This past weekend, as a member of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre cohort club, I attended a tech rehearsal for Going to See the Kid This is a NEW PLAY commissioned by MRT for the 2016 Christmas Season. In August, I had attended an early reading of the script, or “workshop,” so I felt that I had a sense for the play but it turns out that the script is simply the amuse-bouche of a multiple course meal.
Until now, the cast have been learning their lines, blocking out where to stand, sit, and walk, as well as the timing of entrances and exits, all without the benefit of lighting, staging, props, or costumes. This all changes during “tech rehearsal” week, when the cast finally gets to rehearse on the same stage where they will perform, and everything starts to come together.
Inside the theater, the crew has set up five tables where the audience usually sits. There’s the director and assistant director on one side, and the costume and set designers on the other. Behind them are the stage manager, sound designer, and lighting designer. Each one is focused on the stage as a whole, but also on the specific role they play in bringing the scene together.
The actors rehearse the same lines over and over again, sometimes so the sound designer could time the scene and determine just how many seconds of a certain sound was needed; sometimes, to try a blue versus a green hue to light the stage. Or any number of scenarios that wouldn’t have occurred to me if I hadn’t been watching it happen. Between takes, the actors would engage in conversations about the mundane details of what they had for lunch, or where they picked up a good bargain. And amazingly… they picked up right where they left off, with a simple cue from the stage manager for where to start again.
While watching as they repeated each scene multiple times, each time with a focus on a different detail, I realized that every minute of a performance requires at least 10 minutes or more to plan. The cast and crew only have 33 hours to plan and rehearse 80 minutes of stage time. That works out to 25 minutes of planning for each minute of the show!
So what goes into those 25 minutes? Decisions about when to cue the music, or where to shine a spotlight, or how long a background sounds should last. But even more impressive was the attention paid to the countless little details, such as when Veronika Duerr (playing Ellis) says the line “we turned a corner” and the director halts the scene, turns to the sound designer, and asks “can you add a sound that mimics a car going around a bend?” or when the set designer notices that a spotlight for a monologue is a little too big, and bleeds into the next scene as it is being set up, so the crew takes a few minutes to make the necessary adjustment, while the actor stands frozen in place.
I doubt that the audience would notice any of these small details in isolation, but added together, the sum of those same small details is what transforms the audience into the moment of the play and creates an experience that is theater at its best.
-Lisa Arnold, Cohort