatre season.

Homework:  One of the chief concerns on the minds of cast and crew throughout rehearsals is:  How am I supposed to get all of my homework done?  With 4-9:00 p.m. rehearsals awaiting performers and crew members in the upcoming week, many are bracing themselves for late nights of finishing essays and cramming for tests.

The trick is simple: take advantage of those breaks between individual rehearsal scenes.  For example, if you’re a member of the ensemble for a particular song, use the time before and after the scene to look over the notes for an upcoming history test, or finish working on that geometry homework you started.  This is especially true for members of specific ensembles, and actors with smaller parts in the production.  If you utilize every free moment you can, you’ll have one less assignment to worry about once rehearsal is over.

Sleep and Diet:  It’s a well-known fact in the world of theatre that tech week means sacrificing precious sleep for rehearsal time.  Having experienced long weeks of Broadway rehearsals and show preparations throughout her career, De Zarn confessed that the key to getting a good night’s sleep during tech week is discipline.

“I know it sounds impossible, but you have to make yourself sleep,” De Zarn said.  “Finish as much homework as you can when you have breaks to spare, lay out everything you’ll need for the next day, pack a bag for rehearsal, and go to sleep.  Trust me, rehearsals can be exhausting, and above all else, you need to be well-rested to stay alert and put on your best performance.”

Along with sleep, the things you eat can also affect your ability to withstand a long day of acting, singing, and dancing.  De Zarn said that maintaining a healthy diet in the weeks before rehearsal is crucial to staying agile during the show.  Along with plenty of water, foods that are rich with Vitamin C such as strawberries, oranges, and leafy greens serve as an energy boost and can help ward off unwanted colds that are easily passed around in a crowded theatre.

The Rehearsal Itself:  Admittedly, the most difficult part of rehearsing scene after scene is the actual act of performing.  Keeping the lines and song lyrics straight in your head becomes even more stressful when paired with intricate choreography, and sometimes, it may seem impossible to maintain a positive attitude.

Sophomore Trevor Lynd, who plays the humorous character Eugene in this years’ show, says the key to surviving rehearsal is to know what you’ve set yourself up for.  “You have to go into this knowing that there are long evenings in store not just for you, but for the entire cast.  You’re going to have to sacrifice weekend plans and lose some sleep along the way; but trust me, the experience is worth it,” Lind said.

When it comes to calming pre-show jitters, some of the more superstitious actors tend to develop their own rituals to stick with throughout performance week.  For junior Scott Frenzel, who plays singer/student Johnny Casino in Grease, this includes a loud group cheer backstage, just before every opening night.  “It sounds weird, I know,” Frenzel said. “But once everyone joins in, you can tell just how much more confident the actors are about the performance.  You know it’s going to be a great show.”

According to De Zarn, performers should keep in mind the very reason most of them are there – to have fun, and realize that there is an end to tech week.  “When things get tough during a long week of rehearsal, I have to try and remind the cast and crew (myself included) of the applause that’s in store for them when the show is over,” De Zarn said.

“Though it may seem like rehearsals will go on forever, I know that in the end, when they hear the entire audience applauding their hard work, they’ll know it’s all been worth it,” she added.

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